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2005-Present: Reflections of Excellence

Reflections of Excellence

As noted earlier, in 1995, the Fresno Regional Foundation had caught the eye of a larger, more affluent and influential foundation, the James Irvine Foundation. At first, Irvine provided funds for the support of local nonprofit organizations geared to area youth. Then, in 2004, FRF was again the recipient of the wisdom and generosity of the Irvine Foundation when it provided the means for FRF to look at itself and assess what it saw in its reflection. The Irvine Foundation funded an intensive retreat to assess and plan for the organization’s future direction. An independent firm with extensive community foundation experience was hired to conduct an assessment of community attitudes and opportunities. Most of the findings came as no surprise: FRF had low visibility in the community; the perception of the Foundation was frequently incorrect and limited to misconceptions; FRF was growing at a lesser rate compared to other community foundations; FRF had untapped potential and could be a more vital community resource. The board also came to the conclusion that the Foundation needed a strong CEO to guide it in its dynamic new direction. A search was undertaken and Dan DeSantis was hired as the new CEO in the spring of 2005.

DeSantis had plenty of experience in nonprofit organizations and was able to enhance the Foundation’s sense of renewal. In fact, the theme for the 2004 retreat became “The Rebirth of the Fresno Regional Foundation.” Mort Rosenstein, M.D., in his 2005 president’s letter, noted that this theme signaled many new changes and improvements including capacity building and increasing cooperation and collaboration between the Foundation and all nonprofit groups to maximize their efforts. There was a new energy in the Foundation’s recrafted mission– to improve the quality of life in the Central San Joaquin Valley through philanthropy – and a new commitment to education encouraging the philanthropy needed to fulfill the mission.

DeSantis acknowledged that the Foundation needed to step up its job of bringing awareness to philanthropy in a region that is charitable but not necessarily philanthropic. “The Foundation in the last few years somehow just went to sleep,” he said. “We’ve awakened in the last couple of years.”

This was certainly true. At the end of fiscal year 2006, the Foundation’s assets totaled over $26 million. Grants back to the community exceeded $4 million. New donors like Peter Bennett and the Bonner Family Foundation joined faithful long-term donors like the McClatchy family, the Lyles family, the Eaton family and many others who have contributed to the growth of this foundation.

The board is seeing a generational rebirth as well. This year, Joan Eaton, daughter of FRF founder Lewis S. Eaton, joins Dewey Slater, son of 1973 board member Gerald Slater to make up the 2007 board of directors. One more reflection worthy of note: Executive Director Bob Miner’s rallying cry was “If we could just get that million dollar gift...” In 2006, the Foundation was able to make a grant of $1 million. In a poignant reflection of past meeting present, the grant was made to the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. The cycle continues. Birth. Growth. Maturation. Generations passing hope into perpetuity, just as O. J. Woodward saw it forty years ago.


Graph: The Foundation's Pathway to Leadership and Growth

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