Strategies to preserve family wealth

 Monday, January 25, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Launching our 2016 donor engagement series this past week was about one of the toughest conversations many families will have: how to manage the wealth across the generations.

Many struggle with the issues of succession, control, access and – in some cases – even understanding how to manage the family’s assets, which could be tied up in a business, concentrated stock holdings, a portfolio or some combination thereof. Many know the importance of these issues but – for various reasons – avoid having the talk.

Linda Davis Taylor, respected nonprofit leader and head of a 100 year old investment management firm based in Pasadena, shared some of her perspectives in an engaging conversation, based on her nook: The Business of Family/How to stay rich for generations.

For us at the community foundation, it was a perfect start to a new year of conversations with donors, prospects, intermediaries and others about ways to strengthen effective philanthropy, especially as families navigate these transitions.

Strategies to engage across generations

Using examples of conversations – often but not always started by the patriarch, Linda walked through practical examples of how families can use a process that allows them to understand and celebrate their shared values, identify their legacies, surface issues that lurk between generations and find ways to connect members in ways that not only strengthen familial bonds but also work towards preserving the wealth.

That process involves some of the basics of good family dynamics – connecting with individual members across generations, listening carefully, building trust in each other and in a team of professional advisors and experts (whom Linda calls her ‘posse’), and then charting a course for working together in ways that strengthen legacies, family ties and financial health.

It creates safe space to surface and address barriers to future success.

As the youngest of five children, whose family farming business stretches across three generations, there were familiar themes in the presentation, discussion and question and answer period. Legacies and values matter, and are often the ties that bind future generations despite a disparity of career choices, locations and financial circumstances. Of the nine grandchildren in my generation, there has been a range of needs and expectations that would prove daunting for any family, let alone one whose primary asset has been farm land tied to revenue that varies year to year.

Yet I know all of us feel keenly the legacy left from our grandparents, and the pride they took in their grandchildren. Managing a business with siblings is not for the faint of heart.

Surfacing the unspoken issues that matter

The tools Linda outlined are a helpful roadmap to discovering the issues that preclude thoughtful strategy or productive behavior – ways to help surface and discuss topics that rarely arrive at the dinner table: what are the challenges that drive the business, how to strengthen financial education, how to absorb different priorities between generations and still keep working as a family.

In my private banking days, we worked with families who faced similar challenges. Many of them stem from lack of communication or strongly held views that were rarely challenged; some had built in restrictions that govern from the grave, which leave bitterness and hurt feelings. Equal treatment is a concept we understand deep in our bones, but every family has its tussles over how that gets translated. I can still hear Tommy Smothers singing “Mom loved me best!” Money makes those tussles tangible, and has the potential for scars never to heal. Charitable contributions can exacerbate those tradeoffs, with some heirs visiting the sites of their parents’ (or family’s) largess, listening to the inner chorus of “this nearly was mine”. But it can also work to bring families together.

Philanthropy can bring families to a common space

Philanthropy is often a tool that families use, both to develop skills and to connect generations. Whether a significant portion of family wealth or a more modest fund added to annually (at your local community foundation, of course!), this offers a way for families to support organizations important to their history or their passions, as well as for individual members to explore the causes that matter to them. Giving together builds the together muscles.

One example shared was how the passion of a granddaughter for environmental causes opened the eyes of the family’s patriarch to her interest in giving back to the community, and her disciplined approach to thinking about effective giving. It became common ground to build dialog, reinforce values and work together.

The power of regular meetings to create conversations

Linda also reminded us the power of tradition and presence. Regular family meetings not only force us to reconnect, but also provide the glue that reminds us how we all grow at different speeds. Providing a chance to share the stories of perseverance, success, risk and rewards also brings a sense of what helped to provide for the family’s financial security, important if there has been little tradition of sharing from the first generation.

She noted the power of gathering for her own father’s 80th birthday, when he began to share – for the first time – his motivations and values about the family’s business. That was a precious moment, when the next generation understood more clearly the power of his legacy.

Family meetings are also an opportunity for cousins to learn from and with each other. Mentors for the next generation can be powerful additions to the conversation as well, the glue that connects in between meetings.

Families are where we learn.

