The power of memory

 Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Hugh Ralston


As we approach the ‘official start of summer’, otherwise known as Memorial Day, it is useful to take a moment and appreciate the power of memory and legacy, and in particular, how they shape the value in things that matter to us most.

Our national holiday is grounded in the efforts to remember and honor the fallen in our civil war, still the most costly in American lives. Emerging from the efforts of individuals to honor their loved ones who died in the contest between the Union and the Confederacy, this Decoration Day became a chance for the nation to sustain its respect for those whose service to country included the last full measure.

With local initiatives like the Honor Flights, which take World War II veterans to Washington DC to visit the national memorial that honors their service, as well as the many memorials to soldiers in conflicts since then – Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I & II, Afghanistan – Memorial Day is still a time to pause and reflect, and to seek out and find ways and places that honor these sacrifices. From local plazas and statues, to memorial groves, there are places scattered throughout Fresno and our region that remind us of the sacrifices made, and bring those into the present. Whether it is listening to the national concert on the Mall in Washington on PBS, or in local services, concerts and productions, our national life pauses to honor and respect.

We also see memorials proliferating on our highways, not only designating of public roads to specific era veterans or designated units, but also to local law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. They are each a testament to a life whose meaning resonates for each community that honors. Memorials to those who have fallen in our wars and other conflicts dot small towns, from those in the public square to more private memorials in cemeteries, on street corners or in the local schools: They too are reflections of the innate human desire to remember, to raise up examples of service, sacrifice and success, and to help bridge the generations. They point to how we got here, and at what price.

The extraordinary monument commemorating the centennial of the Armenian genocide, unveiled last month on the Fresno State campus, is another example of how we set aside places to mark something of great meaning, something that matters deeply to those who contributed. We are proud to have supported this monument, not only a tangible talisman to a tragedy that should never be forgotten, but also something that matters deeply to those in this community, which is deeply embedded in the fabric of community.

In the past week, we were privileged to distribute our 2015 arts & culture grants, including grants to organizations whose projects are focused on capturing the rich and diverse history of our region, the institutions that helped build it and the communities who contributions to our life have sometimes slipped below the horizon. Whether it was to highlight a 19th century Chinese altar, tell the story of forty years of Hmong community in the valley, helping students tell their stories through an alebrijes, supporting murals in Sanger or bringing today’s students into the farmworker history of rural communities, these grants will provide a window in our common past, deepening our roots. These historical societies, libraries and other institutions play a vital role in capturing our stories, in recording how we got to where we are, and to sharing with each new generation the roots of the communities where we live. They nurture the power of memory and its legacies.

So too can a community foundation, whose history is reflected not only in the grants that extend a donor’s passion, but whose funds carry forth a legacy into the future – to sustain a cause, an organization’s mission and/or a program. These are powerful legacies because they provide a bridge between generations, between the issues that dominate today and the possibilities of a better future, and between those who built this place and believed it worthy of investing and those who have inherited the fruits of that work.

We are greatly privileged to be protecting the legacies of donors who are investing in children in Dinuba, in restoring the river banks of the San Joaquin, in preserving music in schools or sustaining organizations that feed the hungry, heal the sick, invest in skill building and nurture the arts. How could we not feel the power of these legacies in our work every single day, guiding our efforts to help shape the future with a passion for this place, its possibilities and the potential of its people?

Memorial Day is a chance to remember, to understand clearly not only the prices paid for our freedom, our system of government and our communities, but also the dreams that drew families and workers across this vast continent to start anew here in this bountiful valley. It is a time that allows us to focus on the places and monuments that state – this is important, these people did something worthy of note, this place is important in our history – and to participate in the ceremonies of respect, of remembering, and of reconciliation that can give us the focus, clarity and appreciation for the enormous gifts and potential we have been given.

We are mindful of the trust embedded in the legacies we have been given, proud to carry them into the future, and eager to find ways to engage a new generation in building the next threads that will strengthen the fabric of our community. We reflect with gratitude and pride on that which has been done for us, confident that our generation can step into the work that needs to be done to realize the next chapter of the American dream. Come join us in the good work.

