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 

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 

A time to pause and reflect

 Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Hugh Ralston


As the holidays move from tinsel, wrapping paper and new gifts to plans for New Year’s Eve, there is a chance to pause and reflect on the many gifts and blessings of the past year.

We have much to be grateful for, living in the heart of California’s agricultural abundance and in a country that respects the freedom to gather and worship, and where community is something that we can build together to shape a better future.

Time can slow for the moments are real

Time can slow during the holidays: families reconnect, old friends catch up, a useful nap, a quiet afternoon reading or watching the latest game; even joining (with apparently millions) to experience the latest Star Wars chapter. It is time we can savor, and enjoy for what it is.

We also can take a moment to remember those who have left us, those whose worlds have been buffeted by tragedy, change or circumstance, or those whose daily struggles call up different responses to the holiday season. As creatures built for community, we are reminded of how these connections with people and places frame our lives, and shape what gives it meaning, value and focus.

The holidays are often powerful, and challenging at the same time, because they connect us with our past, our families and memories of younger days. Events, traditions and symbols can carry baggage. Not every moment is jolly or filled with eggnog. But the moments are real, and valuable if only for that alone.

When the work of Christmas begins

Amid the annual bustle, I have often been taken with the words of Howard Thurman, a noted theologian, educator and civil rights leader, who reminds us the real work of Christmas begins after the holidays.

The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled, 

when the star in the sky is gone, 

when the kings and princes are home, 

when the shepherds are back with the flocks, 

then the work of Christmas begins: 

to find the lost, 

to heal those broken in spirit, 

to feed the hungry, 

to release the oppressed, 

to rebuild the nations, 

to bring peace among all peoples, 

to make a little music with the heart…

Music in the heart as well as the voice

For me, the holidays are always about music, recalling favorite carols or motets, singing familiar hymns and being surrounded by the sounds of the season. Each year, I search for concerts and that sublime moment – when the soul is touched with something authentic, human and communal. It is in a voice, a harmony or sometimes a new rendering of a familiar text. That is music in the heart, which can transcend even the most relentless recordings at the mall.

Every holiday has its moments – some become amusing (with the passage of time) but the ones that linger for me are the ones when that spirit of the Christmas season lands and connects. It is what is so special about this time of year, where the holidays last beyond the moment.

Christmas throughout the year?

Thurman is right. The true work of Christmas is never done, and lasts beyond the disposal of the trees, the packing up of ornaments and a pursuit of new toys in a new year. In our work of strengthening community philanthropy, we seek the connections to the core of our mission, the ways that it touches our souls and shapes our views of the world we live in and those with whom we share it.

That work of community continues all across the Central Valley. We are so privileged to be able to work together with so many. Happy New Year, indeed!

Best Regards,

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

Time to be thankful indeed

 Monday, November 30, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This time of year we are reminded of the many reasons we have to be thankful – not just to be alive, but to be living where we do and doing what we do.

My wife, Elizabeth, and I are profoundly grateful to be here in Fresno, as we celebrate a year of working with so many dedicated to making this a better place.

Many of you will not be surprised by the reactions of friends and family in southern California when we announced we were moving to Fresno to pursue opportunities with a community foundation poised for ambitious growth. “Fresno?” more than a few asked with doubt in their voices.

They don’t know Fresno. Our first year has been enriched by the friends, neighbors, colleagues and partners we have found here in the Central Valley, and by the warmth of the welcome.

World-class hospitality and bonsai, too

From the first home-cooked dinner as guests to enjoying the bounty of this fertile valley, we were warmly welcomed. From the richness of its produce and the depth of its cultural institutions, from a new world-class bonsai garden to the vibrancy of arts produced locally, this valley delighted us with its abundance of gifts.

As the new head of a community foundation, I’ve inherited all sorts of relationships —from donors to agencies, funding partners to community leaders, to colleagues, grantees, nonprofit leaders, advisors and elected officials. These, too, have been welcoming, and remind me of how much we achieve working together.

We discovered a vibrancy here that can be missed from the coastal perspective. We found it in the remarkable seasonal delights of Christmas Tree Lane in Old Fig Garden, to the variety of concerts, lectures, festivals, authors, poetry —including that of the new U.S. poet laureate — and the famed Shakespeare in the Park, not to mention the rich ideas and compelling futures emerging from universities across the valley.

Deeply rooted churches and faith communities connect across generations and boundaries, anchors in neighborhoods across the valley; from trunk parties at Halloween to music, worship and active mission outreach – around the world and in the local neighborhood, these folks try hard to live out their faith. We have found a welcome home here too.

Seasons happen, each with its own beauty

The Valley’s proximity to famed national parks is only one asset among many. It also wears its beauty well. It seemed as if my morning commute for months has been a celebration of the bounty of flowering fruit trees – white, pink, red and pink again; now it is seasonally attired in brilliant oranges, red, brown and sharp yellows. Seasons live here, in ways they don’t in California’s coastal climate.

And yes, the rumors of hot weather were indeed true. But so were delicious peaches, locally sourced ice cream and the welcome splash of a swimming pool.

Central Valley Community Foundation Board and Staff

And as for the Central Valley Community Foundation, formerly the Fresno Regional Foundation, I am thankful for the role it plays in this region, and for the wisdom of its founders almost 50 years ago to establish this institution, and those generous donors who have fueled and sustained its health over the years.

I am grateful to our board for bringing me here, and for their willingness to work together to examine, imagine and deliver a future worthy of our mission, our potential and our community. Each contributed personally to the new Center for Community’s launch, a tremendous vote of confidence.

I am thankful too for the work of my colleagues, and that of my predecessor, to build an institution with the promise and growth it is a privilege to harness, nurture and deliver, as we write the foundation’s next chapter.

The power of two words

I learned years ago the most powerful words in the nonprofit lexicon are straightforward: thank you.

So thank you for blessing my Thanksgiving with profound gratitude for all of this.

Add cranberries, a little rain and pecan pie – and how can I help to be anything but be thankful for the perfect long weekend?

Happy Thanksgiving.

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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