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By Sara Hall | Contributor



Photos courtesy of Orange County Grantmakers

Connection and community are powerful tools, and it takes dedication and vision to bring the two together.

This rings true for Taryn Palumbo, who serves as the executive director of Orange County Grantmakers (OCG), a local organization that advances equity by creating strategic alignment and cultivating transformational relationships and leadership among philanthropists and nonprofits. OCG envisions an Orange County where philanthropists and nonprofits work together as partners to achieve equity for the region’s most impacted communities. But in a clarifying email, Taryn explains the group does not create grants or run programs in the community.

“What OCG does is cultivate relationships — among funders, among nonprofits, and ideally, between and among all the sectors including business and government,” she says. 

The connections made through OC Grantmakers are important because it is through authentic relationships that true synergy happens, Taryn adds. And a single connection can make a notable difference.

“I love that through the conversations OCG hosts, the people we bring together and the synergies that we help create, we empower nonprofits to have the most impact in the space they work in,” she says. “Over my years with OCG, I have seen countless partnerships, collaborations and alignments develop simply because people took the time to come together, share what they are working on and/or what their priorities are, and realized that they are not alone with the work.” 

While there are more than 9,000 charitable organizations in Orange County, Taryn points out that the nonprofit community is actually rather small — and so is the funder community. 

“After a while you start to see how folks intersect and how the same people are at every meeting. Because of this ‘small town’ feeling, connections and relationships are even more important than in other communities,” Taryn says. “You never know when a random connection made in the past will turn into a vital relationship for the future.”

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‘Just Ask’

Taryn lives by an important mantra: “Just ask.” 

“Ask if there is anything else you can do, if there is someone else you should meet, if there is another opportunity out there,” she says. “You never know where it will lead.”

Aside from summer jobs while in school, she’s never landed a job simply by submitting an application. Throughout her career, every position has come about in part because of a connection she made through an existing or new relationship.

A trained attorney, Taryn graduated from Chapman Law and passed the California Bar in 2011. She wanted to work in public policy and government affairs and was lucky enough to land an internship at the Orange County Business Council. From there, she went to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, where she held titles including as the manager of public policy and later as Director of Strategic Partnerships.

“It was in this role that I discovered philanthropy,” Taryn says. “I absolutely fell in love with the space.”

Through her work at the SF Chamber, she created, grew and implemented a workforce development initiative called UniteSF, which aimed to engage tech companies in the local schools. She sought investment from the business community, particularly the corporate social responsibility departments.

When Taryn moved back to Orange County, she wanted to get a job in philanthropy — “no matter how hard it was going to be to break in.” 

She cold emailed anyone she could find with the right title in Orange County and three amazing women answered: Sarah Middleton, who was with PIMCO at the time and is now running her own social change consulting firm called Mission Up; Anne Olin with Charitable Ventures, a nonprofit that provides fiscal sponsorship and incubation services to charitable projects; and Shelley Hoss with the Orange County Community Foundation, which strengthens resources for nonprofits through creative and collaborative opportunities. 

At the time, all three were a part of what was then-called the Orange County Funders Roundtable (now Orange County Grantmakers). The group happened to be in the process of looking to hire a part-time executive administrator. Taryn initially didn’t want to take the position, she recalls, as it was part-time and an administrator job.

“After some reflection, I figured it would introduce me to the community I wanted to work for,” she says.


After a year, she asked the board if they would promote her to become the organization’s first full-time staffer and executive director. Although it came with some new responsibilities on the administration side of things, her previous worked prepared her for the new position.

“My role at the SF Chamber started strictly in the public policy space but quickly morphed into a position that required me to go out into the community, connect with local leaders and really learn what the community wanted and needed,” Taryn says. “That is basically what I do now, but for the nonprofit space. My job is all about understanding what is happening in Orange County, what the funders are supporting [and] what nonprofits need, and trying to bridge the gap between the two.”

Building Community for OC Philanthropy

While her focus now is less on public policy, Taryn has found an important similarity between her jobs in San Francisco and Orange County. Both require an emphasis on impact — but with OCG, it’s about what she and the organization can do to drive positive change for the community.

Over the years, she has also worked with some notable leaders in both spaces, including Kate Klimow, Chief Operating Officer, University Advancement and Alumni Relations at UC Irvine, and Jim Lazarus at the SF Chamber, who both demonstrated the power of listening. 

“I try and take those values, of listening to the community and identifying the need, and bring it to the philanthropic community in OC,” Taryn says.

She recalls a job interview she had many years ago when the interviewer asked her if she liked politics or policy better. At the time, she didn’t have an answer (likely the reason why she didn’t get a job offer), but today she can firmly say it’s policy. And policy is not necessarily only changed at the government level.

“That change — that impact — happens on the ground,” she says. “How are we talking about the issues impacting our community? How do we make sure we are getting dollars to the areas and people that need it most? And how can that have an actual, actionable, tangible impact in our community?”

Those are the questions OCG aims to answer. 

Taryn works with people who are making Orange County a more equitable place, either through funding the work or through day-to-day programs on the ground. As executive director, she connects philanthropists with each other and with nonprofits. OCG provides several learning and networking opportunities for funder members, nonprofits and local leaders throughout the year. Taryn attends all of these meetings, as well as community events, and regularly meets with funders and nonprofits.

Powered by a team of just two (Taryn and Program Manager Ana-Christina Murillo), OCG is small but mighty — which means Taryn wears several hats. Her job is also board liaison, operations and finance lead, communications director, support for Murillo with content and events, and lead point person for the 400-person Annual Summit held in October. Taryn also sits on a variety of community commissions, committees, collaboratives and boards, including the Cross-Sector Childcare Task Force; California Jobs First; Orange County Health Access and Enrollment Task Force; and the executive committee for the OC Forum.

“Most of my day is spent in meeting — learning, supporting dialogue and ensuring our community is as connected to one another as possible,” she says. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way!” 


To learn more about Taryn’s work with Orange County Grantmakers, visit OCGRANTMAKERS.ORG.

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