Nothing About Us Without Us

 Monday, June 06, 2016
Hugh Ralston


In a session last week, organized by Funders for Smart Growth and hosted by the Community Foundation, funders from around California and as far away as New York came to Fresno to think about opportunities here in the Central Valley. It was a clarion call, both to the philanthropists in the room and to the community at large.
Over two days, a number of panels focused on the work underway, the needs in the region and the opportunities to partner. The goal was to explore options for smart investments to advance community change and expand opportunities. One of the panelists, speaking with conviction and passion, noted the importance of including those whose lives are often directly impacted by the work. He declared: “nothing about us without us”. It was a reality check, helpful for local and visiting philanthropists alike. It is critical to remember that our work is often accomplished by and with others, and its impacts are felt by many who are removed from the funding decision.    
Yes, the capital is vital but the work is not ours alone.
It is one of the paradoxes of philanthropy: privileged resources are often harnessed, invested and dedicated to causes and organizations with a tangible impact on people who sometimes live in different worlds. It is their lives, communities and circumstances that such investments are dedicated to changing, as well as carrying forth commitments and deeply held beliefs that such work is worth doing.  
In fact, one of greatest benefits of philanthropy is putting assets to work for causes that are difficult and challenging, require patience, fortitude, conviction and belief, and which rest on the ability of folks to work together.  
Effective philanthropy is the platform 
Effective philanthropy is deeply embedded in our mission and calls us to move beyond the important acts of charity and kindness, to thinking about what is truly the most effective use of these precious and potentially transformative dollars. Our commitment to tracking outcomes and sharing data and research is as true for our discretionary dollars as for those distributions from our donors seeking guidance, and for those funds entrusted to us to carry out a designated purpose.  
Multiple opportunities to invest in changing lives 
During the Funders for Smart Growth gathering speakers from multiple panels shared their perspectives - on changing demographics in communities, on inequities that remain far too visible and indefensible and on long-standing practices that need rethinking. There was great discussion around the potential benefits of investing in programs and projects focused on systems change, land use, environmental sustainability, smart growth, expanding civic engagement and providing access to basic needs and resources.    
The interest and commitment of the funders was heartening, especially for a region that has traditionally seen proportionally fewer investments from statewide and regional funders. There is good work to be done and great interest in working together.
The human element matters
Throughout the two days of discussions what resonated most were the words of the panelist who put things in the human context. It is not only through collaboration and sharing, and setting outcomes for success, but also engaging those who are most directly impacted by our work:  specific individuals, families or neighborhoods where lives can be strengthened, supported or transformed by this work. 
As we remind ourselves of the value of thinking carefully, it is useful to remember that the choir is not the only audience that matters. As we think about the needs in our Valley, we have a chance to listen to the diverse and valued voices who make up the communities that nurture and support so much in our region.  Come join us.

Best Regards,
Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 825-6185

Time to Listen

 Monday, May 23, 2016
Hugh Ralston


It was front and center in David Brooks’ recent speech at California State University, Fresno.  The New York Times columnist acknowledged that many who live in the Washington bubble missed the real anger that has been roiling our politics this election year.  He mentioned his own commitment to get outside the patterns of connecting with those of similar interests, and his views and how important it was for all of us to have relationships with those outside of our own work/play/social networks. It is a communal glue that has weakened.

It has become a common lament that the country is dividing into segments that are isolating versus communal. We self-select not only the neighborhoods where we live, but also the media we consume, the friends we converse with online, the opinions we digest and the places we worship. There are fewer places where we have the chance to mix with others in our community, and break out of the social spheres we create in our private lives.  
I always thought the jury room, the post office and the DMV were places where we interacted with the breadth of the community we live in. Two of these are increasingly accessed online, so that puts a lot of weight on jury selection.

Relationships Matter

At the annual meeting of California community foundation leaders, a similar concern arose when looking at our evolving roles. New competitors, new technologies and new generational expectations are keeping us on our toes. How do we truly engage with the breadth of the communities we serve, and ensure that our discussion, policies, procedures, grants and other efforts reflect and respect that breadth?

Part of the answer is in the relationships we build, and in making sure we understand, not only what our donors want and expect, but where their passions and interests lie. A relationship grounded in knowing how we can help sustain a passion and structure a legacy is one that will stand the test of time. By understanding the local community, its needs and possible solutions, we can bring insight and intellectual capital to create a more effective philanthropic response.  

