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Press Release

The James Irvine Foundation Board of Directors Approves $135 Million for a Priority Communities Initiative

April 15, 2020

Vaishalee Raja,
Senior Communications Officer

SAN FRANCISCO (April 15, 2020) – The James Irvine Foundation Board of Directors has approved $135 million in grantmaking over seven years to support five cities’ efforts to build local economies that work for all residents. Priority Communities becomes the third multiyear initiative to advance the Irvine Foundation’s goal of a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically.

The initiative builds on two prior years of pilot grantmaking in Fresno and Salinas. It adds to and deepens Irvine grantmaking in the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino in 2020, and the Foundation expects to phase in grantmaking to Stockton in 2021. Priority Communities continues more than 15 years of Irvine grantmaking, previously called Priority Regions, focused on inland and rural communities in California.

The vision for the latest community-based grantmaking is an economy that works for all residents, with the goals of:

  • Creating more good jobs that offer a family-sustaining wage, benefits, and opportunities to advance economically
  • Ensuring more low-wage workers obtain good jobs and the training to land these positions
  • Supporting effective community-based approaches to increase the spread of good jobs
  • Leveraging Irvine’s dollars secure more public, private, and philanthropic investments

“We are grateful to be able to expand our grantmaking in these communities that are vital to California’s success but too often overlooked,” said Don Howard, President and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation. “These communities have too few good jobs, and the COVID-19 pandemic is going to hit their residents especially hard. We look forward to partnering with community leaders, elected officials, employers, and worker organizers as they rebuild their local economies to work for all residents.”

In response to communities’ feedback, the Foundation will support local efforts to create good jobs and more equitable economies by:

  • Strengthening grassroots organizations that represent the voices of residents living on low incomes in economic planning. Research indicates that empowering those most left behind economically to lead economic development can shift priorities to advance low-wage workers.
  • Supporting policymakers and local leaders to partner with residents to develop inclusive economic plans that create good jobs (and reflect the needs of the lowest earners). This includes supporting leaders to address the barriers workers face due to race/ethnicity, gender, immigration status, and more.
  • Investing in good job-creation strategies identified by inclusive planning, such as micro-enterprise, incentivizing employers’ expansion, or spurring local innovation that creates good jobs. We also will support leaders with resources to garner major investments from others.

Community foundations will be key partners for the Priority Communities initiative, serving as local experts on organizations, leaders, and approaches to support. These will include the Central Valley Community Foundation, Inland Empire Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Monterey County, and Latino Community Foundation.

“Partnership is central to our work in priority communities,” said Jessica Kaczmarek, Initiative Director of Priority Communities. “Local leaders and organizations know their challenges, opportunities, and residents best, making them invaluable partners in deciding how to best support community efforts to create a strong economy that works for all.”

The Foundation developed its current strategy with input from community leaders and residents. The criteria used to select the cities included, among others, size (populations greater than 100,000) and how much cities can serve as economic “hubs” for up-and-coming California regions.

“There has been tremendous momentum in Fresno recently to involve more people in inclusive economic growth,” said Tim Rios, an Irvine Foundation board member, Fresno resident, and Wells Fargo Community Relations Senior Manager. “That is more important than ever now, as we look to rebuild our economy, and I am so grateful that the Irvine Foundation will expand its investments in these communities critical for California.”

“The Irvine Foundation commitment comes at a critical time for Riverside and San Bernardino,” said Paulette Brown-Hinds, an Irvine Foundation board member, Riverside resident, and founder and publisher of Voice Media Ventures. “Both cities are growing and play an increasingly important role in California’s economy, making it all the more important to support local efforts to, collectively, create an economy that works for all.”

About The James Irvine Foundation

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California. The Foundation’s current focus is a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided more than $1.98 billion in grants to organizations throughout California. With more than $2 billion in assets, the Foundation made grants of $105 million in 2019. For more, please visit