The Season Links Our Past to Future Possibilities

 Monday, March 28, 2016
Hugh Ralston


This Easter weekend, there are many opportunities to reflect on the possibilities of redemption, rebirth and connecting to a new(er) life. We celebrate these opportunities in our places of worship, we look for them in our families and we can even breathe them in through the landscape around us. Spring arrives with all its promise.

Taking note of the possibilities for change is nothing new in the world of CBOs. In the normal course of business programs grow and shrink, services evolve and contract and organizations adjust to the changing world. For those who have been engaged in this work for the last decade, it has been a volatile time, with gut wrenching changes arriving, often with increasing frequency. Sometimes it feels like Lent, and other times like the season’s rebirth with flowers, candies and chocolate eggs.

Especially dark chocolate eggs, which are rumored to be healthy.

Easter Flowers Link Generations

One of my favorite Easter traditions was decorating our church. We brought flowers from our gardens (my mother’s, my aunt’s, and ours) to arrange in the sanctuary and the narthex, continuing a tradition started by my grandmother as a silent memorial to her son, who was killed in the South Pacific in World War II. Every year was an adventure, depending on what was in bloom, but there were always long standing stalwarts: calla lilies, irises, watsonias, plum blossoms and chrysanthemums.

The floral displays were augmented by a huge number of white lilies, each a tribute to a loved one. They were often a remembrance of a family member or friend, or in honor of someone special. The names of those remembered were listed in the bulletin. When my aunt passed away several years ago—the last of her generation—there was no one left alive who knew her brother James Laurence Fowler in person, but through a beautiful bouquet his life was remembered.

Most years, our family’s floral display was augmented by a special bouquet delivered as a memorial that my mother would arrange in front of the communion table. That way, she reminded us, it would be seen by those for whom it meant something special. It was how the congregation honored those who were missed.

The Past Can Connect to Our Better Angels

Rituals and connections ground us, sometimes in family, and sometimes in who we used to be. All of us have mementos of places that we love, which hold special meaning, or resonate with a time or purpose. We see these items and remember experiences and opportunities that have shaped our lives, opened doors and helped us become who we are. Sometimes they are a visible memorial tied to place, like the wonderful butterfly wall in the offices at Hinds Hospice. Sometimes they are in something more tangible—a scholarship fund, a dedicated building or a contribution to a cause that mattered. These can also connect us to, in Lincoln’s immortal phrase, the better angels, and remind us of the possibilities of renewal so resonant this season.

Legacies shape our work

At the Community Foundation we too recognize the impact of those who have gone before us. Stewarding legacies is an important part of our mission. River restoration (Ted Martin Fund), college readiness in Dinuba (Dorothy Mitsuoka Fund) and the Lyles Foundation’s support of engineering students are all wonderful examples of the power of generosity over time. Our donors show us how we can touch the future and remember the past.

Building Community Creates Community

We are greatly privileged to work with so many who see community philanthropy as a way to work together. By collaborating to leverage the resources we each bring to the table, and shaping strategies that make these efforts more strategic, we sustain our belief in the possibilities. The work of building community can be daunting and frustrating, but one of its greatest attractions is that it is rarely lonely.

There are many ways we can harness this power of possibility. We can explore the ways that this place can be better and we can honor those who helped shape what we have become. There is more power in those Easter flowers than you think. It is time to get to work. Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

Legacies speak from the heart and touch the future

 Monday, March 21, 2016
Hugh Ralston


At our recent community conversation on planned giving, our panelists shared their favorite planned gifts, examples of where a legacy from a life well lived touches the future. Each a professional in his/her field, these gifts allowed someone’s passion to flourish.

From musicians to a named fund for a beloved child

For one it was an endowed scholarship for music students at Fresno State. For another, it was a named fund that carries forward the memory of a child lost at too young an age. For another, it was the chance to establish a fund to help local children get the help needed to attend college.

Planned gifts are one of the most powerful opportunities to shape a legacy, where a donor’s greatest passion will be translated into something of value, meaning and permanence.

The foundation’s donors extend their legacies into our communities

At the community foundation, we understand and respect the power of these gifts, in part because we have been entrusted with monies by donors, both while alive and through bequest. These gifts are translated into grants that carry forth their purpose - river restoration for Dan Martin, parks and arts for Louis Gundlefiner, college readiness for Dorothy Mitsuoka are just three examples of how these legacies touch lives.

In the past year alone, these grants have provided high schools students their first time jobs, transformed the lives of Dinuba students for whom college is now an attainable goal or helped teens articulate their fears and hopes in creating alebrijes (folk art sculptures) the local Boys & Girls Club.

We see the power of these legacies through their capacity to help shape philanthropic choices, either through supporting an organization or program, extending a cause or putting the stake in the ground around something you believe in.

