Seeking impact makes the difference

 Monday, August 10, 2015
Hugh Ralston


One thing is clear - innovation has come to the world of philanthropy, as our sector thinks about ways to raise new capital to tackle tough issues. From the largest funder to the crowdsourced contributor, new options are making community change not only needed, but possible.

A two day conference earlier this summer at the Presidio Institute in San Francisco brought together investors, nonprofit and community leaders, philanthropists and business leaders to ponder the possibilities of “impact investing”. In sessions broken up by walks with the exemplary vistas of San Francisco bay and the nearby Golden Gate Bridge, a place once hallowed as a military fortress becomes a platform for thinking anew about community.

Two definitions resonate for me: ways to invest in systems change that are measurable, trackable and point to a specific end (or impact), and a way of investing in creating change tied to specific outcomes. It is an evolution in how we can think about investing in community change, particularly as traditional sources of funding (government, private industry, even philanthropy) are pulled to multiple priorities.

The opportunity - in part - is to raise issues people care about with folks who want to focus on good returns, good outcomes and good work. Some nonprofits seek new funding for innovative programs that tackle deeply felt needs; some public sector elements seek more flexible and less constrained resources, and others are navigating within what is called the fourth sphere - where community, public, private and nonprofit all come together to solve problems.

As a former banker and now foundation CEO, it is always intriguing to think what solutions exist beyond the usual: more money or more people. These can always be put to work but sometimes we need to rethink the basics: what is the problem and what are the solutions. Sometimes, there really is a better mousetrap.

Change is constant, if not accelerating. Even as we move out of the ravages of a punishing economic contraction, we still face intractable problems, many resistant to change. Is it time to try something new? That is what we can explore here in Fresno, as - just to use one example - the Strive Together platform steps into a new opportunity to think about expanding opportunities for all our children to succeed - from cradle to career. How do we connect the multiple dots so our goals to help children succeed can demonstrate traction?

It is what can happen when experience meets the unexpected, and a level of trust allows people to explore ideas and try out new ways of understanding a problem, when data raises a different question or a new perspective changes a paradigm, or when an insight opens up a different way to build on something we share. Design thinking is not just for iPhones - but about the possibilities that drive a solution that works.

And there are many others already exploring these opportunities across the Central Valley.

Should we not bring these disciplines and expectations to how we invest our charitable dollars, how we allocate public funding and how we expect results? We can step into, and create, this future and - with measurable data - begin to see progress is not only possible, but actually achievable.

We should never underestimate the power of focused individuals pursuing change but we need to respect what potential exists if we worked to harness the power that comes from working together, from believing that we can accomplish more than what each of us can do alone.

This is a huge opportunity for community philanthropy - that our community can come together to raise the philanthropic capital to shape a better future, that we can link passions of donors who care about a place to ways these funds - in substantial, measurable, real change - can move us to a better place. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

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