Investing in the next generation is still one of the best investments we can make

 Monday, August 31, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, the foundation was privileged to distribute funds to local grantees for two of our competitive grant cycles – teen pregnancy prevention and aiding college bound youth in the communities of Dinuba, Reedley, Cutler-Orosi and Orange Grove. In a late afternoon event held at our new Center for Community, we once again were able to translate grant dollars into programs that transform people’s lives.

It remains one of the great privileges of being a community foundation, to provide that connection between a donor’s passion and the next generation

Grantmaking Connects FRF’s many stakeholders

For FRF, competitive grantmaking brings together key strands of our work: 

• funds distributed from those entrusted by donors to our care, whether it be a bequest or regranting dollars from a trusted and valued foundation partner 
local nonprofits seeking support for programs, missions and outreach 
• volunteers working together to help us identify options and solutions, often to complex problems, through our advisory grants committees 
• goals to fund and the grants themselves, approved by our board of directors to ensure clarity as to intent and priority, as well as ongoing oversight 

• and foundation staff working to ensure the funds are properly used, with results measured, evaluated and then shared with multiple stakeholders

 Effective philanthropy often takes time, discipline and follow up, and in both cases we are proud of the work distributed this week.

The Mitsuoka Legacy for Dinuba, Reedley and Orange Cove

Dorothy Mitsuoka worked hard as a citrus farmer, and believed in the power and importance of a college education to the children in her local community. Her bequest to the foundation set up a permanent endowment, whose grants support programs that would expand the number of local students ready and able to go to college.

$100,000 was distributed to four organizations – Central Valley Higher Education Consortium for a boot camp for first generation college bound students, Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) engaging 185 parents to support the college readiness at two local high schools, Community Services Employment Training for a program that connects high school students in Cutler Orosi with a chance to develop leadership skills, to learn how to use technology and to build career and college preparation. The fourth grant to Teen Success was for supporting teen moms transition to being able to go to college.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention – a multi year partnership continues

Other grants distributed are part of multiyear support from the Hewlett Foundation to reduce rates of teen pregnancy, which locally - despite recent reductions in the national numbers - are among the highest in California. This year’s $303,000 in grants included support for the Madera Coalition for Community Justice, to provide comprehensive sex education to youth and parents, for ACT for Women & Girls, to support two programs that use teens as educators focused on reducing teen pregnancy, the Peer Health Ambassadors Program of Fresno Barrios Unidos, providing outreach and education to 3,000+ teens and 350 parents, and for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, to expand its Safer Choices program to engage 990+ youth and 530 parents in workshops, again aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.

Program directors shared their appreciation for this support, noting this work is not universally welcomed but critical in making headway in reducing the alarming rates across our six county region. Whether it is investing in education and awareness, for both teens and their parents, the grantees believe that giving teens accurate information is an important ingredient to changing behaviors, and in expanding opportunities for success in the future.

In the same way, investing in the capacity, awareness and skills of teens exploring college becomes an effective tool for those exploring life after high school, especially for those students who are forging a pathway never followed before in their family. These programs help them imagine a future embedded in the dreams of parents, some of whom are navigating these choices for the first time, just like their children. Given the potential impact of going to college, getting ready early is often vital.

Effective investments transforms young lives

Whether partnering with donors or foundations, we know the effective investment of philanthropic dollars can not only sustain a legacy, a program or an education but provides for a future to be transformed, lives made promising through new opportunities, and a community’s next generation strengthened.

Congratulations to our grantees, and the thousands of teens that will be helped over the coming year. That is one measure of philanthropic capital well invested. Come join us in this intergenerational investment - good work indeed.

Best Regards,

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

Transformative Times

 Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This week I have been mulling the impact of the transformations underway, both in the nonprofit sector and in our own San Joaquin Valley.

A recent branding discussion in our marketing committee stopped for a moment to consider the word itself, powerful and evocative in its signaling of significant and not always welcomed change. We had used the tag line Engage. Learn. Transform for Ventura County Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership, laying out a cycle of engaging colleagues & ideas, learning from peers and content experts, all focused on building skills to transform the sector.

