Generosity in Action

Coming Home, Giving Back

Header photo: Tony Nethercutt with his girlfriend Carrie and his dog Blue.

About four years ago, Tony Nethercutt moved home.

Not his childhood home on Cutter Drive in Watsonville, but home to Santa Cruz County where he hadn’t lived since he was 18 years old...

He hadn’t planned on moving back to Santa Cruz County, but when one door closed in San Rafael (he and his wife separated)–where he had lived for over two decades, raising his son and working in digital advertising for the tech industry–another door opened and he leaped at the chance.

These days, you can regularly find Tony visiting the monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges with his girlfriend Carrie, camping in his trailer at Seacliff, golfing at Spring Hills or Casserly Par 3, or running around It’s beach with his dog Blue, a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd who always brings Tony his newspaper…eventually. But you can also find Tony on the Board of Directors for DigitalNEST, the youth job training and career development organization and Housing Matters, the nonprofit working to create pathways out of homelessness and into permanent housing. He also serves on the board of Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary.

Finding New Rewards

“For 31 years I was very fortunate to enjoy my job and do well both professionally and financially,” says Tony. He approached his retirement in 2014 with as much gusto as his work. He knew he wanted to golf, fish, and travel, but he also knew he wanted more. “I feel like this chapter of my life is about giving back since so much was given to me. As much as I loved my career, service and philanthropy are equally as much fun and incredibly rewarding."

The Nethercutt boys of Cutter Drive. From left to right: Tony, Steve, and Matt.

Seeds for Service

The seeds for service were planted early for Tony. As the son of dedicated Pajaro Valley public school educators who deeply instilled in him the value of education, Tony knew a career in education wasn’t for him, but being involved in the community was. When he wasn’t building forts, fishing, or chasing after lizards on the shores of Drew Lake behind his house, Tony was playing and then coaching basketball and football. Then in his senior year, one of his classmates died suddenly. “It was a shock for all of us,” recalls Tony. “The entire class decided to establish a scholarship in his name.” Tony and his friends raised money through bake sales and car washes and at the end of the year, he was stunned to receive the award. “I knew then that I was going to return that gift in kind someday.”

Fast forward well into his career, Tony was at an industry event and in between speakers, nonprofits came up and shared more about their work. An organization called Pencils of Promise was building schools in Central America and for a certain amount of money, you could donate a classroom in honor of someone. “I gave enough so that I could name one classroom after my mom, a bilingual ESL teacher, and one for my dad, a long-time principal.”

Tony with Jacob Martinez, founder and CEO of Digital NEST, the youth job training and career development organization headquartered in Watsonville. A board member of the NEST, Tony is matching gifts from new NEST supporters up to $10,000.

Pillars of Philanthropy

Before Tony started his journey in philanthropy in earnest, a friend suggested he really think about the areas most important to him. “I sat down with a piece of paper and started brainstorming.”

Clearly, education was one. Specifically, Tony wanted to address the inequities and barriers in public education that he witnessed growing up. Another was housing. During the 60s, Tony didn’t recall seeing a lot of homelessness. “Now it’s absolutely everywhere and getting worse.” His third pillar is feeding people. “That one feels obvious,” he says. “Making sure people have nutritious food is essential.”

With this clarity and still living in San Rafael, Tony jumped right in and started donating to Marin County nonprofits Next Generation Scholars and Homeward Bound. The more he learned about their work, the more he wanted to get involved. “All nonprofits need revenue and my skillset is largely sales and managing people.” Tony eventually became a Board member for each–positions he still holds today–in addition to his new posts at DigitalNEST and Housing Matters. “I can tell you that I am not bored. Once you get involved, it’s hard to stop, when you know you are contributing and your input is being valued.”

Tony and his son Zander hitting the links at Pasatiempo.

Making Giving Easeful

As he re-established roots in Santa Cruz County, Tony knew the majority of his giving would move home too. He started a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) at the Community Foundation because he finds it the most practical way to earmark different types of assets for giving. “Having a DAF makes it easy to give. Easy to take the tax deduction without worrying about write-offs for each donation to a new nonprofit. And the donor portal system makes it easy to give the money away. It’s a comforting thing to know the money is set aside and the only job I have is to give it to organizations who will do well with it.”

Tony also used the Community Foundation’s expertise to learn about trusted nonprofit partners to invest in. “Hilary [Director of Donor Services] and Susan [CEO] have been remarkable in terms of their conversations with me, educating me about the needs in the county, and introducing me to different organizations that would be a good fit–and in the case of Housing Matters, encouraging me to be on the board.”

Another benefit of moving home? Getting to visit "the little hot dog stand" at the Watsonville Plaza whenever he wants. (Taylor's to non locals.)

Reconnecting with the Community

Reconnecting to the people and places of his childhood has been a sometimes emotional journey for Tony. Almost every local nonprofit organization or location he’s visited holds a memory. He made a gift to Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy and the Freedom School Soccer field project in honor of his dad’s lengthy service to the district, and Freedom School. When he gave to Pajaro Valley Shelter Services he learned that an old high school friend was on the staff.

Tony sees that a lot has changed in Santa Cruz County since his childhood, but so much has stayed the same. “There’s still a large open field on the shores of Drew Lake where the neighbors joined together to preserve the land. And the people of the community still care about each other a lot.” For Tony, it’s good to be home and it’s good to give back.

A Donor-Advised Fund can help you give back to the community you love

Learn more about how to start a Donor-Advised Fund