New Audiences Expand the Arts

 Monday, February 29, 2016
Hugh Ralston


A lively exchange

At our Arts and Culture Community Conversation this week, we had a lively discussion about some vexing questions. How do arts organizations find and engage new audiences? How can organizations adapt their programming to accommodate changes in the way we experience and create art? How do we navigate the generational and cultural divides?

The viability of our local arts organizations may rest on the answers.

The conversation included a panel of artists and arts organization leaders-several of whom were our grantees. Their focus was on experiential projects in less traditional venues, more participation and a spirit of collaboration. Each spoke with pride and authenticity about creating art locally, and its importance to our sense of community.

Technology plays an increasing role

Technology- as a medium, access point and communication tool – has become a vital element for artists and arts organizations. Alas, technology can be both a servant and a master.

Providing access to local and international talents, venues and experiences, it opens doors far beyond the region, the neighborhood and the community where we live. Technology offers the opportunity to join communities of common interest and to create relationships beyond the immediate experience; it can literally transform the arts experience.

On the other side it can play a disruptive role, separating artists from just compensation for their work. It can also create distance between the consumer and the creator; enabling millions of the former but perhaps fewer of the latter.

The digital divide

The magic from digital connectedness is still not universal. Many rural communities and families struggling at the edge of poverty do not have access to smart phones, Wi-Fi or the internet. Some rely on public schools or libraries to provide access, which is increasingly vital for students developing digital competencies in an array of disciplines. Digital literacy and access are real issues in our valley.

Competing with the entertainment economy

The panel also discussed the new levels of competition for the entertainment dollar, and the ease of access that this digital world provides. Traditional art forms must compete with the wider entertainment economy. Many of the more established institutions, especially those who do live events, feel tremendous pressure that every performance be ‘worth it’. The tension between maintaining quality, expanding innovative ideas and sustaining operations is a huge challenge, and often requires significant fundraising.

Food, education and creating art makes art real

Some key themes emerged from the audience and panel discussions:

• Food draws individuals and families, particularly if the art is unfamiliar or in a nontraditional venue. Good restaurants also draw patrons, an ever present challenge for urban downtowns. 

 •Connecting to the experience of creating art engages people at a whole new level. One panelist noted how few parents would participate with their (older) children in creating art in public places, perhaps in part because their own skills were still developing. 

• Educating parents and children about the arts – in all their forms – remains crucial in helping attendees understand what they are hearing, seeing or exploring. 

• We are a diverse community - many grow up with a fine ear tuned to their family traditions but interact less with other cultures. Interestingly, these barriers break down when the similarities in message or even in instruments are explored. Several noted the power of listening to music or watching different cultural traditions that speak to both the particular and the universal. 

• Funding for artists, and for spaces to create art, is an anchor to a healthy arts ecosystem. Far too often the artists who create energy and community become displaced upon the arrival of gentrification and new investment; something vital is lost in that transition.

Arts fosters relationships

The panelists spoke of the powerful connections that the arts provide, especially between artists and their public/consumers. Each spoke eloquently about art creating relationships, which can then be deepened by artist and organizations. The use of public art to talk about ideas, reflect the interconnections of community and engage a wide variety of talents was noted as another public good.

The power to shape a region’s identity

At CVCF, we understand and value the arts. Expanding the capacity of our region’s arts infrastructure, extending donor legacies and investing agency endowments are priorities of our work in the arts. Our Center for Community is both a collaboration hub and soon to be an arts exhibit venue.

We know that the arts are a vital and prominent sector that can shape the identity of our region. New audiences, and new partners in the creative spaces, not only expand relationships but opens new horizons as well.

We look forward to exploring how the arts shape the identity of our region, and how we – as a partner, funder, advocate and colleague – can help our arts, and the organizations vital to their life, expand its audiences, and thrive in the days ahead. Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

Goal 2025 Charts the Way

 Monday, February 22, 2016
Hugh Ralston


In a lunch meeting this past week, many of the key partners who hold the future of our children in their (institutional) hands, gathered to launch a new and ambitious initiative, Goal 2025.

The goal is that 60% of our population will have achieved a high quality degree, certificate or other credential by 2025. This level of education and training is increasingly what will be needed to succeed in a globalized world.

Fresno one of 75 communities across the US

Supported by the Lumina Foundation of Indianapolis, Fresno is one of 75 communities across the U.S. that has taken on this challenge. The Fresno Compact and the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium will lead and coordinate the effort, together with those who signed up yesterday for the work of a decade. We support these goals.

