Amy Dominguez-Arms, The James Irvine Foundation

TITLE: Program Director

FUNDING AREAS: California democracy

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Dominguez-Arms awards grants very judiciously, often only making just a handful each year. Of course those grants total nearly $2 million annually, so the number of grants she awards is small but the award amounts are rather large.

PROFILE: Program Director Amy Dominguez-Arms had a good idea of what didn't work for her in the nonprofit sector even before she stepped foot into The James Irvine Foundation. Before being appointed program director in 2004, she headed her own nonprofit organization, Children Now. As the youth advocacy organization's president and vice president, she encountered her fair share of negative interactions with program officers and disrespect from the foundations pulling the purse strings. She told Foundation News & Commentary magazine:

Now that I am on the inside of a foundation, I realize how grantmakers' approach to grantees results both from personal characteristics as well as from the messages communicated by the foundation's leaders about the values we demonstrate in our interactions with grantees.

Since 2004 at The James Irvine Foundation, Dominguez-Arms has taken charge of managing governance reform, civic engagement, immigration reform, and immigrant integration grantmaking. The foundation relies upon her to partner up with other California foundations that are working to improve democratic relations in the state to get as much money into the pool as possible. She also helped develop the annual James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards, which grant $125,000 to six individuals innovating solutions for major issues in California.

Dominguez-Arms's career has struck an uncommon balance between big government and child development over the years. After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish, she worked as the Speaker Pro Tempore’s legislative assistant and then for the California Health and Welfare Agency. She was even named Professional Child Advocate of the Year by Voices for America's Children before joining the foundation.

Today, Dominguez-Arms makes a habit of interacting with nonprofit leaders in a way she wishes she had been treated when she was in their position. This attitude makes her one of the more approachable program directors in the Los Angeles area at this time. When dealing with Dominguez-Arms, you can expect honest answers more than vague propaganda and to be kept in the loop throughout the funding application review period.

Irvine's California Democracy program focuses primarily on governance reform and civic engagement. In a recent Irvine blog post, she stated that her goal is for, "California to have a representative electorate, with policymaking bodies incentivized to consider the long term, and public decisions made based on good data about effective solutions." The new program framework revolves around four initiatives: Elections Policies and Practices, Voter and Civic Engagement, Ballot Initiative Reform and Immigrant Integration.

Under the governance reform umbrella, Dominguez-Arms is looking for programs that advance budget and fiscal reforms, encourage voter participation in elections, and encourage participation in the independent public redistricting commission. Of course, low-income and underserved Californians are the targets of each of these program areas. Some of the foundation's recent grantees include Los Angeles-based California Community Foundation, which received $75,000 and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, which received $90,000.

If your organization's objects fall more in line with civil engagement advancement, you'll need to show Dominguez-Arms how you can get poverty-stricken families more interested in voting and local budget making. Since Los Angeles is one of the most diverse areas imaginable, a one-size-fits-all program just isn't going to cut it. You're more than welcome to submit an inquiry to Dominguez-Arms with your program proposition, but full proposals are accepted only by invitation. Your initial inquiry should be completed by online form and must exclusively benefit the people of California.

Dominguez-Arms has been in your shoes and has learned from the mistakes of both her present and former industries. Her grantmaking history indicates that she prefers to give large grants to a few organizations, rather than small amounts of money to everyone who applies. Get in touch with her at, and get one step closer to a fairer and more democratic California.