Hillgren

At Home With The Hillgrens

Posted December 20, 2013

’Tis the season of giving. But with all the worthy nonprofits out there, not only in San Diego, but around the nation, how do you figure out just where your donations should go? Rancho Santa Fe’s Greg Hillgren, who has been especially committed to the problems facing active and retired service members and their families, has launched — both literally and figuratively — The Patriots Initiative, an outreach program of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. Greg and wife Nancy hosted a celebration at their Rancho Santa Fe home, where fittingly, a hot air balloon took off from their backyard, symbolizing the launch of the program, and its lofty goals of educating the public about the needs of the armed forces and their families, and vetting organizations so that donors can give with confidence.

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Greg and Nancy Hillgren

Recently, Ranch & Coast sat down with the Hillgrens at home, where they shared their thoughts about the problems facing San Diego’s military families and a bit about their own accomplished lives, marked by service to their adopted community. The couple, who met in English 101 at the University of Southern California (she later got her law degree there; he, an MBA) spent 15 years in Orange County before moving to Rancho Santa Fe in 1991. “The reality is we were looking to replicate that small town feel we couldn’t get in Newport Beach” says Nancy. What attracted them to Rancho Santa Fe was its sense of community. “Being part of something special, being able to give back. That was important to both of us, to have a community feel,” says Nancy. “School, church, golf course.” The Hillgrens both laugh, but they are not being facetious. Greg, an avid golfer, has served two terms as president of the Rancho Santo Fe Golf Club.

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Greg and Nancy Hillgren

It was while chairing the Rancho Santa Foundation in 2006 and 2007 that Greg began to see the enormous effects of the war in the Middle East on military service members and their families throughout San Diego. Problems included social strains caused by long deployments, financial problems, the need for rehabilitation and long-term care for woundedwarriors, veterans without homes or jobs, and few programs to help those in the military transition to careers in the private sector. Greg challenged the foundation to take a leading role in finding solutions to those problems. That led to the foundation’s Armed Forces Interest Group, which has now been stepped up and rebranded as The Patriots Initiative with Greg as chair.

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Greg and Nancy Hillgren

“The real game-changing aspect to it is that we’re taking the time to go and underwrite and evaluate hundreds of these organizations that are out there, all well-intentioned, all nonprofit, which are trying to support and solve different parts of the problem and bring solutions,” he explains. “Basically, with all of these hundreds of organizations out there, nobody knows who’s good, who’s sort of good, and who’s not getting it done. So we thought the best thing we could do is, basically, bring some transparency to the field of philanthropy.”

The Patriots Initiative does that by scoring nonprofits in five key areas that include financial stability, focus and quality of mission, transparency and accountability. Just in time for Christmas giving, the initiative is publishing a directory with a listing of all the organizations, says Greg, “that have literally passed the test in the five important areas we look at.” That means donors can be assured their dollars are going to the most effective “best of breed” organizations. What started in Rancho Santa Fe, Greg believes, will eventually spread to foundations around the country. In 2015, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation plans to roll out The Patriots Initiative nationwide, enabling other community foundations to open their own chapters. “The San Diego region will be the model for how this is going to besolved across the nation. So our mission right now is to make all of San Diego aware of what’s going on, what’s the best and the brightest in terms of solutions, whether national organizations or local ones.”

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Greg and Nancy Hillgren

Nancy, former president of the Rancho Santa Fe Association and Community Center, continues her ten-year service as a director of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, an elected position that involves overseeing four fire stations and an $11.5 million per year budget. She also serves on the committee for the Scripps Encinitas Gala on April 26, 2014 to celebrate the opening of the hospital’s new state-of-the art emergency and critical care facility serving North San Diego County.

The couple’s Trojan roots run deep — three generations on both sides of the family have earned 16 degrees at USC, including daughters Ali and Carolyn, who also played on the Trojan women’s volleyball team. Greg is on the USC Marshall School of Business Board of Leaders and serves as co-chair of the school’s $400 million capital campaign. Nancy has twice served on the USC Board of Governors, and is past president of Trojan League Associates of San Diego County, which provides scholarships for USC students from San Diego. Both are recipients of the USC Alumni Association’s President’s Award. Their support includes the endowed Hillgren Scholarships for Global Studies at USC Marshall.

As for The Patriots Initiative, Greg believes passionately in its challenge to “Answer the Call.” Not everyone will wear a uniform, he says, but all of us can support those who do. 858.756.0358 thepatriotsinitiative.org   Andrea Naversen

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Greg and Nancy Hillgren