Paths beyond high school diplomas

This endeavor represents a commitment by institutions to do what is often hard: align their systems in a way that connects the dots on improving outcomes for the region’s children. Several keynote speakers, including Michael Hanson, Superintendent of Fresno Unified School District and Joseph Castro, President of California State University Fresno, spoke of the importance of investing in the skills necessary for graduates in our region to succeed. Fresno State, with its huge percentage of first generation students, has become a potent symbol of the transformative opportunity provided by education. First generation students are powerful role models for thousands of families who believe in a better future.

Private universities like Fresno Pacific and the newest branch of the UC system, which announced a $1 billion investment in expansion at the new Merced campus, are also important players in these efforts. So too are our community colleges - certificates, training and skill building at the community college level or the work site, are increasingly important in connecting students to jobs. These are all vital partners in this work.

Work to be done

There is progress to celebrate, but work to be done. Some have estimated that the current generation of school children will face a workplace where 90% of the jobs will require some training after high school. Yes, 90%!

And yet half of our population do not complete high school or advance beyond the high school diploma. Their options to participate in a thriving global economy are severely limited.

We believe that this remains one of the great challenges facing this region, where a lack of resources often challenges the already difficult job of educating students. With significant percentages of families living at the poverty level, ensuring that students are able to learn is almost as important as what they need to learn.

New ways of working across the transitions

A panel of leaders from local community colleges, UC Merced and Fresno Pacific spoke of new ways of working together - namely leveraging the resources of institutions to make transitions easier and connections more effective. Linking what students study to what employers need has been a consistent cry as our education systems and our job providers try to close the gap between who is educated and who is trained to succeed.

Some of this requires realigning priorities and budgets, while some may require rethinking what is taught and when. There is no silver bullet, as Richard Kriegbaum, President, Fresno Pacific University noted - it is a complex set of variables that need to be seen both holistically and individually.

The stakes are serious

The stakes are simple, profound and serious: will our children have the skills to succeed in the workplace they will inherit? Can our institutions fulfill that fundamental responsibility, to ignite the flame to thrive? How do our families, communities, neighbors - and the village it still takes - raise a child successfully?

Superintendent Hanson noted that our public institutions need to be uncommonly good in delivering their work. They are bulwarks of our society - far too many rely on them for advancement for us to permit them to fail. He also noted that while it is important that high school diplomas are awarded, the diploma needs to be a destination to somewhere else – a job, certificate, training, or a university or college degree. It can’t be an end in itself any more.

Community Foundation donors invest in future students and skills

At the Central Valley Community Foundation, our donors invest in the next generation in many ways – through scholarships and providing first jobs, through funding college readiness programs in Reedley and Dinuba and by supporting the next generation of pharmacists at California Health Sciences University. We are working with others to sustain the Cradle to Career partnership and building capacity from 0-18 months through kindergarten readiness, grade level reading, 5th and 8th grade math proficiency and the preparation for college and career - these are all elements in this new initiative with such promise for our region.

We are also investing in measurement systems like the Fresno Scorecard. By tracking community wide data, we can chart our progress toward the changes embodied in the Goal 2025 approach. It is a pure example of how working together we can move a community forward, so that a college and career ready culture in our schools leads to greater opportunity.

We can chart a different future

We know that one of our greatest assets is the people who work hard to make a better future for this and the next generation. One of our great opportunities is to chart a different future for Fresno, one where we can become a hub for California’s future that is a sum greater than its undervalued parts. Supporting a career ready culture is a powerful component towards that end.

We think that is a pretty good investment to make. Please join us and the others who are committing to a more successful Fresno within the next decade.

Best Regards,

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

Partnering with CBO leaders to strengthen our community

 Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Leaders that are making a difference

We know that leadership is a critical component to the success of any organization - so too in the world of nonprofits, or CBOs (Community Benefit Organizations). These organizations must be agile and able to adapt to ever changing conditions and priorities. Leading a CBO is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards can be immense. An effective leader has the unique opportunity to make a real difference in thousands of lives.

Investing in leadership strengthens the CBO sector

At the Central Valley Community Foundation, we believe that the health of our CBO sector is not only important because we want our grants to be used wisely and effectively, but because this sector remains a critical platform for how we build community. We know grants from our funds remain critical – and we also know that there are other ways we can strengthen this sector.

In part, this is why the Foundation has created our Center for Community. By providing spaces for local agencies to meet and conduct business (free of charge during business hours), offering workshops and community conversations we are connecting people in powerful ways.

