Our Roots

Michael and Gail Towbes, moved to Santa Barbara County in 1957, and from the beginning, they were deeply engaged in supporting the community where they lived.

Initially, they donated their time and energy as volunteers, and their children (Carrie and Lianne) often tagged along.  It was just part of who they were as a family.  The Towbes family loved Santa Barbara and believed that supporting the organizations that make this place special was their civic duty.

Michael and Gail Towbes

Although Michael and Gail didn’t talk much about what motivated their philanthropy, they instilled these values in the next generation and led by example. In 1980, they founded the Towbes Foundation. That first year, they granted a whopping total of $500. The Foundation has grown a bit since then and in the ensuing years, The Towbes Foundation has granted over 20 million dollars to more than 400 organizations on the Central Coast. Carrie and Lianne grew up with philanthropy. It’s in their DNA.

The Towbes Foundation has matured over the years. Historically, like many family foundations, their original giving patterns were unstructured. The Towbes family brought their personal interests to the boardroom and let those passions lead their giving. Although Gail passed in 1996, Mr. Towbes continued the tradition of giving a little bit of money to a lot of organizations. This approach, which we call “sprinkling,” casts a wide net, but without much depth. In recent years, and with the dedication of a talented Board, we have begun to look at grantmaking more strategically.

As a result, The Towbes Foundation is experiencing a shift away from “sprinkling” and toward focusing our resources in the areas we know – namely mental health and education. Our goal is to give where we can to make the greatest impact and where our investment can provide leverage. As Carrie leads the Foundation in this next chapter, she welcomes her daughter, Allison Lewis-Towbes, the third generation to help continue her parents legacy and fulfill the tradition of philanthropy that is in their DNA.