Donors In Focus: Christina “Ommy” Strauch Helped Institute Area Foundation’s Sound Business Acumen
By Blithe Wiley
SAN ANTONIO — Former longtime San Antonio Area Foundation Board Member Christina “Ommy” Strauch first became familiar with the philanthropic organization in the 1990s when she was a human resources executive at Valero Energy Corporation.
During that time, the Area Foundation occupied office space in the Valero building and Strauch was impressed by the organization’s mission of supporting worthwhile causes across the San Antonio community.
In 2000, Strauch was asked to serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors. In 2004 she was chosen as Chair of the Board. Over the next two decades, she chaired a number of Foundation board committees, including the Human Resources Committee, the Governance Committee and the Grants and Programs Committee. She also served on the Santikos Enterprises board when it was established.
“One of my favorite memories about the Foundation is when I was asked to be on the search committee to hire a new executive director,” Strauch said. “I created the profile of what we needed in a new President and CEO and we hired Reggie Williams, a former Senior Vice President at USAA. Reggie instituted a very process-oriented approach to operations and ran the organization like a business. At the time, we were a small community foundation with about $40 million in assets, but Reggie had a goal of reaching $200 million … We achieved that goal in 2007.”
Williams gave Strauch credit for taking the lead from the board perspective in turning the Area Foundation into a more structured organization.
“She brought so much experience in human resources and we really needed that expertise,” recalled Williams, who led the Area Foundation staff until 2011. “She was a key member of our board and she played a big role in turning the Area Foundation into the center for philanthropy for San Antonio.”
After her mother passed away in 1999, Strauch and her husband decided to establish an Acorn Fund at the Foundation, named The Strauch Family Fund in Memory of Leonor Salinas, as a way to honor her memory. The Strauch Family Fund supports the Impact Fund for Successful Aging. Impact Funds are set up at the Area Foundation to gather contributions from multiple donors to maximize their impact on the community.
“My mother loved to go out to play bingo, have lunch with friends and take part in other social activities. She didn’t drive but relied on vans from local organizations serving seniors to take her to these activities. It enabled her to enjoy being active and social in her later years,” Strauch explained. “The proceeds of this fund benefit older adults like my mother and provides services like health, transportation and social activities for them.”
Strauch noted that the rigorous due diligence the Area Foundation conducts in ensuring the organizations they support are good stewards of the donations they receive is so important.
“As private citizens, we don’t know where the greatest needs in the community are and how the various nonprofits are run. We all want to do good, but we need someone to tell us where the greatest needs in our community are,” she said. “The Area Foundation provides guidance and direction to where the funds raised can do the most good.”
It’s also the way the organization goes about its business. Its reputation for excellence is well established.
“I am so proud of the professionalism, commitment and integrity that the Area Foundation staff and board continually demonstrate,” Strauch effused. “It has been such a privilege to work with such selfless and dedicated people.”
Others have also made a similar point – noting the critical role Strauch played in creating and shaping that reputation.
“In addition to leadership skills, Ommy Strauch brought business acumen and circumspection to our organization,” said Marie Smith, past President of the Area Foundation. “She was then serving as a human resources executive at Valero and transitioned that expertise beyond the corporate footprint. I have valued her past experience with the San Antonio Area Foundation, asking critical questions while providing wise counsel.”
As thankful as she is to the organization, current leadership is quick to recognize the many contributions Strauch provided during her tenure on the board.
“We are so thankful for savvy supporters like Ommy who join forces with us to strengthen our community impact funds,” said Lisa Brunsvold, the Area Foundation’s current Vice President for Development and Donor Services. “Our community impact funds leverage pooled donations – many from planned gifts – with our community grantmaking expertise to generate a huge impact in a particular area of need. Most people don’t know that anyone is able to co-invest gifts of any amount in our community impact funds. These supporters empower our grantmaking team to do even more to help strengthen our community.”
In addition to her longtime involvement and leadership with the Area Foundation, Strauch has held leadership roles with a number of other nonprofits. She served as Board Chair of the Battered Women’s Shelter and as Board Chair of the Nonprofit Resource Center. She also served on the Richmond Family Foundation, a community foundation that selects a nonprofit each year to support, challenging that recipient to raise $100,000 on its own to then match that donation amount. Strauch also was appointed by then Texas Gov. George Bush to serve as the Chair of the State Board of Family and Protective Services.
Strauch attributes her passion for taking on leadership roles with the Area Foundation and other worthwhile nonprofits to her mother’s sage advice.
“Mom always said, ‘if you have a talent, you need to use it and not keep it to yourself.’ I’ve always believed it’s my sacred duty to share my talent with others.”
Blithe Wiley is an independent public relations consultant and freelance writer in San Antonio. She’s a member of the San Antonio Area Foundation’s new Storytelling Ambassadors Contributor Network.