Nonprofit leaders often feel they are redesigning the airplane while still in flight, as the community and donors transform around them, the tools of managing and delivering services evolve with the economy and technological innovation, organizational and leadership capacity, and the needs seem to increase, often exponentially beyond approved funding or budget levels.

Many believe they are in the transformation business by design – either transforming the circumstances so those in need can be helped, transforming communities to change realities on the ground, or transforming individuals to step into new paradigms. It can be lonely, balanced by those working in common cause with those resistant to change.

Communities are always being transformed – with new neighbors, changing economies, evolving business and residential platforms, sometimes within a generation that traditionally provides them roots, character and identity. They change due to powerful market forces, government policies and changing tastes – as anyone driving through shopping malls, older neighborhoods and new housing developments can see in an instant. Few communities are static – it is hardly the American way.

And yet some things do remain constant – institutions like churches and schools, universities and communal organizations, multigenerational family businesses and cultural/artistic organizations, many of whom anchor the very identity we seek and respect in our community.

The idea of community transformations was brought to mind in two connections this week, the first at a session at the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University’s seminary. Its’ intentional efforts to transform communities reflects its vision of a stronger commonweal – transformations that come from teaching leadership skills to those in rural faith communities, from inculcating the ideas of social business and economic opportunity in faith communities serving the disadvantaged struggling to make ends meet, and sparking the imagination of the entrepreneur with a shark tank-like program that celebrates new business ventures in poor neighborhoods. Here transformation is the objective, aligned with the belief in a more abundant community, one by its very definition includes valued space and opportunity for all.

And the second was a feisty and thoughtful address, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fresno’s own Economic Opportunities Commission. Georgia Congressman John Lewis not only talked about the value of community transformation, he embodied it. Literally.

The last surviving member of the leadership team that organized the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama - recently revisited in the film Selma, Lewis is a human talisman of the transformation within this country over the past fifty years, which he acknowledged was remarkable - to himself and to many others. For many, this work is still unfinished, as we Americans continue to struggle to form that more perfect union.

Significant challenges remain, yet progress has been tangible for many. How and what we transform, and who benefits, is the deeply embedded narrative in the American story. At FRF, we believe community philanthropy can continue to play a role as we are challenged - as Lincoln reminded us the depth of our greatest national crisis - to think anew.

As we sit on the cusp of our 50th anniversary as a community foundation, and look at what the next fifty years will bring to this rich, fertile and vibrant valley, we know transformations will be guided by those whose visions of that future will be deeply embedded in their love for this place.

That there are so many willing to do this work – in our nonprofits, in our businesses, in our faith communities, in our neighborhoods, and in our civic institutions and schools -- sometimes one person at a time, often together in groups - remains another vote of encouragement that our prospects remain bright. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

The power of a floating lantern

 Monday, August 17, 2015
Hugh Ralston


The power of a single candle can be deeply moving, particularly when it is tied to the memory of someone much beloved.

Last week, my wife and I were privileged to participate in one of Fresno’s annual rituals: the lantern lighting near the Shinzen Garden at Woodward Park. Lodged deeply in the Japanese tradition of Tora Nagashi, and embraced locally by a broad array of residents, it was an evening marked by the sonorous listing of names, each marked by the quiet ritual of a bell chiming, and a long line of lit lanterns bobbing in the lake, set forth by those who wished to keep these names – in a sense – still alive.

Over 275 lanterns were launched, each tied to a loved one, a treasured partner or friend, departed family members, a number of “Japanese American internees” as well as well those whose lives were being noted as valued, and precious. Each lantern contained a single candle, which illuminated the six paper panels; each had the name of the one being honored attached.

After a brief prayer by a Buddhist priest and the lighting of incense on a small altar covered by a beautiful embroidered brocade cloth, the names were read aloud by a member of the Garden’s board. Each name called forth a lantern carried by one or two, a family or collection of friends; the lanterns were placed gently on the lake, with the donors kneeling on pillows at the shore. A helping hand was welcomed by those whose bodies no longer easily crouch down or where the joints were a bit stiff.

