April 15, 2011

Guest Blog: My One-of-a-Kind San Francisco Souvenir

Judi McCarthy, Immediate Past Chair, and Keith Brice, Chair, Kern Community Foundation Board of Directors

Guest Blog by Judi McCarthy, Immediate Past Chair of Kern Community Foundation's Board of Directors and Founding Chair of The Women's and Girls' Fund.

You have a day and a half in San Francisco, one of the world’s great cities. How do you spend it? Drinking in the local wine and culture, perhaps? Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge? Strolling by Victorian homes in Alamo Square? Finding the ultimate foodie experience? Shopping in Union Square for the ultimate souvenir of your visit?

Or . . . do you choose this? You convene on the 30th floor for 11 hours over 3 meals with 40 peers from 7 foundations to delve deeply and passionately into one topic: the effective philanthropy driven by California’s rural community foundations. By the end of your visit, you haven’t seen the sights, but you’ve brought home a valuable souvenir in the form of collective learning.

In late March I traveled with Board Chairman Keith Brice and CEO Jeff Pickering to represent Kern Community Foundation in the aforementioned gathering with our "Irvine Cohort." Kern Community Foundation is one of seven community foundations currently participating in a special initiative of The James Irvine Foundation. Community Foundations Initiative II has invested $12 million to accelerate the growth and leadership of selected small and emerging community foundations in rural areas of California. Since 2005, Kern Community Foundation Board and staff meet twice yearly with our Cohort peers, sharing both the best practices and the challenges within our foundations. Meet our Cohort partners: Fresno Regional Foundation (with the largest asset size and a six-county service area), San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Shasta Regional Community Foundation (Shasta and Siskiyou), Placer Community Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Mendocino County. With the exception of Fresno (established in 1966), we are young foundations with small staffs, just emerging into community leadership.

Our convenings explore topics that might bore the average blog reader, though they enthrall the philanthropy geek within me. My favorite part of every gathering is the "weather report" that each foundation offers: what’s new, which storm clouds are brewing, where is the sun shining? As nonprofit organizations ourselves, the Cohort faces typical nonprofit woes – overburdened staff, cramped office space, tiny operating budgets – at the same time supporting the other nonprofits in our region. We’re all trying to do more good than ever in a tough economy. So, what are we doing right in the midst of it all? I can’t help but be proud of answers that illustrate the Cohort’s collective work: community foundations in partnership with donors and nonprofit leaders to strengthen the communities they love. These are just a few of our stories.

    Placer CF recently convened boards and staff of local nonprofits in a leadership summit that focused on governance issues as well as board members’ roles in fundraising and organizational sustainability.
  • In quarterly meetings for civic leaders and donors, Napa Valley CF invites speakers who are innovators in the field of philanthropy, as well as other speakers who work for the greater good in nonprofit, for-profit and government organizations.
  • Shasta Regional CF has focused its work in planned giving in such a way that local donors now come to the foundation for specific advice in how to create their personal legacies of good.
  • Fresno Regional CF focuses on visibility as a means of promoting philanthropy: attending "every meeting in town" and partnering with Valley Public Radio and Valley Public Television.
  • A bequest from a longtime resident was leveraged into $100,000 in community enrichment grants from The Community Foundation of Mendocino County. CF Mendocino records YouTube videos to capture donors’ stories.
  • San Luis Obispo County CF has created a real estate foundation, a separate public benefit corporation, to facilitate the sale of donated real estate in order to pass on the net proceeds to SLO charities designated by the donors.

From Kern Community Foundation, we had abundant good news to share with our Cohort peers: announcement of arts and culture grants on April 1; our Partners in Philanthropy series; and our growing Nonprofit Search database that provides information about finances, governance and programs of the nonprofits doing extraordinary work in our community.

The Community Foundations Initiative II concludes its six-year run with a final convening in November. While this marks the close of Irvine’s investment in our seven rural foundations, we all agree this does not mean the end of our Cohort. We deeply value the vicarious learning from each other’s successes and difficulties. We challenge ourselves to "step it up" in service to our donors and to our communities at large. We are individually better foundations because we don’t go it alone.

Looking ahead to 2012, it’s not a question of if our Cohort will meet, it’s only a matter of where. Fresno or Napa? San Luis Obispo? Mendocino? Right here at home? The next location might not be one of the world’s great cities. But, by the end of the visit, we’ll all bring home a valuable souvenir.

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