People make the difference in each of our lives

 Monday, October 26, 2015
Hugh Ralston


The familiar melody of Pomp & Circumstance accompanied the graduates to the stage at the Fresno Convention Center, as the 1000+ crowd attending the Fresno Rescue Mission recognized and cheered the accomplishments of the men and women who have completed their 18 months training, many turning to a new direction for their lives.

As was shared eloquently – on the stage and on video, lives that carry the weight of past addictions, behavior and abuse can be turned around and, with assistance and support, can face a new future buttressed by faith and a belief in skills and self.

But it takes a lot of work, dedicated time by volunteers and staff, to help folks who turn for help when they have the courage to admit they are broken, or who no longer want to live the life they have been living. Hard questions are asked, mostly of themselves.

Anyone who attended the Rescue Mission’s annual event saw the extraordinary combination of faith and redemption, and how it works wonders in the lives of those whose lives have gone seriously off track, but who have chosen a different path.

It is inspiring, particularly given the distance many of these individuals have traveled.

Higher High School Graduation Rates matter

It was an interesting bookend to a community wide meeting that morning, attended by educators and community leaders focused on helping make sure students graduate from high school. Fresno is part of a national movement to reach a 90% graduation rate, a goal above the current 78.8%.

Part of the discussion was reminding us to connect with those who are ‘off track’, and who do not see – for a multitude of reasons – why continued schooling and graduation are important. Many of them don’t need another lecture or reminder of where they are falling short, but actually someone to listen to them – really listen to them, and understand what is happening in their lives.

Data points to huge challenges

It is easy to see the magnitude of these problems in the data – important measurements of where we are as a community, and where we fall short. The numbers are sobering: The percentage of children living in poverty (43%), students ready for kindergarten (38%), skilled at 8th grade algebra (35%), or reading at grade level (42%). Moving the needle on any of these is a call to action by the community, and the strategies, tactics and priorities present huge hurdles, often requiring institutions moving towards new practices and programs.

Sometimes to accept new paradigms, or even to acknowledge the current reality.

Moving institutions is not for the faint of heart.

Everyone belongs to someone

And yet. As we were reminded on the stage, every one of these graduates is someone’s sibling, someone’s child, someone’s parent. Everyone is a statistic or data point until they become someone we know. Each high school student wrestling with choices is an individual person, filled with possibilities and potential.

At the GradNation Summit hearing, what was encouraging was the reminder of how many people are stepping into a part of the solution by not only doing their job, but doing what needs to be done. Listening to a teen and connecting. Serving as a mentor to someone struggling to find their place. Working with the system to reach “those” who are themselves trying to carve out meaning - often in the face of stiff headwinds.

In the middle of a forty year turnaround?

For many, Fresno is famously a place where there are problems – as the Mayor reminded us, where there are great concentrations of poverty, disparities and challenges. Children walking to school in blighted neighborhoods do not arrive primed for learning. She reminded us we are in the midst of a forty year project to turn this around – work to be done, but twenty years work already completed.

Fresno is also a place where individuals are quietly but persistently slugging away at their piece of the solution, their contribution to the greater whole – whether it is tutoring after school students, helping seniors connect with others, taking the time to listen to someone lost, or providing support for nonprofits and faith based organizations to reach out and help those struggling. They haven’t given up.

Faith communities are putting into practice the demands of their faith, engaging in neighborhoods and organizations that create community for so many. Many are moving beyond their mission fund distributions to help parishioners, and the neighborhoods that surround their campus, to adjust the changes in society, in community and neighborhood – and to fulfill their mission of working within the world to make a difference. Each act of engagement is a community asset we can harness towards this 40 year turnaround project.

Philanthropy does its bit as people step up

At the Community foundation, we are privileged to work with so many who want to see how philanthropy can make a difference, how their charitable desires can be invested, promoted and protected, sometimes long into the future. They understand the power of what has been invested in them, and the value of a legacy that reaches out to touch the future.

And they understand that we are built for community, designed to find deep value and meaning when we connect with others, satisfied when we are part of something larger than our individual passions and concerns.

We are part of a community where people seek ways to work together, to help others, and to build a better place. That is rightly celebrated in a graduation, in academic achievements but also in everyday encounters with each other. That is what makes this work so rewarding.

Come join us to find your way to contribute to a community that sees work to be done, and steps into the breach. There is plenty of work to be done, but we will succeed together as we chart a path to a better future.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

Values matter

 Monday, October 19, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, Bill George – former CEO of Medtronics/current Harvard Business School professor, came to Fresno to launch the fall series at Fresno Pacific University on the challenges facing our economy. He spoke eloquently about the ideas embedded in his seminal work Authentic Leadership, and in his updated Discover Your True North.

As he distilled his message to local business and community leaders, it is pretty simple. Success in a business comes from respecting core values and its mission, and not being diverted from those values regardless of the short term opportunities.

At a time when United’s CEO departs in a scandal with a $20 million severance packet, and VW demonstrates how quickly it can destroy a global brand through deceit and obfuscation, his message was a timely reminder of the importance of core values.

