From the President: Engaging Our Partners
Oct 01, 2010
Jim is Irvine’s CEO. A native Californian, he is passionate about the Foundation
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Many ingredients contribute to effective philanthropy, but one of the more important approaches is an authentic commitment to listen and learn from the communities and institutions we support. While we at the Irvine Foundation can certainly do more in this regard — a theme I will turn to later in this letter — I wanted to share some recent activities we have undertaken to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to this approach.
For me, this commitment must start with the governing board. Irvine has built a board that both brings a range of perspectives and experiences to its leadership role and that broadly represents the rich diversity of our state. In addition, for each of the past four years, we have focused one of our quarterly board meetings on opportunities for board members to engage directly with community leaders and to see first hand the work of our partners.
Last year, our board met in Los Angeles, where we explored the challenges and opportunities facing arts organizations in the context of that region’s vibrant arts economy. The previous year we met in Sacramento, where our board heard from our partners in the public policy arena and observed through a site visit the power of the Linked Learning approach to high-school education. And just this year, in early October, we traveled to Fresno, with the goal of deepening the board’s collective understanding of both the challenges and opportunities facing the San Joaquin Valley. This region has been a priority for our funding in recent years based on its rapidly growing population and shifting demographics, a high proportion of low-income residents, and a history of being underserved by traditional philanthropy.
All of these experiences have served to enrich the board’s understanding of the work of our partners and the environment in which we carry out our philanthropy. These sessions also inform their governance of the Foundation and provide a shared basis with staff for our consideration of Irvine’s grantmaking strategies and opportunities for impact.
As another illustration of learning from our partners, we recently commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy to survey our grantees through the Grantee Perception Report. As many of you know, these reports offer grantees a means to provide confidential feedback and allow funders a rare opportunity to receive candid assessments relative to their peers. Our last report was conducted in 2006, and as we did then, we will both share the results and describe what we intend to do as a result of the findings with all of you early next year.
Finally — and this is where I seek your ideas — we are exploring some future changes to our website that aim to extend Irvine’s commitment to listening, learning and engaging with our stakeholders. While we have sought to make the Irvine website a rich source of information on the Foundation and its work, the communications approach has been more about information transmission than a two-way dialogue. As we observe other fields experiment successfully with ways to engage stakeholders directly through the strategic use of technology, I’d like us to explore how we can deepen our connection with you by using the website in different ways. In that context, I’d welcome your ideas, suggestions and creativity to inform our approach, and I look forward to sharing what we learn from you in a future letter.
James E. Canales
President and CEO