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Priority Regions Pilot Update

At the Irvine Foundation, we believe California cannot thrive unless the inland regions of the state also thrive. That is why, as part of Irvine’s mission to expand opportunity for the people of California, the Foundation has long prioritized support for leaders and organizations in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Southern California.

Over the last 15 years of Priority Regions grantmaking, we’ve learned a great deal and have been incredibly impressed by our grantees’ many achievements. Even with the successes of our individual grantees, we feel that our grantmaking can have greater impact on the critical underlying issues confronting low-wage workers in these regions. So, we’re adapting our approach.

In December we announced some changes to our Priority Regions grantmaking. As Irvine’s Senior Program Officer focused on our Priority Regions, I’m excited to share more details about this shift, which we believe will allow us to redouble our commitment, sharpen our focus, and deepen our investment in communities.

What’s new?

First, we are shifting our focus to cities with the greatest number of residents and the strongest nonprofits in these regions. We are also expanding our focus to include the city of Salinas because it is facing many of the same conditions experienced by communities within the Central Valley and inland Southern California and has many opportunities for learning and impact.

Second, we want to collaborate with regranting partners to expand access to our grantmaking dollars to grassroots organizations that are connected to residents in the community and work with community experts on the ground. As a statewide funder, we found our ability to contribute to locally-driven efforts limited because we lack a consistent presence on the ground.

So, over the next 18 months we will pilot this new approach in Fresno and Salinas through regranting partnerships with the Central Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation for Monterey County. These trusted, local organizations serve two cities historically underserved by philanthropy: Fresno and Salinas (among other surrounding communities).

Through these collaborations, we will invest an additional $2.6 million in these communities to help strengthen local nonprofit capacity and resident leadership as a means of expanding economic and political opportunity for residents working but struggling with poverty.

Specifically, our regranting partnerships will focus on strengthening civic engagement and developing leaders – both organizations and individuals with an emphasis on young people.

We do this because we believe working families in these communities will have greater access to economic and political opportunity when:

  • Residents are well-informed about issues impacting their lives
  • Organizations have the capability to engage and empower diverse communities to take action
  • Community leaders have the skills, relationships, and resources they need to implement and sustain change

Our regranting partners will identify grantmaking opportunities, cultivate relationships, and provide technical assistance to grassroots grantees focused on leadership development and civic engagement. What we learn from piloting this approach in these cities will also inform our long-term Priority Regions grantmaking strategy and help us determine how and where to expand this new approach to other inland cities.

What’s staying the same?

In addition to these pilot regranting partnerships, we will continue to directly support select regional and statewide organizations that operate in the Central Valley and Inland Southern California in the areas of leadership development, civic engagement, and increasing access to quality information. We’ll also seek to build the capacity of future regranting partners in other cities.

It is important to note that Irvine’s Priority Regions funding is only one way in which the Foundation invests in regions or communities. Our Priority Regions grantmaking is meant to complement funding that occurs through our other initiatives. Irvine’s initiative teams are exploring opportunities for investment in inland California to advance their specific goals.

We’ll continue to assess and adapt our efforts as we learn what has the greatest impact. We are excited about this new chapter, excited about our local partners for these pilots, and look forward to sharing what we’re learning from the pilots in the months to come.