Families are where we learn many of our primal skills – how to fit in, how to work together, what talents can be nurtured and what values are instilled in us – not only right and wrong but what makes our family distinctive. Combined with the experiences we share – good & bad and the traditions we develop or inherit, it grounds our own culture that is reinforced when we gather as a family.

That is why the holidays are both fraught with tension and a huge boon – sometimes at the same time.

Strategies help organize. So do a posse.

Developing a family’s financial and philanthropic strategy that allows the flexibility of change and growth while preserving those values is one way that families can remain solid in the midst of transformative and transitional change. Linda also noted the importance of having access to the posse – the skilled advisors which include financial advisors, lawyers, accountants, and philanthropic advisors; these can play invaluable roles as trusted advisors, keepers of the flame and potential source of education, training and context.

Nonprofits can play a role

As we continue to work with families develop their philanthropic legacies for this region, we look forward to sharing some of these strategies with our nonprofit partners, who often play similar roles with their donors in strategizing about planned and/or deferred gifts. Clarity about expectations and values goes a long way towards removing some of the barriers to effective family dynamics, particularly when they are aligned with a family’s deepest desires and celebrate legacies with pride.

The talk is about more than money

Having the talk helps, but it is equally important to make sure the talk is about more than money and control. It strengthens the relationships when it reinforces what keeps the family together, and celebrates not only success but perseverance through hard times.

In a region where families have carved out of the hardscape thriving businesses that are engaging a third, fourth and fifth generation, understanding how these families can work together is an important step in preserving what is best about this abundant valley. Families are anchors to a region that absorbs change; in fact, it is a place that is a testament to the power of families working together.

We look forward to helping families sustain their legacies, and invest in a future for a region that means so much to them, and to us. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

Environmental Sustainability and Smart Growth

 Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Sustainability for the Lands We Live On

The Central Valley Community Foundation distributed $250,000 at our first grants reception of the New Year. The focus was on two important priorities, river restoration and smart growth strategies. The funds for these grants come from two sources- the Ted Martin Fund (established during his lifetime and the recipient of his estate) and funds dedicated by the board for environmental sustainability.

Smart Growth Tools to Strengthen Communities

For CVCF, a community foundation tied to this land, focusing on place is an important priority and environmental sustainability is a natural fit. Building on our history of grant making around issues like clean air, the board approved a series of grant cycles using unrestricted funds to support smart growth initiatives.

Smart growth is a framework and a set of tools that we use to foster healthy and livable communities. These communities are designed to advance public health, social equity, environmental sustainability and economic growth. By linking housing and transportation options to nearby jobs, shops and schools people can make better choices. Smart growth builds local economies that pay attention to the local environment, helping create a sustainable balance that supports a thriving community.

River Restoration

A nice complement to the environmental sustainability effort are the funds dedicated by Ted Martin to support river restoration. Ted had a lifelong love of the San Joaquin River that dated back to memories of his youth spent on, and around, this critical waterway. The first of two grants support the San Joaquin River Stewardship Program which brings youth onto the river as a summer program (and for many into their first job). The second grant supports the acquisition of property along the river in Merced by the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, expanding its good work of protecting riparian lands.

Bicycles, Gardens and a New Food Hub

Our smart growth grants included supporting an open streets program, launched around the world, and coming to Fresno this fall. CenCalVia, sponsored by The Fresno County Bicycle Coalition, will allow urban residents to bicycle through car free streets for a delightful Sunday morning. Funding also went toward the establishment of a 6000 square foot community garden in an affordable housing project in Visalia. This garden will be a model for other affordable housing projects in the region.

Expanding the successful efforts of the Fresno Food Commons (funded last year as a first in the nation launch), a grant this year will help establish a new community food hub in southeast Fresno. The grant will also help launch a food access fund to increase options for local residents in food desert areas.

Supporting Community Groups

CVCF recognizes the value of supporting the engagement of community groups working at the intersection of public policy and public resources in communities where the needs are great. We support a local coalition that trains and mentors folks in jobs that create sustainable environments. We also provide funding for an organization that is connecting individuals and CBOs concerned about groundwater use and land use planning. These strategies align with those developed at the regional and statewide level connecting sustainability of natural resources (water and clean air) with economic opportunity, jobs and growth.