Best Regards,

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

Stewarding funds by investing wisely for the long term

 Monday, May 18, 2015
Hugh Ralston


At the heart of the community foundation rests the stewardship of funds, entrusted to our care to protect legacies, to fund programs and institutions and to seed the next generation of our community.

We take that responsibility seriously, whether these endowments come from donors committed to a cause, from a local agency who wants us to manage these long term funds or through a bequest or planned gift, trusting the foundation to invest wisely and sustain donor intent. We know that grants, program support, scholarships and other charitable funds do tremendous work every day, often sustaining community as our neighborhoods evolve and grow.

At our recent open investment committee meeting, we shared with donors, beneficiaries and stakeholders how the foundation's investment policies and strategies are designed to fulfill those objectives, and how our results remain solid and 'top of class'.

The presentation is posted on our website and we encourage you to review it and let us know if you have questions. Click here to view the presentation.

At the core of any investment strategy lies the tolerance for risk, and the willingness to take risks to generate returns. Because the foundation is a long term investor - whose horizon is not just the next market cycle, but the one after that, and the one after that, we develop strategies based on our fiduciary responsibilities, our appreciation for the benefits of diversification in reducing risk to the portfolio.

All of us understand the tradeoff between risk and return, knowing that higher levels of risk are required for return. We often look at both sides - how much return is desired to meet our goals and how much risk is appropriate to bear. Our strategies are not likely to mirror those guiding your portfolio or my retirement account because while we share desires for good returns, our horizon is longer and our appetite for risk is likely different.

Our goals are both straightforward, and complex to deliver: to provide for long term capital growth of funds donated to us so that the purchasing power of these monies will - after annual distributions, fees and inflation - continue to grow through market cycles. That way, the funds donated for a charitable purpose will be able to serve that purpose - as we say in the field, for good forever.

One thing that history teaches us is that by combining asset classes -- stocks and bonds, large and small cap, US and international, we can find combinations that will do two things - enhance the return and lower the overall portfolio risk. We work closely with our consultant, the respected firm SEI which manages billions of dollars for pension funds, endowments and public institutions, to make sure that the asset allocation in our portfolios are aligned with our risk tolerance and our return expectations for future growth.

One chart is particularly vivid - it shows the performance of every major asset class over a number of years, and you can see what the returns - and the volatility - of a portfolio would be if it was invested in just one segment of the market. Some of the 'hottest' segments in the market would turn into stomach churning drops within a short period of time. We don't think market timing works well for an institution, and we aren't good at it anyway.

We prefer to balance the risks, and build the steady long term view. SEI's role is that of a fiduciary partner, making sure that they understand our strategy and expectations and have the capacity to move quickly if they need to. Our oversight rests with the investment committee, which includes folks experienced in the investment markets, and the foundation's board of directors, who set policy, monitors performance and provides the guidance for our fund investment activities.

We also use a rolling average of 16 quarters to smooth out short term volatility of results, while still capturing the long term swings of the market. For many beneficiaries, this helps cushion the sharp downturns in the market while dampening some of the exuberance that comes from dramatic market gains. We are here for the long haul. As one of my former colleagues used to say, if you shoot the lights out in one quarter, you are sitting in the dark.

Our strategies are of course sustained by performance, and we measure performance in real terms, in absolute terms, in comparison to appropriate indexes and in relative terms. We pay attention to the current results, but also look at the long term performance - 5-10 years and since inception. We are pleased that our comparison universe puts our portfolio's performance in the top 11th percentile for our 'since inception' record, and above the median for similar sized community foundation. We recognize that in the current environment, reaching the goal of generating returns in the high upper digits on an annual basis has its challenges.

It is at the top of the agenda for our investment committee to keep an eye on, and adjust our strategies where needed and/or appropriate. Markets provide opportunities and risks, and they move much faster than they used to. Our donors have benefitted from the disciplined approach that undergirds our stewardship of these funds over the years.

Charitable capital has its position because of its public benefits, its ability to serve the public good. We know that local agencies depend on these funds to support programs and staff, to expand services and address needs, to fulfill their missions and strengthen the communities they serve. It was not that long ago that the recent market contractions made clear how dependent agencies are on returns for their operating budgets. As the bull market continues, we are mindful that market cycles include both up and down periods.