Success requires us to listen, both for the direct and for the nuance. We start with due diligence, relationship reviews and community conversations. We survey our grantees. By working to identify the highest priorities, the best use of charitable dollars, and ways to leverage resources we build relationships that shape the future. It requires us to use research to understand the facts and issues, digest the trend lines, make thoughtful assumptions and adjust as needed.

Learning and Listening

But like many philanthropic organizations, we often listen to the choir, sometimes not to others in the church. So, as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we are embarking on a deliberate listening tour of our region, to ask questions and to listen to responses. The goal is to explore not only the issues that matter to donors but identify those which matter to the region’s future. We want to share our perspectives – and then listen.

We began with a survey of our donors, to ask what we are doing well and where we need to improve. The candid feedback was much appreciated – both the kudos and areas where we can do better. Some we knew about, some are now on our radar screen to address.

Expanding opportunities for youth, strengthening arts and culture, smart growth and environmental sustainability, capacity building for local agencies, health and wellbeing and deepening civic engagement have been the focus of our work for the past decade. These are all areas where our donors have invested their charitable dollars – sometimes to keep the doors open, try a new effort or sustain a particular program. And we believe there is still good work to be done.  

We also know that there are partnerships and collaborations underway around drought issues, cradle to career opportunities, expanding access to health services and engaging the next generation in investing smartly in community. We play a variety of roles – funder, convener, researcher, teacher and partner in raising capital, awareness and standards. We learn as much as we lead, often with others equally committed and passionate about changing outcomes for communities, individuals and the region as a whole.

Share your Hopes and Dreams

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we are going to take the time to listen – to those who have chosen to work with us, and also those who can be necessary and effective partners in the work of building community. We look forward to the discussion and dialog, and to learning from your observations, perspectives and experience.  And to hear what you long for, and how this region’s future can be worthy of the dreams we share for a better future.  Stay tuned for dates for sessions this summer across the Valley. We look forward to hearing, listening, discerning and working together. Come join us.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 825-6185

The Right Tools for the Job

 Monday, May 16, 2016
Hugh Ralston


It is more than spray and pray.  It is the hard work of getting it right.

This week, our Community Conversation focused on some of the tools at the heart of effective philanthropy. These tools can be used for donors of all sizes – individuals, private and community foundations, corporate givers and collectives, to increase the impact of their work. Our presenters focused on three elements for consideration: due diligence and oversight, the power of research and the opportunities for collective impact.

Philanthropy’s privileged position

Our backdrop for this discussion is based in part on a sensitivity to the debate underway in the halls of Congress, and across the country, about the benefits accruing from the privileged position of philanthropy. From its sheer size, reflecting cumulatively a second golden age, questions have arisen as to who benefits from its tax advantaged position, and how its public benefit is demonstrated.

Recent legislation has focused on elements – the California Nonprofit Integrity Act, outlining procedures for development activities, the Pension Protection Act, laying out rules for donor advised funds, other state legislation governing a board’s ability to designate surrogates or the requirements in UPMIFA regarding management of endowments – they all point to a legitimate public interest in our work, and its impact.  

Legislation introduced two years ago in the House Ways and Means Committee, as a proxy for tax reform, included proposals to require donor advised funds to distribute all donations within a five year period. These proposals garnered immediate opposition from those that understand the promise and impact of endowed philanthropy. The concern about the use of charitable funds is real, not just because it represents large sums of money that could be taxed, but by whom and for what, is of course, the most intriguing question.

Community Foundation national standards

The Community Foundation field understands this issue and is, in fact, the only part of organized philanthropy that has developed national standards to (self) govern our work. The Community Foundations National Standards Board has established criteria for best practices and aspirational behavior as well as appropriate standards governing grantmaking, policies and community leadership. Clear boundaries are set, and CVCF is proud to be confirmed in compliance with the national standards.

Due diligence & oversight

The tools highlighted during the Community Conversation reflect the importance of doing our homework. Proper due diligence includes ensuring that grantees remain legitimate charities, are in solid financial shape, have appropriate governance structures and their missions align with the work we are interested in funding. These are services we provide for our donors and funding partners, and govern the distribution of our discretionary funds as well.  

Once grant monies are distributed, we build relationships with our grantees. Oversight includes tracking their work through site visits and written reports, accounting for the use of the grant funds and digesting the outcomes. Sometimes the outcome is keeping the door open, sometimes it is focused on a new program or initiative, sometimes it is a new way of addressing a problem. We, in turn, report back to the donor, funding partners and the larger community.

