Why The Orfalea Foundation Loves the University of Santa Barbara

When Paul Orfalea founded Kinko's (now FedEx Office) in 1970, a 100-square-foot space adjacent to a hamburger stand served as his inaugural office. Orfalea rented the space for $100 a month in Isla Visla, a neighborhood in Santa Barbara, California, and used it to sell notebooks, pens, pencils, and the services of a copying machine at four cents per copy. Within a decade, Kinko’s grew to a network of over 80 stores across the country, and went on to become a behemoth. 

Orfalea left the company in 2000, and that same year established the Orfalea Foundation with his then wife, Natalie. One of the foundation's longstanding interests has been higher education, and millions have gone to University of Santa Barbara, a stone's throw away from where Kinko's had its start. This could help to explain why Orfalea, who actually attended USC a hundred miles or so away, has kept his philanthropic spotlight trained on UCSB.

In 2005, Orfalea helped to establish the Masters in Global and International Studies (MAGIS) at UCSB, as well as the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. Former President Bill Clinton came to sunny California to inaugurate the program. MAGIS focuses on the academic preparation of professionals to work in the global nonprofit sector, international government, and multinational business.

What's interesting here is that not only has Orfalea put his money behind this and other projects at UCSB, but he's also taught at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. Orfalea has also taught at LMU, his alma mater USC, and at the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The latter institution was also bankrolled by Orfalea and named in honor of Orfalea's parents.

What's behind the foundation's deep interest in education?

Well, part of the answer might lie in Orfalea's own experiences in the classroom. Orfalea struggled through school, dealing with dyslexia and ADHD. He reportedly flunked two grades and was expelled from several schools before attending USC. He's even written a book on the subject.

As a result, much of Orfalea's philanthropy has focused on education, from a child's first years at day care all the way through graduate school. And consistent with Orfalea's own story, the foundation has also been interested in unique learning programs such as the REACH Initiative, an experiential education program for motivated high school students in California. REACH stands for "Resilience, Education, Adventure, Community and Health."

In higher education, some of the Orfalea's other gifts to UCSB have included the Orfalea Family Children’s Center, and supporting the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, and UCSB Arts & Lectures. Orfalea has also supported scholarships and fellowships at UCSB and elsewhere. According to its website, the foundation has given away over 3,000 college scholarships, valued at over $13 million, distributed through partners such as the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. As well, Orfalea has bankrolled the Clinton-Orfalea Fellowship and Internship Program, a partnership with the Clinton Foundation, UCSB, and USC to promote scholarship in areas such as public policy and global development.

Past giving can lead to more and greater giving down the line. Natalie has been named an honorary alumna of the school. She has also served on the University of California Santa Barbara Chancellor’s Council. Between the money the foundation has given, Natalie and Orfalea's involvement on different boards and Orfalea's classes, their commitment to UCSB and other Southern California schools runs deep.

If history is any indication, UCSB, USC, and other colleges will remain an interest for Orfalea There is, however, a caveat: The Orfalea Foundation recently announced that its Orfalea Fund (one of two outfits contained within the Orfalea Foundation) will complete its asset spend down by the end of 2015. This is significant in that Orfalea directed a lot of his philanthropy through this vehicle.

For now, the foundation is in a holding pattern and not accepting unsolicited proposals. In the meantime, grantseekers in this region should keep apprised of the foundation's next phase of philanthropy through its very helpful website.

A final note: Orfalea and Natalie have signed the Giving Pledge, so it's reasonable to expect that big giving lies ahead.