Effective Grant Making is a Core Discipline

Over the coming year, we will be hosting additional grants receptions as we focus on priorities that include teen pregnancy, the arts, veterans and expanding education and work opportunities for youth. We will continue to work with donors, funders and other partners to find the most effective way to leverage philanthropic dollars, measure impact and share best practices.

We are greatly privileged to be working with so many who want to invest their philanthropic and charitable funds into the valley, its institutions and its peoples. Starting the year off with a focus on our natural environment reminds us not only of this vibrant, fertile and beautiful place we live, but also the opportunities to shape a better future.

Come join us. There is more good work ahead.

Best Regards,

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

A new year’s resolution to change

 Monday, January 11, 2016
Hugh Ralston


With the start of a new year, there is both the reality and illusion of cleansing – calendars, files, desks – even the mind.  We think about, and even commit to, new resolutions – to reduce the waistline, to be nicer to ourselves and even other people, to appreciate more and complain less.  Maybe even to get organized.  

Some of these resolutions last beyond the first week, and reflect a commitment to do better in the new year.   At least a belief in the possibility of change. 

In that spirit, and with a level of humility that appreciates my own complicity, I share some thoughts about wading through the philanthropese that sometimes convolutes our thinking, reflecting how we talk about our work and try to articulate its worth and value.    

Words. Words. Words.

As Eliza Doolittle exclaimed in in My Fair Lady – words, words, words!  We get caught up in our own language.    

At a recent meeting of colleagues, we started our meeting sharing some thoughts and phrases we hope never to hear again. Many struck home, both in their familiarity and as examples of how (Big P) philanthropy can sometimes hide its basic values. 

Among the concepts tossed on the fire were phrases that describe what we do:

  • social impact
  • collective impact
  • collaboration & partnerships
  • drivers of change
  • convening
  • capacity building
  • field building
  • bigger bus

Some were how we think about our work and its value:

  • strategic impact
  • transparency
  • synergy
  • logic model
  • partnerships
  • scalable
  • theory of change

Some were how we think about, and talk about, ourselves and what we want to accomplish:

  • out of the box
  • to the next level
  • manage momentum
  • changing the narrative

Code words for our work?

Each concept resonates, both with a vision of a response to our work, and the possibility of transformation, changes to the status quo or touching others.    These are easy code words or phrases, which seems like a secret and approved language, which we sometimes share with an easy confidence because we know what it means.

For me, many of these roll off the tongue with ease.  Sometimes it works.

Sometimes the message is arrogance

But sometimes, these words throw up barriers and miss the opportunity to connect with those with whom our work is deeply connected.   Donors. Grantees, Partners. Community Leaders. 

Sometimes we talk about philanthropy’s golden rule: our gold, our rules. 

Power to do good things

Philanthropy has a long history, built on its Greek derivations: love of man.  It is about dedicating resources towards ends that can be filled with the deepest meaning, greatest value or a core identification with personality, place or position.   It is a position of privilege – by its very wealth and presence, its tax advantage preferences, its power and influence -- and yet it also possesses a freedom to be innovative, different, countercultural, and long term. It has the power of initiative, the scale of its capital (influence, size and power), and the focus of its direction.     

Philanthropic grants can sustain, transform, assist, defend and open opportunities, as well as carry forth the ideas deeply embedded in its core mission or legacy of its founder(s).   It has created institutions, funded causes, nurtured individuals in need and in scope, and saved millions of lives.   It makes a difference, honoring and respecting its privileged position.     

Possibilities are real and tangible

Its possibilities – particularly in a region where need, opportunity, skill and potential coexist – are as flexible as the ideas that animate, the solutions it can create and the networks it can build.  It can not only do what capital has always done with its investments – create, nurture, develop and launch, but it can also transcend, innovate, rescue and inspire.

Community philanthropy can do all that and more, linked to a place and the people within.  It can invite, engage and encourage, along with sustain, protect and imagine.    

Move beyond the barriers of language

So one of my resolutions is to be careful of the philanthropese, to think about what one of my colleagues used to call the simplicity on the other side of complexity.   It can be done!

Nurturing those possibilities, protecting the passions of our donors and engaging others to believe we can chart a different future – these drive our work every day.

