CalNonprofits Articles

WritingThe following is an Open Letter to the Board of Trustees of the James Irvine Foundation as they seek a new president. We hope this letter sparks a public dialogue and we welcome your comments. The letter, signed by CEO Jan Masaoka and Board Chair Ashley McCumber, was sent in advance to Don Howard, Acting President of the Foundation and asks the Trustees to consider not only what the James Irvine Foundation needs in a new executive, but what California needs from the Irvine Foundation.

Dear Friends: The appointment of a new president at the Irvine Foundation represents a moment of opportunity not only for the Irvine Foundation, but for all of California. California nonprofit leaders -- regardless of how they have felt about the foundation in recent years -- are both worried and hopeful.

In this open letter, we ask you -- the Trustees -- to consider not only what the Irvine Foundation needs in a new executive, but what California needs from the Irvine Foundation.

We feel compelled to write this letter because -- to your credit -- we nonprofits think of the Irvine Foundation as part of our community. Many foundations are so distant that nonprofits wouldn't bother thinking about their leadership or expect that they would be open to hearing what we have to say. But you are the Irvine Foundation, and a measure of the Foundation's success is the large degree to which your nonprofit constituency feels we are stakeholders.

The California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits) is a grantee of the Irvine Foundation, and on behalf of the sector and our own organization we are grateful for the support the foundation -- and its staff -- provides.

In his departing letter, Jim Canales referenced five characteristics he has appreciated most in the people with whom he has worked in his role. He has provided us with an excellent framework for the characteristics we urge you to seek in a new president:

Visionary: The Irvine Foundation has always been led by a strong vision for California, and we in the nonprofit sector have especially appreciated the emphasis on inclusive democracy, community development, under-represented communities and the arts as components of that vision.

A key part of this vision is ensuring that marginalized communities have the "locally grown" institutions they need to participate fully in California's future. It is hard for us to envision a strong California that does not have strong community-based institutions in low-income communities, in communities of color, and in rural communities.

Curious: The word "curious" is a wonderful choice of Jim's because it evokes a sense of exploration and openness to wonder. Nonprofits have long appreciated that Irvine has supported new ideas and schools of thought, abandoned areas of work that have not been effective, and made deliberate transitions from one to the other.

We suffer when foundations chase after the "flavor of the month" in the name of innovation and leave unsustainable efforts in their wake when the next flavor beckons. Thank you for the balance you strike between curiosity and a measured pace.

Curiosity also extends to this special place where we all reside. We hope that the Foundation's new leader will be someone whose desire to learn about California is based in a deep knowledge and love of our state and its varied landscapes and communities.

Ego-less: While no organization or individual can truly be without ego, we have appreciated the organizational and individual modesty of the Foundation, not only with nonprofits but in collaborative funding efforts. The Irvine Foundation no longer uses the phrase "the community foundation of California," but its responsiveness to community is demonstrated by accepting unsolicited proposals, making responsive grants, and recognizing that sometimes geographic need or community development opportunities trump management strength in a nonprofit. This modesty is not unappreciated.

Truth-telling: The most important truths we have to tell you are not new, but it's important to underscore them. Though investing in nonprofit organization performance means many things, these are the fundamentals:

  • Core, unrestricted, multi-year support
  • A focus on organizations and movements springing up in communities rather than created in a top-down way, and attending to the ecosystems of nonprofit sub-sectors
  • Paying for the full cost of programs or initiatives
  • Proportionate due diligence: requiring less time from prospective grantees when smaller amounts of money are being considered
  • Helping nonprofits interact effectively with government, as contractors, as advocates, and as partners in problem-solving and democracy

Optimistic: "Pessimism is about an assessment of the situation," goes a saying, "while optimism is an orientation of the spirit." California's nonprofits are fundamentally optimistic: who else would set about changing the world in such deep ways? Nonprofits -- and foundations -- are not just about services but also about inspiration, commitment and values.

Jim Canales has embodied these characteristics and values, and we are optimistic that the Foundation will find new strength for a new era in its new president. In this spirit, thank you for listening.


Ashley McCumber, Chair, Board of Directors
Jan Masaoka, CEO, CalNonprofits


+1 # Margo Sidener 2014-03-25 20:40
This is terrific, the most honest, accurate letter to a foundation that I have seen in my 30 years of working with a nonprofit. May it inspire open communication by all... and partnership.
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0 # Claire Peeps 2014-03-24 10:58
What a brave, honest and useful letter! Thank you, Calnonprofts, for representing our sector so well, and thank you, Irvine Foundation, for receiving it in the spirit of openness that has characterized the years under Jim Canales's leadership.
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+1 # Mary Ellen Jackson 2014-03-24 07:57
What a well crafted letter, one we can use as a template across America. Thank you for articulating the relationship values essential for foundations-non profits-communi ties to have true impact.

Mary Ellen Jackson, NH Center for Nonprofits
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0 # B.S. 2014-03-14 22:27
We too look forward to the Irvine Foundation continuing its progressive work and bringing on a new executive director who is a leader/change agent/risk taker. B.S.
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0 # Greg Baldwin 2014-03-14 11:37
A true opportunity to influence the future of civil society in the great state of California.
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-2 # Helene Belisle 2014-03-12 13:57
Looks like I'm the only one who is not elated about the open letter to the Irvine Foundation. Who are we as private individuals and independent charities, as is the Irvine Foundation, to even comment about their internal workings or external mission? I disagree with the premise of the letter, not the intent or content of the message. I am grateful you did not write on my organization's behalf as a member of CalNonprofits.
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0 # Clay Kempf 2014-03-12 13:50
Great letter, Jan & Ashley; I really appreciate it, especially the points about non-profits needing ongoing support for core programs, and for the need for foundations to respond to needs identified by community based organizations rather than the current model of foundations identifying what the community needs.