Research puts individuals in context

Using the power of research we can examine a single case, put it in context and help shape the best responses. Our panelist linked the dots between a teenager’s truant behavior and her family circumstances, to the large number of similar cases in Fresno – single parent families, access to Calfresh, earning power for decent housing, truancy from schools. This illuminating data is tracked through the Fresno Scorecard among other sources. This teenager’s story is real, but not unique; it is part of Fresno’s story as well. Data also helps shape ways to track outcomes, as funders think about investing not only in organizations that help individuals but in system solutions.

Collective impact’s opportunities

Fresno’s Cradle to Career Partnership is one example of collective action, where the power and potential of leverage moves the community toward a more effective use of scarce charitable capital. Its Executive Director highlighted this multiyear partnership as embodying many of the key tenets in collective action: thinking about systemic problems in a new way, using disaggregated data to identify new practices, and working with the right folks at the table to align resources towards commonly agreed upon outcomes. This works for all the players – institutions delivering services, funders contributing to solutions, individuals seeking a way to respond. It is increasingly clear that we can change systems and develop effective solutions to some of our more intractable problems only through collective impact.

Worthy of the trust & dollars placed in us 

Each of these tools – due diligence, research, working together, will help strengthen the impact of philanthropic investments. By raising the confidence that philanthropic dollars are used wisely, effectively and strategically, we strengthen the commitment of those who believe that we can improve our communities. We need not all engage in the same work together, but when we align the work we believe in towards outcomes we agree can shape a better future, and demonstrate the leverage of working together, we will be worthy of the funds we raise, invest and seek.

Come join us. 

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 825-6185

Something good is happening in Fresno

 Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Hugh Ralston


May is one of those transition months, as schools gear up for graduation, and start planning for the fall programs. Seniors finalize decisions about next year – college, summer school, joining the workforce. In our sector, the first cycle of the calendar year is over, so it is time to look at budgets, how strategies are developing and what plans need to be modified. There is still time to adjust course, but the year is already 1/3d over. 

Spring has arrived with a vengeance, as those allergy sneezes come with greater frequency. Our garden is flush with rose blooms, and a wide variety of flowers that are attracting dragon flies, hummingbirds and a very watchful cat. Despite the welcome rain, the summer’s heat is just around the corner.

Collaboration is starting to produce change

But there is something else going on beyond the seasonal changes. There is evidence that collaboration is starting to make a difference and a broader vision of what we can be is starting to take shape. Just this week, I heard of 

over 100 lawyers volunteering to assist in civic education/mentorships with high school students, as part of an effort led by the Civic Education partnership

• schools collaborating – not only across district lines with innovative investments like First 5’s B3 initiative, but also with other organizations to find ways to help their students be prepared for success. Fresno Unified is not only providing access to green fields in park poor areas of town, but also exploring options for putting health clinics in specific sites, to provide children with much needed access to services.

county departments exploring models to leverage connections and technology to link people seeking assistance with homelessness, physical and mental health, and abuse issues with services

Bitwise unveiling its ambitions for the area around its South Stadium campus to become a magnet for new tech related jobs and an anchor for revitalization and growth for our workforce’s next generation

California’s Treasurer speaking to students at UC Merced noting the transformative power of education for first generation college students, which can create (over time) new economic opportunities to shape the future of our region, its economy and its leadership in the state

The Compact’s engaging and supporting job training in our schools, with efforts showing up in widespread CTE (career/technical education) programs – touching literally thousands of students; businesses providing skill building days to explore career options beyond college; and investments that are linking together students seeking training and job providers looking for workers.

Connection Equals Leverage

This is powerful stuff. Institutions are beginning to connect the dots between the needs of stakeholders and assets in the community. Whether it is Fresno State students using the 211 network provided by the United Way to find help, CBOs using the Fresno Scorecard to develop a stronger case for funding, or the dialog among the Cradle to Career Partnership members to leverage using nurses – these connections are creating new ways of working effectively.

At the Community Foundation, we seek ways to build community beyond the power and impact of our grant making. We are proud to be part of some of these efforts, not only encouraging collaboration and innovation but exploring how philanthropic capital can be a useful partner. 

Skill building in our own sector is one important investment. Efforts now underway to develop training for local agencies are beginning to bear fruit.  Our financial literacy training programs and planned giving seminars are providing not only connections and opportunities, they are increasing effectiveness. Our soon to be launched board leadership series will provide local leaders great skill building and networking opportunities.

Collaboration Equals Change  

What is exciting is the potential, and the idea that we might be able to leverage scarce resources into effective priorities. There are relationships developing that recognize the huge difference that can be made by working together.

