What is Giving in L.A.?

Giving in LA Giving in L.A. is a go-to source, an aggregator for strategies and points of view about trends and issues in giving, challenges for philanthropists and philanthropic organizations, tools and techniques for individuals or families, insights and opinions from experts, and more – all centered on Los Angeles County.

February 27, 2014 ~ 2 Comments

Investing in College Success Yields High Returns

smiling gradsFrom the rag traders of the early 20th century who founded multi-billion dollar media companies to today’s Silicon Valley venture capitalists, California has always been a magnet for smart investors. The state’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship has made it the world’s 8th largest economy, with a Gross Domestic Product between that of Russia and the United Kingdom. With Los Angeles County facing a major college graduation crisis, these same smart investors are backing the educational future of low-income students. They realize that giving isn’t just good, it’s good for business.

By some estimates, only 12 percent of Los Angeles 9th graders will go on to graduate from college. This is a crisis, not just for the students who will miss out on the benefits of higher education, but for California’s economy as a whole. According to a report released by Public Policy Institute of California, 40 percent of all jobs in California will require a bachelor’s degree by the year 2025. Low college attendance rates mean that there is a projected gap of 2.3 million degree holders to fill those jobs. With a shortage of skilled employees, the leading companies of tomorrow will go elsewhere, and California’s economy will suffer.

So what’s behind the crisis? Since 1980, the average tuition cost at a four year institution has grown by over 530 percent. Even when students can get scholarships, they are often only for a single year, meaning students may get to college but still can’t afford to get their degree.

For many first-generation college students, informational resources and support networks are just as critical as financial support in helping them get to and graduate from college. Some students have financial obligations for their families. Others lack the college know-how or self-esteem to believe that college is even an option. And many students find campus and academic life too rigorous or foreign to continue. But information can make a huge difference. A study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that low-income, high-achieving students are 53 percent more likely to apply to college when they receive customized information kits outlining the net costs of various colleges and universities.

Investors around the country agree that reversing this crisis is a top priority. The Kresge Foundation recently announced a $1 million commitment to the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund, which aims to increase college success for low-income Angelenos by combining multi-year scholarships with college advising and support services such as mentoring and academic training. This joint initiative, established by California Community Foundation and College Access Foundation of California, gives low-income Los Angeles students the best chance of graduating from college. Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson stated, “As a national funder interested in expanding opportunities in America’s cities, we feel a responsibility to invest in college success for low-income Los Angeles students.”

Solving this crisis has the potential to create an enormous return on investment. Californians who earn a bachelor’s degree average nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings. If these earnings are spent in Los Angeles County, the benefit is multiplied throughout the community, meaning higher tax revenues, more jobs and more successful businesses. Ultimately, it means a stronger, healthier Los Angeles. To Chet Pipkin, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Belkin International, that’s a winning investment, “We can’t thrive as a city without their contributions,” Pipkin said. “It’s our responsibility as a community to do our part to support them in their path to college completion. Philanthropists, businesses and lovers of L.A. alike have a stake in their future.”

Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund is a joint initiative of the California Community Foundation and College Access Foundation of California. It is part high-performing mutual fund, part innovation incubator. Now in partnership with the Kresge Foundation and a number of individual investors in Los Angeles, it continues to expand the investment pool of $12 million initially committed by CCF and CAFC.

To learn more and to become an investor of L.A.’s future, go to LASIF.ORG

Christine Oh is the Scholarship Manager at the California Community Foundation, administering all scholarship funds and managing the Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund.

February 5, 2014 ~ 2 Comments

Developing the Underdeveloped


Many nonprofits are caught in a vicious cycle. Declining fundraising leads to the development director’s departure. This disrupts donor relationships, makes it difficult to recruit new development staff and leads to further fundraising declines. This cycle is taking place throughout the sector, and a new study released by The Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and CompassPoint finds that half of all development directors anticipate leaving their current jobs within two years or less.

Last month, Southern California Grantmakers, along with California Community Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and Weingart Foundation, co-hosted a discussion for funders on helping grantees overcome these challenges. This discussion grew out of the new study, entitled: “UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,” which reveals the cycle that threatens the ability of many nonprofits to raise the resources they need. Aside from high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector, the study revealed deeper issues, including a lack of basic fundraising systems and inadequate attention to fund development among nonprofit board and staff leaders.