Several hundred visitors stood under the colorful paper globes hanging in the trees surrounding the lake. Families and friends sat together, holding their lanterns, sharing both remembrances and, in some cases, simply the silence of their memories. A solemn and respectful quiet, buoyed by the great affection and regard for the evening’s purpose and fellowship, was punctuated occasionally by other park events, but led back consistently by the litany of names. A tear, a sob or grasped hands marked the deep emotion as each lantern was launched.

As the roll call of names moved through the alphabet, a flotilla of illuminated lanterns stretched across the lake, first in groups together and then, as the evening breezes picked up, in a long line beneath the trees, stretching across the lake to the Shinzen garden on the far shore.

From our vantage point, we could see ducks bobbing among the lanterns and geese on the banks, occasionally honking. Birds dipped across the lake, and a squadron of geese, in a perfect V formation, provided an honor guard of respect as they swooped over the string of lanterns. As the sun faded, the lanterns themselves provided shadows on the water, lighting the reflections of the trees above and, in their very scale, of the cumulative power of memory.

We understand the power of legacies at the community foundation, and the potential for lives which mattered to donors to be carried forth in the future, through supporting a cause or institution, seeding a scholarship for a new generation or sustaining a community asset like a park, library or school.

Philanthropy is often deeply personal, reflecting the ideas, causes, people and organizations that matter the most to us as donors. We all bring to this work the summation of experiences and passions that mark us as individuals, that stand also as testaments to lives lived and to hopes yet realized. The power of effective philanthropy is as much in the benefits given back to the philanthropist as it is in the outcomes driven by gifts, grants and donations. It is often at its most powerful when creating legacies that extend beyond life itself.

The testaments of hundreds floated across the lake last weekend, illuminating not only the power of remembrance but also the enduring legacy that lives on within those who have been touched so warmly by others. That floating candle, like candles set aside in churches across the world, is a beacon that invites respect and nurtures hope.

It is a great privilege to work with so many to translate these beacons into the multiple ways that community philanthropy makes a difference in our region and how it, and we together, can shape a better future. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

Seeking impact makes the difference

 Monday, August 10, 2015
Hugh Ralston


One thing is clear - innovation has come to the world of philanthropy, as our sector thinks about ways to raise new capital to tackle tough issues. From the largest funder to the crowdsourced contributor, new options are making community change not only needed, but possible.

A two day conference earlier this summer at the Presidio Institute in San Francisco brought together investors, nonprofit and community leaders, philanthropists and business leaders to ponder the possibilities of “impact investing”. In sessions broken up by walks with the exemplary vistas of San Francisco bay and the nearby Golden Gate Bridge, a place once hallowed as a military fortress becomes a platform for thinking anew about community.

Two definitions resonate for me: ways to invest in systems change that are measurable, trackable and point to a specific end (or impact), and a way of investing in creating change tied to specific outcomes. It is an evolution in how we can think about investing in community change, particularly as traditional sources of funding (government, private industry, even philanthropy) are pulled to multiple priorities.

The opportunity - in part - is to raise issues people care about with folks who want to focus on good returns, good outcomes and good work. Some nonprofits seek new funding for innovative programs that tackle deeply felt needs; some public sector elements seek more flexible and less constrained resources, and others are navigating within what is called the fourth sphere - where community, public, private and nonprofit all come together to solve problems.

As a former banker and now foundation CEO, it is always intriguing to think what solutions exist beyond the usual: more money or more people. These can always be put to work but sometimes we need to rethink the basics: what is the problem and what are the solutions. Sometimes, there really is a better mousetrap.

Change is constant, if not accelerating. Even as we move out of the ravages of a punishing economic contraction, we still face intractable problems, many resistant to change. Is it time to try something new? That is what we can explore here in Fresno, as - just to use one example - the Strive Together platform steps into a new opportunity to think about expanding opportunities for all our children to succeed - from cradle to career. How do we connect the multiple dots so our goals to help children succeed can demonstrate traction?