Planning a CBO/Nonprofit Leadership Network

Earlier this week, we invited Executive Directors/CEOs and agency heads to the Center for Community to talk about how this new resource might benefit their work. We listened to ideas and insights from a range of leaders-some very experienced and some new to their role.

We identified several key issues – leaders grappling with the challenges of building and sustaining thriving organizations, board development and education and strengthening the skills of staff members.

Using the time tested tools of colored post it notes on the windows, we also identified areas for deeper exploration, either in workshops open to a broader audience or in more tailored sessions where peers can share with each other.

We were reminded of the benefits of networking, of building those relationships outside our daily work which brings not only connections but perspective. Ultimately we found that launching a Nonprofit/CBO Leadership network has promise – both for leaders and for the whole region.

Familiar issues point the way to thriving institutions

How can I use research and data effectively? How do we develop stories about what we do that shows why it matters? What are the best practices in leading organizations through change? How can we better understand the needs in the community? What is the best way to use volunteers? What is the most effective grant writing strategy? How do we leverage the use of social media? What is the most impactful use of technology? How can the staff be more able and accountable? These are all familiar questions to those of us in the field.

The response to these questions will help determine the future success of programs that make the difference for thousands and will in turn provide the foundation for a sector that employs thousands. We won’t be able to offer workshops on all of these topics in the next 90 days, but we understand a little better some of the immediate priorities.

A second conversation about moving the needle

We also heard about the importance of a second conversation. How do we leverage what we have to make a difference in the work of complex systems change? One actor alone rarely has the money, reach or power to create and sustain change. After all, even the Gates Foundation hasn’t been able to fix American High Schools despite a decade of valiant effort. This kind of work demands collaboration, partnership, leverage and a common vision - while pursuing multiple strategies.

Some of our challenges in the Central Valley are well known – deep pockets of poverty, lack of skills and belief in the possibility of change, and institutions, families and businesses still recovering from the ravages of the recent deep recession. It will require a different set of leadership skills able to harness the possibilities of leverage, partnership and collaboration to truly move the needle.

We believe we can help that second conversation get started as well, engaging those who want to step into this complex but vital work.

More tools to invest in a better future

A community foundation remains a place where donors entrust their legacies, their monies and their passions for place, people and programs. Its unique opportunities come not only from harnessing that capital and attracting more, but in helping shape a better future by strengthening the tools, talents and tenacity that rest on the shoulders of our region’s nonprofit & CBO leaders.

We invest in leaders because they can move us towards a different future. By helping them learn about each other and explore ways to work together, we raise the odds that the future can be a better place for more of us. We think that is a pretty good investment. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

Citizenship links Generations

 Monday, February 08, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Our Freedoms are not Free

The voters of Iowa have caucused and soon we shall hear from the primary voters in New Hampshire. Our quadrennial election has been launched. It is a process that is both majestic and parochial, one that tests the bonds of our community and provides evidence that this democratic experiment continues to live and breathe through its people. As these United States work through the gauntlet of selecting our next president and the leaders who will serve in our Congress, legislatures and local offices, we know that elections matter. The choices made shape not only our public life, but our communities as well.

Citizenship is not simply a right. It is also a responsibility. Elections are a reminder of the civic responsibility that has been built into our communal lives. The disciplines required to sustain, nurture and advance our form of government include reading, listening to opposing views, choosing candidates, parties, platforms and ultimately voting. It also includes service on juries, in the military, in keeping our elected officials accountable. When we participate as citizens, we also honor the sacrifices and investments made by prior generations. Our freedoms have never been free and many were won through the dedication, sacrifice and commitment of others. These values remain the envy of millions around the world.

Engaging the Community in Civic Life

The Civic Learning Partnership was established last year to promote civic knowledge and engagement in our community. Chaired by Justice Franson and skippered, in part, by noted local attorney Mike Wilhem, this group of leaders from all walks of life has been exploring ways to align the disciplines needed to sustain our form of government with an increasingly diverse, and somewhat disconnected, citizenry. They are also paying attention to the ways these civic virtues can be nurtured and passed on to the next generation. Schools, nonprofits, local and state government, other public institutions, lawyers, private companies, faith based institutions – all have a chance to contribute to this important work.

Practical efforts are underway led by the partnership not only to ensure that civic responsibilities are taught in our schools, but also to find ways to engage youth around issues of public concern. By developing their own opinions and ideas, young people will be able to add their voices to the debate; we will all be stronger for it.