Three Los Angeles nonprofit leaders joined the conversation: Kay Buck, executive director of Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, Angelica Salas, director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and Lisa Watson, chief executive officer of Downtown Women’s Center.  Each shared how they changed their own organizational approaches to fund development in order to ensure increased success.

  • It’s not you, it’s us.    A successful development strategy starts with an engaged board that is fully committed and involved in fundraising and a staff engaged in a “culture of philanthropy,” serving as ambassadors of the organization. All three leaders said that it takes time and what Buck called “managerial courage” to bring about this type of organizational culture change. Salas shared that her board and staff engage in practice “pitch sessions,” where they offer each other feedback in order to hone messaging to clients, donors and external partners.
  • Good fundraising plans make for strong organizations. A fundraising plan that is tied to the organization’s strategic plan is critical to ensure that board and staff are clear about the importance of fundraising and how meeting fundraising goals impacts the organization and its ability to serve its constituents. Watson described how her organization developed a five-year road map, so that board and staff could see the trade-offs in staffing and program offerings if fundraising goals were not met.
  • Know your role.  Both board and staff should be clear on their roles and responsibilities toward fundraising, so that the development director can better execute the fundraising plan. Salas said that every board and staff member has a fundraising target as part of her or his annual goals. Watson reported that since all their major donors were once volunteers, volunteer coordinators and managers are clear that relationships with their volunteers are also viewed as donor cultivation.

The philanthropic sector is also getting involved. Southern California funders at the event pledged to work smarter and in more coordinated ways to support and strengthen nonprofit fundraising capacity throughout the sector.

All three leaders have experienced the revolving door of development directors in the past. By transforming organizational culture, approaches and attitudes towards fundraising, each organization has helped to develop a more successful and sustainable infrastructure and broken the vicious cycle.

Vera de Vera serves as director of the Community Building Initiative in El Monte, a major partnership program of California Community Foundation with local residents and business, civic and community leaders striving to improve educational opportunities for children.

January 22, 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Street Poets: Healing L.A. Youth Through the Power of the Pen

“Now I see since my youth
I’ve had the key
To open the door inside me
This pen & pad will set me free”
-“Me Myself & I”
by Eric Henderson, Street Poet

The idea for Street Poets first came to Chris Henrikson back in 1995, while he was volunteering through the Writer’s Guild of America at Camp Miller, a Los Angeles County Probation Camp in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Henrikson found himself going back to lead weekly workshops before finally forming a poetry performance group with some Camp Miller alumni. Street Poets began to tour L.A. area high schools, churches and community centers, sharing their deeply personal stories while opening up a dialogue about the healing power of poetry. Through their after-school programs and workshops, Street Poets now works with hundreds of L.A. students.

“The challenge with the increased standardization of our educational system is that many teachers no longer have the freedom to engage their students in this kind of soulful self-exploration,” Henrikson said.  “Arts budgets have been cut, classrooms are overcrowded and there often isn’t time to ask the kind of questions that might open the door to deeper connection.  Without that connection, students are more likely to disengage and drop out.”

Henrikson believes that the support from the Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow initiative has helped Street Poets fill a void in many South Los Angeles high schools by providing classroom enrichment and after-school poetry and music production workshops that empower youth to explore themes that might not always fall neatly within a standards-based curriculum.

The group recently acquired a “Poetry in Motion” van in order to bring creative inspiration to surprising places and to bring youth out into nature where they can connect with their true selves.

For almost two decades, Henrikson and the Street Poets have brought a healing voice to Los Angeles high school students. “Street Poets operates with the understanding that every young person is born with a purpose, with specific gifts to share, not only for their own healing, but for the healing of their families, their communities and the world,” says Henrikson.

“Many young people get stuck in the trap of trying to avoid talking and writing about their problems, because it’s painful.  And because of that, they get stuck.  Once you give voice to your story, you assume power over it, as opposed to it having power over you. Many people, not just youth, feel suffocated inside their own stories.  We use poetry to help set them free.”

Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow (PAT) is a five-year, $12 million initiative of the California Community Foundation. It seeks to improve academic achievement, decision-making skills and self-esteem of youth in South Los Angeles and the South Bay through sports, music and recreation.

Launched in 2011, PAT provides grants to nonprofits for direct services for young people and helps strengthen the ability of nonprofits to deliver services over the long-term.

PAT was made possible by a generous legacy gift from an anonymous donor whose life was devoted to helping others as a volunteer to nonprofits in Southern California and who valued the opportunities that music and athletics can provide to young people.  For more information on PAT, please visit https://www.calfund.org/pat