Collaboration is important in all aspects of an effective nonprofit. We want to closely collaborate with our staff, with our board of directors, with partner agencies and our donors and supporters. We bring nonprofits together to exchange ideas in person as part of our annual giving day. This helps nonprofits with similar goals create new avenues for collaborative success.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Stariha, executive director of the Mavericks Community Foundation.

Amber Stariha resides in the San Francisco Bay Area on the San Mateo County Coast. Her background is in hospitality management and social service nonprofit work. Outside of work, she can be found spending time with her family and friends and enjoying all things food related, cooking, baking, and eating.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Growing up in the small, semi-rural community of Half Moon Bay, California, which is located approximately twenty-five miles south of San Francisco on the coast, had a big impact in shaping my life experiences. The community has an eclectic mix of agricultural and fishing roots with many families that span several generations still calling it home. It has maintained its small town feel over the many decades although it’s not far from larger urban areas like San Francisco, San Jose and Silicon Valley. It was during my time at Half Moon Bay High School that my first formal nonprofit volunteering experiences occurred. Looking back, I credit those early volunteer opportunities with planting the seeds that would move me in the direction of nonprofit and philanthropic work as an adult.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

I think three character traits that have served me well are adaptability, integrity, and a willingness to listen. Of the three, I have found that being willing to listen is really a key ingredient to successful leadership. To me, leadership is about finding ways to highlight and cultivate varying ideas and perspectives and shift energy towards a common goal. Listening to the opinions, input and concerns of those around me is crucial when it comes to making recommendations or decisions on behalf of Mavericks Community Foundation and the work we do within our community.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

On January 23, 2023, our community of Half Moon Bay experienced a mass shooting. Seven Latino and Chinese farmworkers were killed by a lone gunman; one survivor sustained life altering injuries. The mass shooting occurred on two local farms where the victims worked and lived. In addition to the direct victims, numerous witnesses ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens were present and witnessed the shootings. All were immediately displaced from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs because their home and workplace became an active crime scene. It wasn’t until after this event that I learned that there is a huge spider web network of nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. that have responded to mass shooting and gun violence events on behalf of their communities. I was acutely aware that gun violence and mass shooting events are at absolute epidemic numbers in the U.S. but so far this year we have had over 200 incidents! It wasn’t until we were on Zoom calls with other community foundations that it dawned on me that there are best practice protocols around how community foundations should respond to mass shootings. Let that sink in, best practice protocols for community organizations to respond to gun violence; it felt shocking and yet it made perfect sense at the same time.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Mavericks Community Foundation (MCF) facilitates charitable giving to meet the Half Moon Bay Coastside’s most pressing needs. We are currently heavily involved in administering a direct to victims assistance fund. After the mass shooting in Half Moon Bay on January 23rd, MCF formed a partnership with the San Mateo Credit Union Community Fund to create the Coastside Victims Fund. 100% of the funds raised will go directly to the shooting victims and their families to help with long-term financial needs. The Fund was created following national best practices largely modeled by attorney Ken Feinberg, who led the sensitive task of establishing a direct victims compensation fund after 9/11. It’s been five months since the shooting and our local victims are still in need of a myriad of support ranging from mental health and lost income to staggering medical expenses, food insecurity and PTSD. Additional details and FAQ’s about the Fund can be found at

In addition to the Coastside Victims Fund, Mavericks Community Foundation runs an annual day of giving called Coastside Gives. Since its inception seven years ago, Coastside Gives has raised over $8,000,000 in support of over 70 local nonprofit organizations who support our community.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

The Coastside Victims Fund hits close to home because the shooting literally happened in my hometown. This cause is acute and raw and ongoing as the local victims and community learn how to move forward after experiencing such an intense tragedy. The victims were already extremely vulnerable, residing in poor living conditions and receiving very low wages. Since the shooting, I’ve been reminded almost daily of a quote from Mr. Rogers. He shared that as a boy when he would see scary things in the news his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers,” and that you will always find people willing to help. I’m passionate about being a helper within my community, not just when tragedy strikes but every day.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

We must honor the privacy of victims impacted by the January shooting but it is our hope that monies from the Coastside Victims Fund will help them on their journey as they rebuild their lives. The Fund is unique in that it does not place restrictions on how the victims can use the monies; the fund protocols assume that victims are best placed to determine how best to apply support to their own coping needs. This is an important piece in empowering victims after they have already lost so much control after experiencing or witnessing such a traumatic event.

