Donna Pray
Donna Pray
music in the park san jose

Gilroy Foundation Executive Director Donna Pray recently announced her plans for retirement, effective April 28. 

She has served in this position at Gilroy Foundation since 1995.

“Donna has been the face of Gilroy Foundation since 1995,” Board President Karen La Corte said. “Her leadership and dedication in growing the Foundation into what it is today is unprecedented. The Gilroy community has a legacy of giving for generations we can be proud of. It is through Donna’s commitment to excellence that we have this treasure we call Gilroy Foundation. We wish her all the best in retirement.”

Pray’s legacy at Gilroy Foundation includes growing the endowment from its earliest beginnings of $280,000, made up of a General Fund and five small separate family funds to its current value of over $14 million with more than 132 Field of Interest, Donor Advised, Designated, Group and Scholarship Funds. 

“Gilroy Foundation’s grant giving process is a fair and efficient means of distributing funds,” Fund Donor Paula Goldsmith said. “It gives us confidence that our unrestricted family fund is being used wisely to address the many needs in our community.”

When Pray felt the Foundation needed higher visibility in its early days, she organized the “Day in the Country” fundraiser for guests to enjoy wine tasting, a silent auction, luncheon, and a live auction. The event brought in $25,000 for the endowment; the 2022 “Imagine” Day in the Country netted more than $110,000 for Gilroy Foundation programs, according to the organization.

The Scholarship Program is one of Pray’s fondest endeavors, she said, noting that a Gilroy Foundation scholarship can make a difference in a student’s life.

Most notably in Pray’s list of accomplishments was the Foundation’s response to the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting. Within hours of the incident, Pray had received a phone call from Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) checking on the Foundation workers in the wine booth that they knew would be working at the festival. 

That same night, SVCF made an initial donation of $10,000 to create the Gilroy Garlic Festival Victims Relief Fund; the next day, Pray fielded calls and ended the day with $250,000 in donations and pledges. All the days moving forward blended together with calls from potential donors, visitors bringing in donations, news agencies requesting information, but still the work of Gilroy Foundation continued in the area of grants and scholarships.

Alongside the Oversight Committee, which reviewed victims’ applications for compensation, Gilroy Foundation became the vessel for the $1.9 million collected and distributed to the victims.

“Although this was a devastating time for our community, for our staff, and for me, we can reflect on it, knowing that we did our best to help heal and move forward,” Pray wrote. “Stepping up to the plate to aid the victims of the Garlic Festival shooting will forever be a part of our history.”

For retirement, Pray said she looks forward to becoming involved in her community, spending time with family, and continuing to support the work of Gilroy Foundation.

The Board of Directors has established a transition team that will be discussing the recruitment of a new executive director over the coming months.

Gilroy Foundation’s growth

The Gilroy Foundation listed some of the accomplishments of the organization during Donna Pray’s tenure as executive director:

• In 1998, Gilroy Foundation had an endowment of $280,000, made up of a General Fund and five small separate family funds. By 2004, the endowment rose to more than $1 million with 29 separate funds. Today, the endowment is at $14 million with 132 funds.

• Since 1988, Gilroy Foundation’s premier fundraiser has been “Day in the Country” with this year’s event netting over $110,000, providing operational expenses.

• 1999: First scholarship was awarded for $250. From 1999 through 2022, Gilroy Foundation has awarded more than $6 million in scholarships to high school, junior college and college students in the Gilroy area.

• 2008: Established Fund Development Committee and developed Strategic Plan to bring endowment up to $10 million.

• 2008: Established Julio Mata Family $50,000 Scholarship, given to a GUSD High School graduate of Mexican descent. Since its inception, there have been 41 winners.

• 2010: Created the Youth Board to encourage middle/high school students to learn about philanthropy.

• 2012: Partnered with the Christopher Family and began the four-year process of building the Don Christopher Sports Complex.

• Led other community projects over the years including Salvation Army Shower Project, Gilroy Center for the Arts, dog park improvements, GHS and CHS van donations, and GHS ChromeBook donation.

• 2016: Began publication of an Annual Impact Report showing the difference donors make to foundation’s work.

• 2016: Began Sustaining Sponsor program to infuse additional operational funding.

• 2017: Brought Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) to Gilroy, inviting representatives from local organizations, to determine how SVCF should look at their grant-making strategies.

• 2018: Created an Operating Reserve to cover any canceled fundraisers.

• 2019: Following the Garlic Festival shooting, created the Victims Fund with the guidance of SVCF and disbursed more than $1.9 million to victims who applied.

• Created “Lessons Learned” providing detailed information for future cities or organizations faced with the difficult task of providing compensation and resources to victims.

• 2019: Applied for, and received, SVCF Latin XCEL grant to fund refresh of Latino Family Fund.

• 2020: Continued to give grants and scholarships through Covid-19; began Meals for Heroes—Revenue for Restaurants. Also provided PPE to St. Louise Regional Hospital.

• Since 1980, Gilroy Foundation has awarded $16.3 million in grants and scholarships.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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