Other partners are joining the conversation. In March, a conference sponsored by the Bonner Center for Character and Civic Education will highlight some of these efforts and provide awards to students for their civic work. And just this past week, the city of Fresno launched its youth commission, a platform for engaging this new generation into the city’s civic life.

NextGen Philanthropy at CVCF

In the nonprofit sector the transition of generations is extremely important in shaping the future. Program staff, board members and donors are seeking new ways to ensure that institutions continue to matter, and to adapt to the new tools, skills and passions of the next generation. It is a vital effort.

At Central Valley Community Foundation, we are excited about the possibilities for generational transitions in philanthropy as well. Our NextGen group is a team of committed young philanthropists who want to shape a better future in the place where they live and their families have deep roots. By working to understand the needs in our community and using their own funds to make effective grants they are learning the tools of civic leadership. This is their home and they want to invest in solutions that make it better.

In fact, we just invited NextGen’s founder to join the foundation board, to ensure these voices are part of our conversations as well.

We all have a role to play

In this election year as we engage in the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, we are reminded once again of Benjamin Franklin’s observation at the Constitutional Convention: “we have a republic, if you can keep it.“ Our first president, George Washington, looked forward to life after two terms to a higher office: citizen. We all have a chance to engage in this important work.

By exploring ways in which we can reinforce civic leadership, grounded in the responsibilities of citizenship, we can engage others in building community. That is how this country got built and how we will manage the future together. Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

Building Community in Sanger

 Monday, February 01, 2016
Hugh Ralston


It is a rainy Tuesday morning in Sanger. In the Eagles Hall, metal chairs and folding tables, coffee and morning treats are ready and waiting. The monthly Sanger Community Task Force meeting has become a routine, and at the same time it has become something extraordinary.

Representatives from community groups, public institutions, nonprofits, businesses and others gather to share information, make connections, keep track of changes and push forward Sanger’s agenda.

It is an agenda of building community.

Connecting to Local Issues

Born 8 years ago in the midst of crisis, some visible and some not so, the Task Force has developed a level of support and trust that puts real meaning into the word community. Representatives around the table – male and female, long term residents and newly minted nonprofit leaders, took a moment to share what every community in our Central Valley is focusing on:

• Gang violence and prevention 

• Connecting veterans to services 

• Helping students stand up to bullying 

• Identifying the number of homeless 

• Helping folks understand what mental health services are available 

• Broadening awareness of tutoring options 

• Supporting local artists and local businesses 

• Helping girls get prom dresses and foster kids get blue jeans 

• Connecting students to what a healthy relationship should look like 

• Helping kids transition to, and through, the 8th grade

Building Relationships

Some presentations were invitations to connect, and others to identify changing roles.

• New pastors and those retiring 

• Women’s groups connecting and sharing 

• Chamber of Commerce efforts to promote downtown 

• Launching the Blossom Trail events 

• Mixers for the Chamber 

• Recruiting coaches for softball and basketball

Some events seemed particularly local – the blessing of the bikes or the Screaming Demons (with cans of food for the homeless), the delivery of 400 presents, upcoming preparations for the Blossom Trail and the energy unleashed when an 11 year old found his voice to thwart local bullies.

Local Work Matters

The work of community moves forward, steadily and with purpose. Local folks, not willing to give in or give up, are determined to tackle these issues. It is majestic in its own way. Meeting by meeting, trust, respect and local expertise is continually being built. Folks who want to connect with others doing related, similar or partnered work are expanding relationships, leveraging resources and making a difference.

A Model for Connecting

The Sanger Community Task Force may be a model for how we can chart the future all across this rich and fertile valley. Community in Sanger is earned, negotiated and sustained at the local level. Concepts are given life by the actions of citizens who recognize that this is their home and each is willing to step in and help chart a better course. In Sanger they are doing what my old colleague used to describe when talking about the history of social change in America - people would stand up in the church basement, the community meeting or a public gathering and say, ‘not good enough’ – not any more.

We are caught in transformative times that often exceed our ability to absorb change or recognize the future before it arrives. We see the impact on the verities that drive our daily lives. In our neighborhoods, faith communities, social organizations, community institutions and workplaces, all of us have had the temptation to shout: Stop! Or at least, slow down.

And yet - as we look at our neighbors, our colleagues, our children and grandchildren, and those in our towns, the response can be empowering as well – to step up, connect and help shape a different future.

The Basics Remind Us

Sometimes the basics are simple: connect, listen, share, learn and do. There is a lot we can accomplish by listening to each other, helping where we can and doing what we must. It is working in Sanger, and in countless communities throughout this Valley. Come find how you can be a part of this powerful community building.

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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