It has been said that change comes at the speed of trust. It is an ideal, especially when other conditions remain stable. We don’t always have that luxury, as change sometimes comes at the speed of new fiscal realities, technological disruption, or new paradigms. But in the hard work of shaping communities, Fresno is demonstrating an increased aptitude at how to work together and  learn from one other.    

This is one more example of pioneering leadership that Fresno can be proud to claim. What role do you want to play in this transformative work?
Come join us. 

Best Regards,

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

Investing in the Valley’s Future

 Monday, May 02, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Pitching investors for a stronger community

It was the first pitch night at Bitwise South Stadium, a chance to connect donors with possible new ideas, companies and visions. Ably introduced by Bitwise's leader Jake Soberal, it was the launch of a new cycle in the life of Fresno - connecting potential investors to opportunities in the emerging tech driven economy. 

New ideas driven by, and driving, technology

Ideas ranged from online polling for political issues to connecting to full spectrum reality environmental systems. If you refocus 3D gaming technology on more commercial uses you can, for example, create more flexible tools for marketing.  If you use multi spectral imagery (grounded in Defense Department technology) to identify stress patterns in local fields, it can reduce time for local farmers to correct problems. There are also apps to connect “I want it now” consumers with Uber like workers ready to deliver within the hour, identify farming prospects or deliver a phone location to suicide hotlines to make it easier to get help to someone in stress.

It was an impressive display of the power of modern technologies to connect, visualize and reorder information and, in a true pitch spirit, engage investors and potential partners to turn these product ideas or prototypes into businesses. You can’t help but be impressed – not only at the ingenuity, but at the efforts to create a more prosperous business future for the region.  

Investing in community starts with the money

At the Community Foundation, we think about investments in many ways. First we pay attention to investing the funds entrusted to our care. Our goals are both ambitious and long term -- to grow charitable capital after fees, inflation and annual distributions in order to protect the purchasing power of that capital through market cycles. Because our time horizon is long term, we grow capital to preserve capacity for future annual grant making. We want our donor’s legacy to be both tangible and perpetual.    

Investing in organizations and people

We also think of grant making as investments in local agencies. Our investments might keep the doors open, launch a new initiative, or just start a new way of addressing a need. It doesn’t have to be innovative to be effective, but it does need to be effective to be sustainable.

We also invest in people, not only our own colleagues but also those who make the CBO sector work -- staff, executive directors, board members, program officers and volunteers. These are the folk who can take advantage of our workshops, our training programs and the skill building that will transform our local sector into a more effective platform for this work. 

Our investments also embody the sector’s promise: that the advantaged position of nonprofits creates value, community and connection. They make the difference in our neighborhoods, towns, and the entire region. As a nation, 10% of the workforce sits in this sector; we need to invest in their capacity for them to be effective.

Education, data and communication are key investments in capacity

Education is another investment which we focus around donors and the larger community. Whether through our monthly Community Conversations or sessions dedicated to learning specific skills and tools, effective philanthropy rests on the educated and informed donor. That is why we created the Center for Community.  By providing space for convenings, as well as access to intellectual capital, best practices and leadership, we strengthen our community.  

Leveraging research data like the Fresno Scorecard can help shape our discussions about the realities in our community. Understanding what is actually happening is an important step towards using funds efficiently, whether that be public dollars invested in schools, hospitals or other institutions or philanthropic dollars focused on an outcome, cause or solution.   

We also invest in tools to communicate with stakeholders - not just the stories and compelling issues we are involved with, but also the media and web platforms which serve as an introduction to our work.  As most agencies and nonprofits understand, these stories serve as proxies for the work only they can do, stories that can unlock future charitable capital. As we strengthen our own website – with a dream that every fund has its own webpage, we can connect more tangibly to the impact and legacies donors establish.

All good investments are measured by results

The larger vision that drives effective philanthropy is not only making smarter choices but also requiring ways to monitor investments through tracking outcomes, impact and results.

And when you think beyond early stage investments, to making endowment decisions, you are looking for that long term stability that sustains work that needs to be done.  These investments will pay off over decades, and requires an array of sustainable practices -- sound financial controls, good governance and leadership, top drawer customer relations, excellent products, flexible and dynamic market responses and distinctive and engaging cultures.    These are all  practices we invest in through our Center, our grantmaking and our knowledge/skill building

Connecting the head and the heart

One of the truisms in this field is that no one has to give you the money to do what is needed. You need to connect with the reasons the money matters. What will happen when the money is invested? What change can be created? How can I measure it to be sure?  Why should I care?  Investing in our region involves both the head and heart -- we believe that linking the two, connecting across the generations and demanding results, is one of the best ways we build a better future.