Our panelists shared observations about how these conversations with donors can evolve and be productive. They included:

• these conversations circles around the reality of someone dying – so we need to be respectful and careful how we open the topic 

• the best way to launch the conversation is to listen to what matters, to what a donor is passionate about and how they think of their legacy 

• understanding the types of assets that might be involved in a planned gift helps shape strategies, particularly because the tax consequences can be substantial 

• from the simplest tool – a bequest in the will – to the most complex structure, the donor is always well served when reviewing tax implications with his/her team – lawyer, accountant, and financial advisors 

• the impact of these gifts on family members is not benign – either because the donor’s first charity is often their family, and their care and support is paramount, or because these charitable assets will leave the estate. While tax consequences can be beneficial, the impact on heirs can also be severe. 

• educating a donor about options is often a critical first step 

• appreciated property (both land and stocks/bonds) is often an attractive gift, due to the current tax consequences for capital gains. 

• complex assets can be used, but often take more time to understand and transition 

• charitable gift annuities can be powerful tools that benefit donors through charitable donations, guaranteed income streams and ultimate gifts to charity. The community foundation is set up to help explore those options.

Planned gifts are often proxy conversations for what matters most to a donor. They can often be the culmination of years of conversations, ideas and relationships between a donor and an institution, tied to the legacy that resonates. As our local CBO sector continues to strengthen its case that charitable capital can help chart a more promising future for more of us, this pipeline of gifts can transform our region’s institutions, secure legacies and create a new set of opportunities for thousands.

Come join us in starting these conversations, and ensure your legacies are protected well into the future.

Best Regards,

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

A broader platform of leaders creating change

 Monday, March 14, 2016
Hugh Ralston


In a recent two day seminar, safely inside from the welcome rain, a cohort of the New Leadership Network focused on tools to facilitate leadership.

It is about listening as much as leading.

The network, created with a pioneering investment in Fresno by the James Irvine Foundation, consists of leaders from all quarters – private, public, philanthropic, education, health, community. The aim is to use a new model of collaborative leadership to sustain a network that can lead a community through change.

Or sometimes to change.

New skills for a new era

Over the past 18 months, members of the network have made efforts to rethink how we approach our work as individual leaders, and leaders in this community. Taking advantage of national and regional experts and cutting-edge disciplines and paradigms, we have plunged head first into new design strategies.

Our agenda for this recent workshop focused on the skills needed to become more effective at facilitating change, both within and outside our organizations. With the help of facilitators from the Interactive Institute for Social Change, we learned that these skills are both separate and sequential, and include:

• the importance of seeing systems 

• seeking the maximum appropriate involvement 

• facilitating agreements 

• inspiring a shared vision 

• focusing on results, process and relationships 

• discovering shared meanings 

• designing pathways to action

As one who has attended multiple seminars over the past two decades, I found these components to be both logical and reasonable - and often elusive to execute. The skills required are both standalone and cultural; collectively aligning them is the driver to a more effective organization. Is that not what we seek as leaders?

Broader skill sets will help meet the challenges

Our purpose in establishing the Center for Community at CVCF emerged from the insight that the local CBO sector, and its public sector partners, play a crucial role in our community. Diverse and evolving populations, the disrupting power of technology, the broadening achievement gap – are all moving parts that leaders are challenged to address.

Effective leadership needs to engage both the head and the heart in ways that motivate and secure the results ambitious plans seek to deliver. The skills noted above are ones that can be taught, reinforced and nurtured. As we launch a dedicated series of workshops and training sessions in our Center, we are committed to building these types of skills and fostering collaboration.

Love of meetings is an elusive trait

On a more practical, but vital level, we were asked- how do we navigate the meeting dilemma? Many senior managers have days filled with back to back meetings, some to communicate, some to learn, some to inspire and some to move forward.

My 30 years of working in the Presbyterian tradition has built a loyalty to our denomination’s creed: things done decently and in good order. We meet not to meet, but to move forward, together. Thinking about the results beforehand helps shape the structure - being clear about the purpose, stating desired outcomes, understanding who is coming and why, what level of decision making is possible, and by whom, are all critical to the enterprise.

Different times, different tensions

Organizational effectiveness, as a field of inquiry, has grown in the past decades. Understanding emotional and social intelligence has become paramount as the workplace evolves from a more hierarchical structure to one with more fluidity. Such transitions can be hard, either because direction is important when there are ambiguities and fast moving changes, or our early training was hard wired into different models of behavior, accountability and leadership.

Command and control worked better in retaking the beaches at Normandy than empowering a more empathetic generation to work effectively in teams. As our workforce now accommodates four generations, if not five, tensions about styles and expectations can be very real, and impede effectiveness.

Learning to lead

As a recent study from McKinsey noted, the transition from fragile to agile is not for the faint of heart. The mindset required includes appreciation for both stability and flexibility. That is especially true as we engage a more broadly diverse set of stakeholders, many with different experiences and expectations, yet who share things in common.

Knowing where we are headed, why that direction matters and having confidence that our colleagues are rowing in the same direction are building blocks for success in our era. That can be reflected as much in a meeting agenda as in a grant, a program or an initiative. If we are smart about it, the agenda reflects and empowers a new level of effectiveness as we move forward to confront the changes we seek. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

Giving through the Foundation

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

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