Finding your own pathways

His examples were of leaders whose values were reconfirmed and forged in those crucible moments when hard choices are actually hard. Relating his own experience of examining his own life goals with a pending corporate promotion, he found his own true north in leading an organization whose values aligned with his, and with its products, and with the impact those products have on people all over the world.

He shared a conversation he had with one of his line workers who made artificial valves (one of its core products), noting her commitment to 100% results; she said she couldn’t live with herself if someone died because she had not done her job properly. That reflects how deeply values were imbedded in the workforce.

Reviewing our organizational values

Prof. George’s talk was timely, as our Foundation board reviewed and approved this week a statement of organizational values developed over the summer through a series of conversations among staff colleagues and among the board.

Prompted by reviewing values adopted in 2007, we asked a couple of questions: is anything missing that reflects on our mission and our work as a community foundation? Are there values and practices that underscore everything we do, which might be embodied in those values?

As we identified what values we felt were important to us, and explored what they mean and how they should be implemented, we moved through discussions, wordsmithing, and different definitions, with a chance to hear perspectives, explore our own history and define expectations for our work. That we would spend several hours discussing the language describing each value was an encouraging sign that we did care about which values matter, and why.

Values and core assumptions

So here they are: 


Respect, inclusion and diversity 


Leadership and Vision 


 Innovation and a culture of learning

Underneath each - and part of all - these values, we noted the following assumptions that we agree apply universally to our work – excellence; strategic thinking; collaboration and belief in supporting each other; kindness, thoughtfulness and caring; utmost confidentiality; honesty; and the courage to do the right thing. These connect our values and each other, sinews that reflect everything we do, and should do.

There is always a risk in publishing a list but if we are serious about these values, we should not be afraid to be held accountable for them either. As Bill George reminded us, values are the anchor we use when we make the decisions that impact our work, our customers, our partners and our communities.

Or as we were reminded as children – they are what guide what we do when no one is looking.

As value based organizations demonstrate success in navigating the challenges in the current economy, we believe that exploring how and what these values mean, helps sustain the trust that rests at the heart of our mission.

As value based organizations demonstrate success in navigating the challenges in the current economy, we believe that exploring how and what these values mean, helps sustain the trust that rests at the heart of our mission.

For more information, please give us a call. We will be happy to share with you why we think these values are ones that will power the next chapter of community philanthropy – in part because they distinguish our work, and in part because they embody the community we build, serve and support. That helps define why this philanthropy matters to this place. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

New space. New name. Next Chapter

 Monday, October 12, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, we formally dedicated our Center for Community – as a place to gather, to share and to build.

And we unveiled a new name that better reflects our ambitions for the days ahead.

But first: why this space? A simple answer is that we like meetings. And now we have rooms in which to meet!

A deeper answer is that we believe in the nonprofit sector, and its capacity to shape community. As the region’s community foundation, we believe that helping that sector achieve a higher level of effectiveness, leadership, capacity, and funding will help the region we all work to strengthen.

More than just grantmaking

Many know us by our grantmaking, both from donors and from the partners who have helped us invest in families help their children succeed by the third grade, encourage smart growth, work with arts organizations, help students go to college and graduate school, and reduce teen pregnancy.

It remains a fundamental part of our work.

But our mission is more than be just a grantmaker to local nonprofits. This Center gives us the space to do that broader work:

• provide free meeting space for organizations to do that face to face work – perhaps even more important in an age when we are connected digitally 

help convene organizations around issues that matter and skills to be taught 

• provide workshops to help CBOs do their business better – at the staff and at the board level -- to be more effective in our work, share our best stories, engage more donors, and master the tools we use 

• bring donors together to learn new tools to help make their giving more effective 

• understand research, data and how our work shapes that of others 

• foster collaboration among public, private, nonprofit and other partners 

• and work together to raise new charitable capital, which remains for many the lifeblood of our work and the means to transform lives.

The nonprofit sector in Fresno County alone is a $4 billion business – we cannot fund solutions to every problem with grants but we can help each other build an effective platform to do the work that only nonprofits can do.

We also announced the board has approved a change in our name, to reflect two key disciplines of our work: our focus on the Central Valley of California and our brand as a community foundation.

Community Foundation brand

Community foundations have spent the last twenty years refining what makes us unique and different, what distinguishes this part of American philanthropy. It is reflected in part in the national standards movement but also in what the brand should be about:

• a physical place and the people that are there 

• engaging donors and helping them be more focused and effective in their work, measuring outcomes, thinking through strategies, exploring products, and understanding the legacies that are to be protected, for good for ever. 

• being a long term steward, protecting those legacies as an organization that is never going away. 

• And building the charitable sector to be an effective steward of - and for – community.

A community foundation is both a trusted steward of capital, protective of the donor’s intent and expectations, and a place that engages others in how to use philanthropic dollars to strengthen our region – the institutions, the individual people, the community, and --in a sense --the future itself.

We are here for the long haul.

Central Valley Community Foundation continues the work

Under our new name, logo and tagline, we will continue to build on the work of board members and donors who have partnered with the Fresno Regional Foundation for almost fifty years.