It is what can happen when experience meets the unexpected, and a level of trust allows people to explore ideas and try out new ways of understanding a problem, when data raises a different question or a new perspective changes a paradigm, or when an insight opens up a different way to build on something we share. Design thinking is not just for iPhones - but about the possibilities that drive a solution that works.

And there are many others already exploring these opportunities across the Central Valley.

Should we not bring these disciplines and expectations to how we invest our charitable dollars, how we allocate public funding and how we expect results? We can step into, and create, this future and - with measurable data - begin to see progress is not only possible, but actually achievable.

We should never underestimate the power of focused individuals pursuing change but we need to respect what potential exists if we worked to harness the power that comes from working together, from believing that we can accomplish more than what each of us can do alone.

This is a huge opportunity for community philanthropy - that our community can come together to raise the philanthropic capital to shape a better future, that we can link passions of donors who care about a place to ways these funds - in substantial, measurable, real change - can move us to a better place. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

We learn best when we listen

 Monday, August 03, 2015
Hugh Ralston


Over the past two weeks, we have taken the time to listen in four sessions ranging from Bakersfield to Merced to the impact of the drought on the San Joaquin Valley, ranging from individual families to communities, nonprofits and the region itself.

As the final phase of a research study generously funded by the California Endowment, FRF is examining the drought's impact on our local nonprofit sector, both in the demand for services and in the ability of the sector to respond to this rolling, evolving crisis. Our goal is to identify ways that donors and funders can be effective in helping local agencies address the drought.

These four convenings offered us a chance to listen to folks on the front line, from both public and nonprofit agencies, and to dig deeper into questions that have been raised from online surveys, interviews and conversations with local leaders.

This four year drought has stressed communities and neighborhoods already grappling with systemic change -- evolution in our agricultural crops, public infrastructure struggling to cope with growth and increased demands, failure of private wells and government staff and departments adapting to both crisis and system demands. Water is a complex issue, and the drought’s impact is not surprisingly far reaching.

Needs are both immediate -- no water for some farmers, wells running dry, demand for services beyond food to needs like higher levels of family stress or abuse arising from economic disruptions or reduced wages, higher costs to access potable water to drink and use --- as well as structural and long term. Even when it rains this fall -- and it will rain again in California, the impact of the drought will continue to make its presence felt well into the future.

These convenings – in Fresno, Merced, Visalia and Bakersfield, where we are working with the Kern Community Foundation, have identified issues like how best to strengthen nonprofits in their ability to deliver their mission – not just to meet higher service demands but to be more effective in telling their story, to build collaboration between public agencies and local nonprofits so that clients understand what services are actually available, and what resources – a refrigerated truck or deeper technology platforms among others – are needed to sustain the work that only nonprofits can do.

We heard calls to tell the Valley’s story outside the Valley, which is always important, but also to help connect people in the Valley with each other, and to help those who are already doing important work sustain it. Some nonprofit staff helping those without water are themselves suffering from the same daily challenges.

Disadvantaged communities are just that -- suffering from shortfalls in infrastructure, less access to public, private or philanthropic resources, local institutions already on a short financial leash with little room for new staff, new programs, or new innovations to change the way business is done. Many have significant levels of poverty, lack of job skills in a changing economy, or little sense of opportunity that is more prevalent in larger communities.

The drought is one more thing on the wrong side of the scale.

We plan to digest these insights and observations into strategies that can shape solutions to both the short and long term issues. We plan to share these insights in September -- not only how the philanthropic community can make strategic investments in these communities across our region, but also how donors can work with the community foundation and local agencies to ensure the drought does not also include a shortage of community willing to work together.

We believe working with others to understand the needs locally, and expanding the ability of these agencies to deliver their mission effectively is an important step in making smart and effective philanthropy work in our region. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

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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.

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