Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New RSF Foundation CEO hopes to enhance growth of community’s philanthropic impact

As he met people in his new role as President and CEO of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, Chris Sichel said he was told over and over, “They have huge footsteps to fill.”

Chris Sichel

(Ken Jacques Photography)

Sichel took up his new post on September 1 and fully agreed that he will take the reins of the philanthropic organization from an inspiring and respected leader, Christy Wilson, who is stepping down after 24 years in the top position.

Sichel said he is happy to work with Wilson until the end of October, when she officially resigns from her day-to-day role at the foundation.

At the beginning of his tenure, Sichel met with members of the community and oversaw the planning of an event on October 20 in which the foundation included both the 40 leaders.

While it is too early to say what, if anything, Sichel could change within the organization, his priority is to continue to be a good steward of the resources entrusted to the Foundation by its donors and to find ways to to maximize the effect of these dollars.

“My goal is to increase the philanthropic impact of this community. Not a revolution, but evolution in order to keep growing year after year, ”said Sichel.

“This community is filled with generous people with big hearts. Our organization exists to channel this money to have as much impact as possible, ”he said.

The foundation currently manages $ 155 million across a mix of foundations and donor-recommended funds, Sichel said. Foundations are funds in which the capital is retained over the long term and the income from investments is used for charitable donations. Donor-recommended funds offer flexibility so that donors can distribute both the principal and the revenue, and those funds can be replenished, Sichel said.

Since its inception in 1981, the foundation has paid out more than $ 100 million in grants, Sichel said. The foundation’s 2020 IRS filing shows the organization received $ 10.1 million in grants in 2020. Working with other charities, the foundation donated $ 858,000 to North County’s nonprofits to provide emergency services such as food, shelter, and medical needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation’s philanthropic endeavors include the Patriots Connection, which supports active military and veterans, and the Women’s Fund, which supports a wide range of programs across the community that address issues such as homelessness, youth and women’s services.

Sichel joins the RSF Foundation after a career in the nonprofit field. For the past 16 years, he has served as President and CEO of Make-a-Wish San Diego, a charity for children who are critically ill.

According to the Make-a-Wish website, the group more than doubled during Sichel’s tenure to become one of “San Diego’s most recognized and trusted nonprofits,” while expanding the organization’s fortunes.

He previously worked at STAR / PAL, a nonprofit that connects law enforcement officers with youth at risk through a variety of programs including mentoring, homework help, and life skills classes.

Hailing from San Diego, Sichel said his new role was a natural progression that would allow him to lead an organization that seeks to make a difference in the local community and beyond.

As the foundation’s CEO, Sichel said he will work to maintain and improve the charity’s reputation as a trusted financial manager of donated funds. “As a community foundation, we have to meet very, very high standards and we do that very well,” he said.

Sichel and his wife, Coleen, a nurse, live on Mt. Helix, La Mesa, but are considering moving north. The couple have three grown children, a son who is studying medicine in college, a daughter who moved to Spain after graduating from college, and a son in the solar energy field in San Diego.

When he’s not at work, Sichel cheers the padres, paddles, and hikes with his wife and the family dog. The family combined a love of nature with a passion for history and culture and went on long hikes on a historical pilgrimage route in Spain.

“I love to see the world at two and a half kilometers an hour,” he said.

Spending time outdoors, he said, allows him and his wife to be together and bond despite their busy schedule.

Sichel said he turns 55 this month and is looking forward to the next chapter of his career.

“I’m just excited to be here, made me feel so welcome and it’s an honor to be following in Christy Wilson’s footsteps,” he said.

More information about the RSF Foundation can be found at rsffoundation.org.

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