And that work will focus on the Central Valley.

Our new name will be the Central Valley Community Foundation, with our mission, vision and core identity reflected in our tag line: Effective philanthropy. Stronger communities.

Our new logo reflects our deep connection to the land we serve, and the rich agricultural heritage that will be a part of our future. Our mission to cultivate smart philanthropy, lead and invest in solutions that strengthen community is one that will shape our efforts for years ahead.

We recognize that we cannot do this work alone but rather can do so much more if we recognize a deeply held truth: we do better work when we work together. That is true when we work with donors, our efforts through this Center for Community and our work in, and as, a community.

To what end?

We look forward to you joining us in the coming weeks and months – with a class or workshop, a lecture or convening, a contribution or a new fund, a planned gift or agency endowment: a partner in this great work of community philanthropy building community – not just here in Fresno but across the entire central valley.

And what is our goal? A stronger community for all of us, a better sense that we can shape a prosperous future for more of us, a commitment to this region and the rich, broad and diverse people that have built California’s fifth largest city, its most productive valley that feeds the nation and part of the world, and what I believe will be the next great chapter in the California story.

It can be a way that our generation will take the gifts and legacies bequeathed to us, and invest them in building communities worthy of those investments made in us, worthy of the challenges we face today, and worthy of our dreams. It is within our ability to do so, working together.

Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

The drought adds another burden to the underserved

 Monday, October 05, 2015
Hugh Ralston


At a convening on this past Tuesday morning, FRF unveiled a new report on the impact of the drought on our region's nonprofits, many of whom are at the forefront of responding to those suffering across the valley.

The full report “Beyond Almonds and Blond Lawns” is available on our website, at www.fresnoregfoundation.orgWe are grateful for the support of the California Endowment in bringing this study to fruition. 

How can donors help?

The purpose of the study was to find ways that donors and funders could respond to the sector’s needs, some of which are deep seated and some of which have been exacerbated by the drought itself. Through a series of online surveys, direct interviews and community convenings, we identified a number of strategies that we think are worth exploring.

Some are obvious. Some focus on what happens after it starts to rain.

They include providing financial support to nonprofits operational sustainability, long term infrastructure investment, economic development, and for increasing organizational effectiveness. The recommendations also include taking their story/stories to a wider audience, and working with regional, state and national funders to help local agencies doing important work.

Long term issues will matter too

Some longer term issues will need attention, even after the winter rains convince some the drought is over. More efficient use of water – not just by farmers but by consumers, will be on our agenda for years. So will the need to boost underserved communities, and to strengthen nonprofit effectiveness so they too can do work only they can deliver. As community partners and donors, we are also called to pay attention to the evolving needs, to donate directly to CBOs that are struggling to meet new or extended demands for services, to learn how to become smarter investors and to deepen the conversation among the parties where collaborative action can make a huge difference.

There is plenty of work to be done to help those struggling – both those with immediate needs like no water or cascading health problems, as well as those who are grappling with social and institutional changes that impact their ability to make a living, provide for their families or build for a better future.

Issue crosses county lines

As a community foundation that serves a broader geographic region, we recognize that some issues cross county lines. This is one that affects the entire Valley. We appreciate the participation with the Kern Community Foundation, whose county was included in the study. We are planning to have additional sessions in Bakersfield, Tulare and Merced, so we can explore how local action can help as well.

FRF is exploring ways to respond

There are strategies FRF is moving forward on its own, including supporting training for state and federal government grants applications, especially for rural or small municipalities, water districts and CBOs, funded by a grant from the Board's Fund for the Common Good and launched this fall with the Fresno State Office of Community and Economic Development.

The requests for capacity building support - widely supported in each of the four convenings, will help shape the curriculum for workshops to be offered in coming months from FRF's Center for Community.

One more weight on the wrong side of the scale

The impact of the drought is magnified in regions that have underfunded infrastructure, stretched public dollars and changing economic conditions. Those impacted by seismic shifts in agriculture -- often summarized in the shift from row crops to tree crops – include farm workers, many of whom will no longer be able to find similar work. Job and skill retraining is particularly important as these workers and their families have to adapt to a different job market.

CBO infrastructure is equally important, particularly for those nonprofits which are being pulled into positions of community leadership, sometimes to fill a vacuum. Basic leadership training - at the board and staff level, marketing and outreach, engaging donors -- all will help.

Telling the story

One other element we heard over and over again is the importance of telling the Valley story outside the Valley. This is not only exploring why the Valley, its people and its products are important to the entire state of California, if not the nation, but also highlighting why investing in this region is not just about responding to the needs. We know that regional and statewide funding partners recognize this, but there is an opportunity to make the case to a broader audience.

This is a place worth investing in because it is a place that matters to more than just its residents.

It will rain again in this fertile valley but that will likely not solve the water problems we face. We hope this report will help others shape how to respond effectively and shape a better future. Come join us in this important work.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

Giving through the Foundation

Fresno Regional Foundation helps donors achieve their charitable goals, and we serve as a bridge connecting philanthropy to community-based organizations that provide programs and services throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

Learn more about giving through the foundation.

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