The benefits of Coastside Gives are readily seen throughout our community daily and that is incredibly heartwarming. The nonprofits who have benefited from the millions of dollars raised offer support in all areas from educational organizations like local PTO’s, to senior support services, LGBTQ community groups, animal care, farmworker services, local fire departments and emergency response services, Little League and just about everything in between. The best thing about Coastside Gives is really the community collaboration around the event; it brings out the best in all our local donors and doers.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

There are three actions that can be taken regarding gun violence: look, listen and support. We have become desensitized to the amount of gun violence that occurs across our nation. As difficult as it may be, we cannot look away. It feels like a shooting could never happen in your community, until it does. We cannot become apathetic. We need to listen to the survivors and first responders of these events; we need to listen to the needs of the most vulnerable populations among us and then we need to take preventative action and continue to offer support. That action might look like becoming engaged politically or volunteering with a supporting organization in your own community. It could also look like donating to victim support funds.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

Collaboration, sustainability, gratitude, curiosity, and boundaries.

  1. Collaboration is important in all aspects of an effective nonprofit. We want to closely collaborate with our staff, with our board of directors, with partner agencies and our donors and supporters. We bring nonprofits together to exchange ideas in person as part of our annual giving day. This helps nonprofits with similar goals create new avenues for collaborative success.
  2. Different nonprofit organizations define success and effectiveness in different ways; to me, success needs to coincide with sustainability. Organizations need to consider sustainability of resources, events, programs, and staffing. Every year as part of our giving day, our community has supported our “stretch fund” by adding an amount for when they donate to the nonprofits that participate in Coastside Gives. This allows us to continue to fund this important event.
  3. Keeping a sense of gratitude is central for me not just at work but in life. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work in a field that has so much compassion woven into it. Anyone who works in the nonprofit or philanthropic arena will tell you there aren’t always enough resources to go around. We are continually amazed at the amount of monies raised for our endeavors in our small community. We raise more dollars per capita than many larger communities for their annual giving days. Our local businesses and community members support us again and again. We are so grateful!
  4. It’s easy for an organization to assume they know what resources are needed to help solve an issue, or that they already know what’s happening within the community but that isn’t always the case. Communities are fluid; needs can fluctuate and change rapidly. Maintaining a sense of curiosity is important. Mavericks Community Foundation started as an avenue for funding our local schools. Thanks to community interest, we now have an annual giving day that supports more than 70 diverse nonprofits and we were chosen by community leaders to spearhead the Coastside Victims Fund.
  5. Boundaries can be hard, it’s easy in this line of work to want to help absolutely every cause and jump in to offer assistance or support at every turn. Organizations need to remember the core mission of their agency and overlay that on every project or program they take on. We have intentionally kept our area of nonprofit support in the geographic area of Montara to Pescadero on the San Mateo Coast. As much as we love our neighbors to the north and south, we currently do not have the resources to epand support this at this time.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

I think the pandemic reminded many of us in the nonprofit world of the need to be flexible. Flexible with resources, flexible with ideas, and not to be afraid to pivot even at the last minute if circumstances call for a change. Celebrating small successes along the way are just as important as celebrating the large milestones and goals. Success isn’t always about the end game, it’s also about the forward progress along the way.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Again, I think it comes back to celebrating forward progress; success and progress are not always linear. It can take time to implement new programs & ideas or even revamp old ones. I draw inspiration from the people around me, from my community, and from my family. Setbacks happen, and when they do it’s ok to be frustrated for a little while, but then you need to look at what has already been accomplished and move forward knowing you’ve already done great work and you will continue progress even if it’s at a slower rate or on a different trajectory.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to meet Michelle Obama; she’s an inspiring leader with a unique perspective on nonprofit and philanthropic work. She might really enjoy a visit to our coastal community!

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Readers can learn more about Mavericks Community Foundation by visiting our website They can donate and learn more about the Coastside Victims Fund by visiting

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.