I'm also concerned about the reluctance of foundations to support projects involving the well-being of older adults. Community-based programs for seniors have a long history of being the most effective use of private and public dollars in controlling the health care costs of our state and nation, yet there are very few foundation-base d grant opportunities for programs that serve the very population that consumes the greatest amount of high end/cost medical services.
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+2 # Joe Valentine 2014-03-12 13:10
Good for Jan – good for CalNonprofits as the voice of nonprofits in California!!! I’m proud of Jan for sending this important message to a very important foundation. Just the fact of sending such a message is exactly why we need CalNonprofits, and need Jan as our leader!

Personally, and for the Board of CalNonprofits Insurance Services, we thank Jan for doing this.
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0 # Jacqueline Janssen 2014-03-12 11:50
Such a wonderful letter! It tells it all - all the hopes, dreams and work that is and needs to be done. Thank you for sending to the Irvine Foundation and all of us.
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0 # Faye Barriman 2014-03-12 11:49
I found this to be a wonderfully written, thoughtful letter that truly expresses the vision and needs of all charities today, as well as the spirit and mission foundations should hold as they assist us through these turbulent funding times. I work with and volunteer for many nonprofit organizations, and, sadly, have seen several falter and even dissolve these last few years. I hope that both the CalNonprofits and the Irvine Foundation strive to work together to keep alive the wonderful programs and services our nonprofits provide to our communities. Thank you for taking the time to express to the Irvine Foundation our needs, and to share this inspirational letter.
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0 # William Roby 2014-03-12 11:34
As advocates for our communities, and the nonprofits that serve them, we are woefully lacking in assisting institutions like the Irvine Foundation in their understanding that not all of California is urban. This is a great disappointment. The challenges we face go beyond the boarders of our coast line and effect a population of need that continues to be dependent on local solutions and resources that are limited in their ability at problem resolution.
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0 # Judy Nelson 2014-03-12 11:12
Congratulations Jan and Ashley on this powerful letter to the Irvine Foundation. I have not heard the needs of California's nonprofits stated with such clarity and energy. Let's hope all the foundations read it!
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0 # Mary Rogier 2014-03-12 11:05
What a terrific and thoughtful letter -- thank you for your leadership. It is a truly critical contribution and will undoubtedly result in a better selection of the new Irvine CEO.

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0 # Cassandra Flipper 2014-03-12 11:04
Brava to Jan and Ashley. Thank you both for an articulate, spirited statement to the Irvine Foundation trustees clearly expressing the hopes of the nonprofit community of our state.
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+1 # S.L. 2014-03-12 10:31
Awesome letter and decision to communicate this! Thank you!
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+1 # L.A. 2014-03-12 10:07
Thank you for sending this letter to the Irvine Foundation and sharing it with all of us. I agree wholeheartedly with what you and CalNonprofits expressed and appreciate giving voice to our sector.

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+1 # M.C. 2014-03-12 10:05
well done! great piece...

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+1 # C.F. 2014-03-12 10:04
BRAVO! Loved your open letter to the Irvine trustees. Thank you for being out front asserting what nonprofits really do need and gently reminding funders of what we don’t…

Keep it up!

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0 # M.D. 2014-03-12 10:03
Great letter to Irvine Foundation --thanks!

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0 # Jose Carrillo 2014-03-12 09:59
No questions about it, this is great. We need to communicate more openly about such topics, that we can have better partnerships.
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+1 # S.H. 2014-03-12 08:58
This is beautiful, brilliant and bold. Well done.

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0 # S.S. 2014-03-12 08:56
Hi Jan,

This is both well stated and very strategic, nicely done.

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0 # P.D. 2014-03-12 08:55
Well said. P.D.
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+1 # P.O. 2014-03-12 08:53
I think this letter is great. It frames the issues so clearly and has a warm and inviting tone. P.O.
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0 # Amari Romero-Thomas 2014-03-12 08:50
Great letter. I wish you had a linked in button so I could share with my professional network vs Facebook.
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+1 # Pamela Davis 2014-03-12 08:30
Thank you, Cal Nonprofits, for writing so clearly about such an important topic. The Irvine Foundation was a very early funder of our work in the late 1980s to create the Nonprofits' Insurance Alliance of California (NIAC). They took a risk on us and trusted that nonprofits, working together, could solve a very difficult problem. We need more capital like this from foundations for creating financial products specific to our sector.
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+1 # Aaron Dorfman 2014-03-12 08:19
What a fabulous letter! I hope that one day nonprofits will always feel free to engage in this way with foundations, and that foundations will be open to hearing the feedback. Great philanthropy is truly a partnership between the grantmakers and the grantees -- we're all in this together.
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0 # Noreen Farrell, ERA 2014-03-11 18:08
Thanks CalNonprofits for being a great conversation-st arter and caring deeply about philanthropic leadership!
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