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Guest op/ed: Central Coast partners are leading for the common interest

By   /   Friday, March 16th, 2012  /   Comments Off on Guest op/ed: Central Coast partners are leading for the common interest

Times of stress and tight budgets require creative thinking and teamwork.

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By Ronald Gallo and Hugh Ralston on March 16, 2012

Times of stress and tight budgets require creative thinking and teamwork. In the nonprofit world, we serve donors who expect our staff and our boards to spend their money wisely, especially as public funding for basic needs is reassessed, reduced and reallocated.  The demands on, and for, leadership in the nonprofit sector escalate.

That is why a partnership forged by two community foundations is an important signal.

Even the largest institutions can create value for community by working together.

To meet the expanding need for nonprofit leadership training in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Ventura County Community Foundation have partnered to share the time-tested board leadership program from Ventura County to benefit Santa Barbara-based nonprofits.

Training and technical assistance — critical investments in the future potential of nonprofits — have also been enhanced by additional support for the Fund for Santa Barbara’s efforts to engage grassroots organizations with training and classes and to deliver marquee professional development opportunities with speakers of regional and national distinction to both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The clichés about change being good — particularly when it is over — and that we all must do more with less are good at selling management books. But in reality, sound nonprofit leadership remains grounded in the basics: oversight, attention to mission priorities, engagement of staff and donors and a commitment to operate with best practices in a world of increasing transparency, skepticism and public scrutiny.

These values are at the heart of our two community foundations, founded on the contributions of donors who entrust donations to our care and to the oversight of our boards. They give funds that make our communities a better place and endowments that sustain grants to local nonprofits and support a wide array of causes, including scholarships for students and workers that give them opportunities to convene, evaluate, engage and lead. Trust is the coin of our realm, and we are proud our activities, policies and procedures have been recertified in compliance with national standards for U.S. Community Foundations, the only and highest peer review rankings in the realm of U.S. philanthropy.

We take these best practices seriously and want to do more to strengthen the skills of both staff and board leadership.

VCCF established its Board Leadership Institute at its Center for Nonprofit Leadership in 2006 with the belief that teaching the fundamentals of board leadership would strengthen organizations that already benefit from the donation of time, talent and treasure by its volunteers. We are pleased more than 250 board members, from some 110  organizations in Ventura County, have completed this seven-month series, and the foundation has begun, through our Leadership 2.0 series, to dive deeper into the skills required for effective board service in times of relentless change.

Skills include budget and financial literacy, understanding the importance of planned gifts and the role of endowments, how best to articulate a mission to a broad array of stakeholders, and how to get information through a dizzying array of vehicles: newsletters, meetings, websites, emails, brochures, Twitter, Facebook, advertising, events and appeal letters, just to name a few. Sometimes, we even have face-to-face encounters.

We know that nonprofits can succeed in this new environment, but investing in skills that will lead to success in this new normal is important.  By partnering, we hope to deliver programs we know work to new audiences in Santa Barbara and, through that process, continue to refine and expand what we can offer to our nonprofit partners in Ventura County. By leveraging our resources, we enhance our opportunities to attract top talent to our region in the form of speakers, lectures and other educational resources, expanding the learning community to a much wider footprint along our Central Coast.

Our two foundations collectively invest millions of dollars into the local nonprofit sector, linking the passions of our donors to tangible programs that touch thousands of lives across our region. Our donors entrust us with funds to invest for the long term and to ensure their legacies serve generations to come.

In the same way, we believe investing in strengthening the leadership of our local nonprofits with the tools and skills to navigate these less forgiving times is a smart move that strengthens community itself.
For a community foundation, building community not only comes from our core values and mission, it also demonstrates that even in the most challenging of times, nothing can stop us from realizing the power in our mission: people working together to make a difference in the communities where we live, work and raise our families. Come join us in this good work.

• Ronald Gallo and Hugh Ralston are president and CEO  of the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Ventura County Community Foundation, respectively.

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