Not just technology but markets, people, stories, tools and agencies.  That builds community itself.  Come join us. 

Best Regards,

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

Water water everywhere- ne er a drop to drink

 Monday, April 04, 2016
Hugh Ralston


The familiar line from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, memorized a long time ago as a school boy, resonates with the evolving story of water here in the Valley, as we adjust to the new realities of drought, volatile supplies and sources, and the deep complexity of water here in the Valley.

Joining a cohort of community foundations to explore solutions

The Community Foundation has been invited to join a cohort of other California community foundations (San Francisco, Silicon Valley and San Diego) and the Water Foundation to explore how to approach the complex issues of water. We are collaborating to find ways that engage, educate and explore solutions. Our primary focus is to identify where philanthropic investments can make a tangible difference, and how our platforms can be used to educate donors, communities and engage stakeholders – sometimes across deeply held boundaries. At CVCF we are glad to bring the perspectives of the Central San Joaquin Valley to this statewide collaboration.

Water and the Valley – fundamental to so many things

Water is essential to life. Here in the Valley, access to clean water is not a foregone conclusion. Wells have run dry and created more disparity – for families, businesses and communities.

Agriculture is a core mainstay of our local economy and water is fundamental to its success. The Valley not only produces food for the region, but for the nation and much of the world. Without water, food cannot grow in this fertile land and farmers cannot sustain their livelihood.

Public entities play vital role at state, local and federal levels

The state and federal governments each play important roles in setting policies. Funding the infrastructure that transports water from melting snow in the mountains to millions of consumers and thousands of farmers through canals, pipelines and levees is critical. Smartly managing both short and long term needs is crucial.

Local water districts often have different jurisdictions and their governance and oversight adds further complexity, especially in a state where many decisions are made locally. This is particularly true when state laws, regulations and policies overlap and create inconsistencies and disparities. A fundamental tension always exists between the needs of the state as a whole and the decisions of local entities; navigating that tension with an issue as complex as water is not for the faint of heart. These decisions, like many things in life, also create unintended consequences. In the fourth year of our drought, fewer alternatives are available.

CVCF is engaged in water issues on multiple fronts

At the Community Foundation, we have focused on several areas where water issues intersect: environmental sustainability grantmaking, providing training to rural agencies/nonprofits on how to get access to public dollars for water infrastructure projects and through our recent drought report on the impact the drought has had on local CBOs. We continue to work with the California Endowment and others in addressing the needs of rural CBOs, both through paying attention to mitigating the drought’s impact on health and on expanding their capacity to sustain their work.

Other community foundations in our cohort are looking at the urban/wilderness interface and how water districts are responding to important linkages between land use and water. Another important topic is access to water and the impact on communities where low income populations are already struggling. Pricing mechanisms to encourage conservation can succeed in reducing use, but can also create economic burden for those already wrestling with surviving at the edge of poverty.

In light of uneven (though welcome) rain this El Nino winter, there is gratitude for the ‘average’ levels of snow but serious concerns about the long term. How a state of 40 million adjusts to a more volatile climate, and the likely ongoing impact of reduced snow and rain, is a huge question. Dealing with an aging infrastructure to capture, store and deliver water is another significant issue that demands attention, as well as sizable public investments.

Encouraging innovation and new ideas shape new options

Some of the news is encouraging. Innovations in farming techniques reflect real progress in efficiencies. Many farmers are reducing water use while increasing yields. New opportunities are being explored to harness the power of markets to adjust behavior and to access new capital.

We are beginning to understand how water complexities shape local and regional responses, intersect with land use policies and how the importance of water cuts across many different agendas. When so many actors are involved it is vital that investments respect that complexity– federal, state and local governments, farmers who depend on water for their livelihood, workers for their living, communities for their wellbeing and the environment for long term sustainability. This is likely not going to be solved with a single simple solution.

Steady approach builds knowledge and expands options.

We believe that our approach to these issues starts with some basics: learn about the complexities among specific challenges, talk with people to understand the variety of impacts, think about strategic investments in local agencies and look for ways to leverage and engage stakeholders.

This is how we can use effective philanthropy to build more comprehensive responses. Come join us, so we won’t be repeating the Ancient Mariner’s lament. Good work, worth doing well.

Best Regards,

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

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 

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 

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