With a major gift to the League, Daen Wombwell delivers on a personal vow and realizes his dream of making a difference
See below for information about Daen Wombwell and Grace Barnard’s incredible matching offer for new Canopy Club donors!
“Completely out of control.”
That’s how Daen Wombwell describes himself as a young boy in England, traumatized by his father’s untimely death. At age 7, he was sent off to a boarding school straight out of Harry Potter, in an ancient stone castle with vast grounds dotted by trees. “There wasn’t much in my life at that time that was very peaceful,” says Wombwell. “But my few moments of peace were wandering around those little woodlands.
Amid the native flora stood a giant redwood that had been planted as a seedling. “It was the biggest tree on the entire estate,” recalls Wombwell. This towering transplant reminded him of an earlier trip to the old-growth redwoods of Northern California—a childhood experience that helped inspire a lasting love of nature.
Fast forward a few decades and Wombwell was himself transplanted: to Plano, Texas, where he co-founded a company to revolutionize the insurance industry. At first, the startup looked like a nonstarter. “None of our business plans were working, and we were destitute,” he says. “It was a very scary time.” Like many people in a precarious place, he consulted a higher power: “I said, God, I know you and I don’t talk much, but if we ever get this company to make money, if we sell it, I promise to give a portion to whatever charity you guide me to.”
Eventually, Wombwell’s fortunes shifted and then soared. In early 2023, he sold his now-successful company. It was time to make good on his promise.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Wombwell began reviewing established charities with strong program efficiency ratios. The moment he saw Save the Redwoods League, he knew, “that’s the one.” Beyond his early redwood reveries, he had been deeply moved as a child by The Man Who Planted Trees, a tale about one man’s determination to reforest a barren region in France. Now Wombwell saw an opportunity to be part of a similar transformation.
Engaging with the League, he began the eye-opening process of learning more about the redwood ecosystem. “I care about the environment,” Wombwell explains. “But I had no idea the redwoods are the best harvesters of carbon dioxide of any forest type in the world. I love wildlife. I had no idea there are 13 kinds of bats in these forests and more than 200 types of birds.”
Some revelations were more sobering. Says Wombwell, “I was horrified when I found out the old-growth redwoods were down to 5% of their original land coverage. If you care anything about the world our children and grandchildren will grow up in, that should just frankly piss you off.”
Energized to do more, he worked with the League’s development team to maximize his donation, transferring company shares directly to Save the Redwoods for a tax benefit that boosted his gift by 20%. The League was incredibly grateful, but Wombwell says he’s the one who should be giving thanks. “I’ve achieved a major life goal and have done something that matters deeply to me—something that has the possibility of surviving generations after I’m long forgotten.”
Wombwell and his wife, Grace, may be looking ahead to retirement, but his efforts to help protect and restore the redwood forests are just beginning. As he receives additional payments from the sale of his company, Wombwell plans to gift a significant percentage to Save the Redwoods League. He also hopes to inspire others to consider how their contributions can create a butterfly effect. “Even seemingly small donations can trigger much larger state and federal grants,” he explains. “Every gift can make a real difference.”
Whatever it takes to revive the redwoods, Wombwell is in. “If you need me to plant trees,” he says with a grin, “I’ll put on my Wellie boots.”
Encouraging others to give
To inspire new members of Save the Redwoods League’s Canopy Club Daen Wombwell and Grace Barnard will match new gifts of $10,000 or more up to $750,000. The Canopy Club is a community of donors deeply invested in protecting the redwoods for the next 100 years and beyond.
The goal of the Wombwell-Barnard Family’s match is to inspire new philanthropic investments needed over the next five years to allow Save the Redwoods League to pursue timely opportunities to protect and restore the redwoods at scale. For more information or to speak to a staff person about your Canopy Club donation, please contact Sarah Malashock, director of major gifts, at [email protected] or (415)820-5809.
This feature appears in the beautiful printed edition of Redwoods magazine, a showcase of redwoods conservation stories by leading scientists and writers, as well as breathtaking photos, and ways you can help the forest. Only a selection of these stories are available online.
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