We learn best when we listen

 Monday, August 03, 2015
Hugh Ralston


Over the past two weeks, we have taken the time to listen in four sessions ranging from Bakersfield to Merced to the impact of the drought on the San Joaquin Valley, ranging from individual families to communities, nonprofits and the region itself.

As the final phase of a research study generously funded by the California Endowment, FRF is examining the drought's impact on our local nonprofit sector, both in the demand for services and in the ability of the sector to respond to this rolling, evolving crisis. Our goal is to identify ways that donors and funders can be effective in helping local agencies address the drought.

These four convenings offered us a chance to listen to folks on the front line, from both public and nonprofit agencies, and to dig deeper into questions that have been raised from online surveys, interviews and conversations with local leaders.

This four year drought has stressed communities and neighborhoods already grappling with systemic change -- evolution in our agricultural crops, public infrastructure struggling to cope with growth and increased demands, failure of private wells and government staff and departments adapting to both crisis and system demands. Water is a complex issue, and the drought’s impact is not surprisingly far reaching.

Needs are both immediate -- no water for some farmers, wells running dry, demand for services beyond food to needs like higher levels of family stress or abuse arising from economic disruptions or reduced wages, higher costs to access potable water to drink and use --- as well as structural and long term. Even when it rains this fall -- and it will rain again in California, the impact of the drought will continue to make its presence felt well into the future.

These convenings – in Fresno, Merced, Visalia and Bakersfield, where we are working with the Kern Community Foundation, have identified issues like how best to strengthen nonprofits in their ability to deliver their mission – not just to meet higher service demands but to be more effective in telling their story, to build collaboration between public agencies and local nonprofits so that clients understand what services are actually available, and what resources – a refrigerated truck or deeper technology platforms among others – are needed to sustain the work that only nonprofits can do.

We heard calls to tell the Valley’s story outside the Valley, which is always important, but also to help connect people in the Valley with each other, and to help those who are already doing important work sustain it. Some nonprofit staff helping those without water are themselves suffering from the same daily challenges.

Disadvantaged communities are just that -- suffering from shortfalls in infrastructure, less access to public, private or philanthropic resources, local institutions already on a short financial leash with little room for new staff, new programs, or new innovations to change the way business is done. Many have significant levels of poverty, lack of job skills in a changing economy, or little sense of opportunity that is more prevalent in larger communities.

The drought is one more thing on the wrong side of the scale.

We plan to digest these insights and observations into strategies that can shape solutions to both the short and long term issues. We plan to share these insights in September -- not only how the philanthropic community can make strategic investments in these communities across our region, but also how donors can work with the community foundation and local agencies to ensure the drought does not also include a shortage of community willing to work together.

We believe working with others to understand the needs locally, and expanding the ability of these agencies to deliver their mission effectively is an important step in making smart and effective philanthropy work in our region. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

Giving through the Foundation

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

Learn more about giving through the foundation.

In this section

© 2015 Central Valley Community Foundation: 5260 North Palm Avenue, Suite 122, Fresno, CA 93704 | T (559) 226-5600 | F (559) 230-2078| Extranet

Accessibility | Guidestar Report: 77-0478025 |Site Credits| Email