The Fresno Regional Foundation is proud of the role we provide in investing and deploying charitable capital as we deliver our mission across the San Joaquin Valley -- not only to sustain donors passions and legacies, support local agencies and address community needs and priorities, but also to nurture and develop new philanthropic capital that can add to the effective work already being done. Stewarding long term portfolios helps deliver that capacity to this region.

We continue to believe that community philanthropy can play a constructive role in building a better future for this region. Come join us in this good work

Best Regards,

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

Capitol Hill to the Central Valley Farmland

 Monday, May 11, 2015
Rico Guerrero Dear Friends of the Foundation,

Last Tuesday, the San Joaquin Valley Planned Gifts Council (SJVPGC) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) hosted the annual planned giving symposium titled, “Capitol Hill to the Central Valley Farmland”. The symposium provided the planned giving community with education about current legislative activities that affect the charitable sector and ways to gift agricultural assets to charity or charitable trusts. The sessions were led by Michael Kenyon, President and CEO of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning and Dr. Roger McEowen, Director of the Center for Agricultural Law & Taxation from Iowa State University.

Our first presenter was Michael Kenyon who oversees a national organization whose mission is to advocate for the professionals in the field of philanthropic planning. Michael shared how he works for the members of PPP to advocate on Capitol Hill on our behalf particularly with the charitable sector. As some of you may know the charitable sector has had a watchful eye on how tax reform will affect charitable giving, particularly with the IRA Rollover, caps on charitable deductions and requirements for minimum distributions from Donor Advised Funds. He believes that most of this will be deferred until after the presidential elections.

Dr. Roger McEowen presented information that focused on using assets, particularly farm assets, to establish a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) or Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT). With a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT), you transfer cash, an appreciated asset or other property to a special trust that is invested to generate income for you and any other beneficiaries you select. After all payments have been made, the balance of the trust passes to a charity. The presentation provided a technical overview of how professional advisors can use this charitable tool with donors or clients.

As the president of the SJVPGC and the president-elect for AFP, I was excited to see so many colleagues that are working to make a difference in our community of philanthropy. The symposium brings together estate planners, financial advisors, accountants, insurance professionals, and fundraisers to learn how to best serve donors and clients with their philanthropic goals. The conversations in the room were focused on how each of us could use charitable tools to make a difference in our community.

I look forward to next year’s symposium.

To ensure your giving leaves a lasting impact and legacy, feel free to give me call.

Best regards,

Rico Guerrero
Donor Relations Coordinator 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 110 
[email protected]

So is it really all about our kids?

 Monday, May 04, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This has been an intriguing week, with time spent in San Francisco at the national Grade Level Reading conference - committed to increasing the number of kids who can read at the 3rd grade level, and the annual Council on Foundations conference, with hundreds of the nation’s philanthropists and foundation executives meeting around the topic of leading together.

Our discussions were buffeted by the earthquake in Nepal, and spasms of violence in Baltimore. Both remind us we work together, but in and among a wider community that demands our attention, respect and engagement.

Our sessions ranged across a broad array of topics – from the specific challenges of engaging a new generation to building bridges among faith and nonprofit communities, to the nuts & bolts of impact investing, a new form of measurable investments often using different types of capital. Some ideas were provocative – an office supply company’s profits to invest in community; some were time tested – the best innovations always came from working with others, often through insurmountable hurdles that were in the end breached by the power of an idea, an insight and a vision, each a product of persistence and patience.

But among the discussions emerged a theme, reflecting a long standing question, addressed by several keynote addresses that resonated beyond the ideas launched in new books. This theme forced us to look at previously ironclad fundamentals.

Has something fundamental changed in the American experiment, where the prospects of American families now include a widening gap of economic opportunity between the children and grandchildren of white collar and blue collar families? This gap reflects not only different income and wealth levels but also a gap in access to the resources that build the skills for success – not only reading and comprehension, but social skills, emotional intelligence and the talent to work with folks who are different. For many communities, that gap is so wide for so many that the ideal of a level playing field is lodged more in nostalgia than in reality.

