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Building Community Capacity – A Role for a Modern Philanthropic Sector

This guest post was authored by Ryan Ginard. Ryan works for The San Diego Foundation, where he builds capacity for the Malin Burnham San Diego Center for Civic Engagement through the Civic Leadership Fund, and supports the development and implementation of the Legacy League and Nonprofit Planned Giving Partnership program. Ryan is also a Steering Committee member of the San Diego Chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. 


What are the best ways to increase the capacity of our nonprofits? Is it targeted funding to areas of need or is it competitive grant making to enable innovative approaches to traditional societal issues? Now take money off the table as an option. How does that change your approach?

As we celebrate 100 years of community foundations (one of the real bastions of philanthropic engagement), we need to realize that giving has changed from that of a purely financial nature to a hybrid of time, ideas and charitable gifts. The sooner this is realized, the sooner a modernized approach to engaging with the next generation of philanthropists can occur.

Why is this new narrative important? Ultimately it’s because we are failing to connect with this important demographic at a time that we should be grooming them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

You know the type, extremely active in their community throughout the early stages of their career, going through a number of leadership development programs and then all of a sudden being found in a state of career flux by the age of 30. Family happens, they don’t have enough experience (or financial capacity) to take executive management roles or be appointed to key board positions and as a result their skills become a lost resource to the community.

This is where a true investment in our future leaders can be beneficial for both those underserved in their professional careers and to help a sector crying out for support. I mentioned taking money off the table for a specific reason because these mutually beneficial opportunities already exist and the costs in this instance do not serve as a barrier to entry.

So let’s start talking about nonprofit board and committee service. Let’s start discussing ways to diversify our boards not just by sex and ethnicity but age and geography and let’s be deliberative and proactive about it.

To illustrate this point, take San Diego, a region that could see its nonprofit sector suffer as a result of community leaders not acting quickly enough to address the challenges of its rapidly changing demographics.

Population: The region has experienced dramatic growth and change over the past several decades, with the share of people of color increasing from 26 percent to 52 percent since 1980. There is also a large and growing racial generation gap between the region’s mainly white senior population and its diverse youth population.

Nonprofit Sector: The University of San Diego’s (USD) recently released 2014 State of Nonprofits in San Diego report showed that the total number of 501(c)3s was 9364 and that the majority (75%) of those nonprofits are run by volunteers.

San Diego currently ranks 46th out of the top 51 major metropolitan areas in the United States according to Competitive Edge research for group participation. This includes the Rotary, the YMCA and organizations that serve the community as well as other social movements.

In short, America’s Finest City needs to quickly embrace a renewed focus on diversity and emerging leadership as the keys to reflecting the demographics of those they seek to represent.

So which white horse is philanthropy riding in on? One of the most powerful tools philanthropy (specifically community foundations) has is the ability to reach across many sectors and convene public, private, nonprofit and academic partners to engage in discussion and problem solving. It also helps connect the dots in the community where others are beginning to falter. Take Government, for example. It is, by design, a huge player in many day-to-day quality of life issues. This can only improve if they are able to work more efficiently with those key stakeholders just mentioned to help co-develop shared solutions. But therein lies the problem – citizens’ trust in government has been declining to record lows and now someone needs to come in and be the change our communities need.

Building on our San Diego angle, one community foundation taking leadership on this issue is The San Diego Foundation and its Civic Leadership Fund (CLF). The CLF provides resources for the Malin Burnham San Diego Center for Civic Engagement and is building a movement of civic participation throughout the region. One way they accomplish this goal is by linking civic leaders with the boards and committees of nonprofit service providers. By fostering continued diversity with an influx of new talent and ideas, they seek to help grow a greater San Diego by increasing community participation rates.

In what is effectively the match.com of board and committee service, it is a very simple concept that has the ability to make big inroads into San Diego’s poor participation rates while showcasing the amazing talent that is going largely undiscovered in its neighborhoods. Identify, cultivate, connect, it’s that simple.

A great example of that success falls at the feet of local Deputy Attorney Samantha Begovich who In 2013, as she approached the 20-year anniversary of her graduation from Stanford Law School, felt certain she had acquired an effective tool box of inter-personal skills, abilities, and expertise that could be used in a number of different settings – the only limit in this case was her drive and imagination.

“Getting involved in volunteer board service has been a win-win experience for me. I feel a great reward in working on issues that can transform and improve the community that I love dearly. I am witness to great minds and talents coming together with no personal agendas and nothing more than ideas and hopes of a coast of dreams in San Diego” Mrs. Begovich said.

Begovich, who exemplifies those civic leaders who end up thriving in these roles (once given the opportunity to serve), has seen her successes as Co-Chair of both the Civic Leadership Fund Steering Committee and Stanford Law School of San Diego result in her recent election as 1 of 9 Trustees for the San Diego County Employees Retirement Board (a $10B pension fund) with 72% of the vote and being announced as one of 16 Metro Movers for 2014 – men and women who have made outstanding contributions to their professions and who are poised to add to their achievements in 2014.

“In terms of my career, my board service shows me how lucky I am to have cultivated a 20 year body of work at a high-level in litigation, negotiation, mediation, and leadership that I can overlay onto philanthropy and civic engagement. My reward has been seeing San Diego and its amazing people at their best”.

The board matching service, which launched recently, has nonprofits excited about the value these new civic leaders can provide to their organizations with eventual impact being measured against governance tabs located in their BetterGiving portraits – a localized version of Guidestar, and the only ‘vetting’ being administered in the process.

mAss Kickers, one of the 3700 local nonprofits identified by USD’s 2014 report with an annual revenue of less than $50k and provides support and motivation to all newly-diagnosed patients, family, and friends affected by tumors or cancer, highlighted that finding individuals outside of their own social circles who can serve on their board is essential to establish organizational stability.

Founder and President of mAss Kickers Eric Galvez, who was diagnosed (and beat) a brain tumor back in 2005 acknowledges that finding new talent is always a challenge.

“mAss Kickers Foundation is constantly evolving and growing. Our biggest challenge as a new organization has been filtering our passionate supporters and finding dedicated and talented team members. Both subgroups are important, but for us it has been difficult to find new talent outside of our social circles.

“We definitely encourage new ideas and talents that will benefit our programs. We always welcome creative ideas, but need the talent to manage these ideas. Establishing a formal culture around our events, website/social media, and programs will only help us grow” Galvez said.

mAss Kickers is but one of a number of organizations that have opted into the service and is looking for not only new members but a genuine vehicle to diversify the makeup of its board. Many have also listed ethnicity, youth and geography as key focuses in their recruitment drives (San Diego has many fragmented communities and is historically known as downtown centric in nature).

When it comes to board service the focus has for far too long been about an individual’s capacity to give and get, and for many emerging leaders the old adage of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ continues to be an ongoing reality. Well, it seems pretty obvious but Community Foundations know a lot of people and if this new narrative of giving is embraced then the potential of our communities and its residents can be realized and philanthropy in the 21st century can be seen not just as a grantmaker but as an effective community capacity builder.


Interested in authoring a post for the EPIP blog? Contact Membership & Operations Manager Michael Barham at michael@epip.org.


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