Here at the community foundation, we can move beyond the barriers of language and phrases that carry baggage, and do something that matters, to do it well today and tomorrow, and carry forth passions into productive and constructive change.    

We can do this, here. Together. Now.   Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

Our Resolution-Sustain what will not change

 Monday, January 04, 2016
Hugh Ralston


The New Year is a holiday filled with promise, potential and a sense that something new will unfold. It is a combination of more food, friends and champagne, more football and the annual Rose parade down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard.

Maybe even a nap or two, among each family’s familiar and emerging traditions. The year passing is looked back on with a combination of relief, regrets and some fondness. But we can say goodbye!

Hopes for change

We turn to a new year with hope. That promise of newness is something we cling to, often as a talisman in the face of challenges – some of them persistent if not chronic. It is also endemic in a hopeful people, whose focus has always been on the future, and the potential of better times - if not for us, then certainly for our children.

That quadrennial presidential selection process reflects 2016’s hopes for a new president, if not the next generation of political leadership. These hopes are fanned by candidates from both sides of the aisle who promise a combination of change, a return to a (sometimes mythic) past and familiar traditions, and even bold new solutions to problems that seem deeply embedded in our communities, in our behaviors and in our psyches. The choices await.

Resolutions greet the new year

We often greet the new year with resolutions – a chance to take stock of the world and our place in it. We use the transition to bolster our commitments to change, to reform, to revisit or cast a different vision of who we are and who we can be. Sometimes those resolutions fade with the first meal of the new year, the first week without exercise, or the first return to normal schedules, pressures and deadlines.

But we still hope, because we are a hopeful lot.

Cycles govern our year, planning and thinking.

I prefer to think of the new year’s possibilities as grounded in the things that don’t change, those elements that remain stable, solid and ongoing.

Cycles of nature will turn again from the early morning frosts and cold air to the blossoms of spring, fruits of the summer and the inevitable seasons of rest in fall and winter. The winter rains will yield to productive crops, bountiful harvests and another year of bounty, whether in the rich fields of the San Joaquin Valley or carefully tended vegetable and flower gardens in neighborhoods across the city.

Cycles of the year – whether touchstones in the religious calendar or the academic year, also mark our own sense of time and transition. Annual conferences in the spring, summer vacation, annual budget cycles, new projects – all feed into our yen for planning. And this is the time of year we transfer calendars, with all that open space that somehow gets filled up.

Grounded in things that persist

At the Community Foundation, we have the benefit of enduring horizons, grounded in our commitment to place and to the long term – ‘for good. for ever’ is our national tag line. One of our advantages is that we are not going away: we are here for the long haul. This forms not only the core to our annual work, but also a framework for new opportunities, new initiatives and new challenges to address.

As we turn to a new year, we also focus on that embedded in our bedrock, which includes

• Core Values & Practices 

Protecting legacies and donor intent 

• Working with nonprofits 

• Working with advisors & the power of research 

• Partnering with others on local initiatives

More on each of these in coming months, for they frame our work, progress and success.

Celebrating 50 years and looking forward

2016 is a special year for the Community Foundation, as we celebrate fifty years of service to our region. For us, that means not only a chance to look back and celebrate the donors, leaders, agencies, funding partners, board and staff who have nurtured, built and encouraged what started in 1966 as the Fresno Regional Foundation, but also to look forward and see what should motivate our work in the coming decades.

Stay tuned for invitations to a series of community conversations later this winter, for we want you to help us develop the strategies, tools and partners that will mark the next cycle of community philanthropy that can strengthen this region and deepen community.

A new year to sustain, deepen and expand our mission

Yes, the potential opportunities ahead in 2016 are both real and rich with promise. As we complete the work of our strategic plan, and codify the choices for the next five years to become more effective, sustainable and respected, the mission of the community foundation will remain grounded in core values, commitment to donors and community, and to the belief that working together will yield better results.

We look forward to sharing with you stories of how that work makes a difference, how we can leverage precious charitable funds and how we can shape a different path to a more prosperous future.

Come explore how you can join in this good work, and add the effective use of community philanthropy to your resolutions for 2016.

Happy New Year!

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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