Dr. Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids has data that would indicate not only the expanding gap between such families but the almost impossible road to success for many blue collar families and children. The details are sobering, and deeply troubling as it calls into question one of the nation’s bedrock ideals: anyone can make a success based on their grit, determination and hard work.

He also harkens back to the responses in communities across our country a hundred years ago when the ferment of experimentation, the commitment of like-minded groups and people underscored that expanding levels of inequality were not acceptable, and required a response. Many were launched in small towns and cities, to fix a local problem that demanded attention. That generation developed a set of institutions and tools that served our economy, our country and our people well for over a century. Putnam suggested with all sincerity that the solution to our era’s widening disparities and complex social problems likely rested in the hands of those outside the metropole, those who uttered that utterly American response: “not good enough”.

Conversations about efforts to strengthen civic engagement across a number of issues pointed to tools and strategies but also the stark realization that civic disengagement often comes from a belief the system is not working, that hope remains elusive if your zip code becomes a placeholder for destiny. Elements of Baltimore’s neighborhoods burst into flames, as places where opportunity seems brief, rage fiery and faith in the future fleeting at best.

Yet the response of those who stepped in to clean up the damage from looting, and who are already rebuilding local businesses ravaged by the violence, reflects the thousands for whom their community healing is a personal charge, who are not willing to concede all is lost.

But one of the headwinds we face is that elders/adults don’t always model civic engagement well, particularly if it is engagement across the boundaries of “different”. There has been evidence that as a country we are increasingly retreating into camps of the like minded – in our reading and entertainment, our housing and our schools and our news sources, putting ourselves and our children in community with those that agree with us.

Such focusing is possible because the technology makes it possible – we can select our own ‘friends’ on Facebook and create our social communities, with the option to defriend if needed. We can get our news filtered from either side of the aisle, within whatever echo chamber that reminds us of our views. And we have increasingly few requirements for national or military service, where we were forced in our youth to work closely with those who were not like us, not from the same place or the same advantages, and yet still had skills we could learn, values we could respect and relationships that we would defend.

As public spaces continue to diminish, I sometimes think the experience of community getting reduced to the post office, the jury room and the DMV, where we interact with our government when we can’t do it online.

And guess what? Our youth see and model our own behavior. Our own families have enough evidence of the lingering influence of parents, grandparents and dominant figures, whose legacies loom large, even after death. That is how we learn, even if the lessons sometimes take root when we are hundreds of miles away.

Civic engagement is not an exercise in holding hands and singing campfire songs, as valued as that can be. Civic engagement is about standing up for something, often in the face of someone or some thing that disagrees with you – about you, about your rights, about your expectations. It is about stepping into the public sphere and arguing about the commons, for us and about us, about our obligations and our rights, and about our contributions to the common wealth as well as our expectations of others.

We need to remember the American experiment was always a clash of values, a long trail of building communities that included people from somewhere else, with other traditions, other perspectives, other habits and other views – but also had something in common. We were founded by people who often left everything behind, and whose hard journey was cushioned by the dreams that brought our families here – dreams of a better life, of economic progress and opportunity, of the freedom to become and to worship as each saw fit. It was about building a new country, a place where many us could become what we aspired to be – if not for us, at least for our children.

As we renegotiate the American compact for a new century and the next generation of great diversity, we see civic engagement not just as a set of tools and tactics that need to be executed well but an essential fabric of community, even as that community itself evolves. It is a measure of what it means to be an American, unwilling to surrender the precious stewardship bequeathed to us with the expectation we would seed its flowers in generations to come. It remains grounded in the belief that our generation can prove to the world that our country can work in ways that can be found no where else in the world.

It is about the kids, and about all the kids. And it is about the community they will inherit from us. All we have to do is remember we can work together to shape a better future and, in so doing, create communities worth living in. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston

President and CEO

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.

In this section

© 2015 Central Valley Community Foundation: 5260 North Palm Avenue, Suite 122, Fresno, CA 93704 | T (559) 226-5600 | F (559) 230-2078| Extranet

Accessibility | Guidestar Report: 77-0478025 |Site Credits| Email