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As Ventura County nonprofit leaders step aside, a rare opportunity to rethink philanthropy

By   /   Friday, May 16th, 2014  /   Comments Off

Ventura County’s nonprofit community was rocked by two departures in as many days.

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Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

Ventura County’s nonprofit community was rocked by two departures in as many days.

On May 12, Hugh Ralston, 55, longtime head of the Ventura County Community Foundation announced he was stepping down to pursue new opportunities in the philanthropic arena. A day later, Tim Blaylock, 54, head of the Boys & Girls Club of Oxnard and Port Hueneme, announced his departure for a position working with the national Boys & Girls Clubs advising large metro area clubs on the West Coast.

Among nonprofit leaders outside higher education and health care, Ralston and Blaylock are about as big as figures get in our region. Both of them have been successful in building their institutions and guiding them through the recession.

In the case of VCCF, that has meant growing an endowment from $32 million to more than $135 million, buying a building and creating a center for 15 of the county’s largest nonprofits. It has also mounted a spirited effort called “Ventura County Together” to deal with the recession.

For Blaylock, it has meant delivering services every day to a large community of underserved Latino children and teens, creating and managing after school programs and constantly looking for new sources of funding. That fact was driven home when four hours after Blaylock announced his departure, Oxnard’s Rio School District was informed that it had lost funding for an after school program that serves more than 400 kids at the Boys & Girls Club facility.
“It was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make,” Blaylock told me.

Their departures will allow Ventura County to recruit new executives who will bring a fresh perspective to two iconic organizations. But it also should serve as a signal to community leaders that it might be time to really step back and think about how philanthropy in Ventura County is going to work for the next decade or so.  Here are some questions worth asking:

• When it comes to nonprofits, are we going to grow our own talent or recruit it? VCCF’s initiatives include a nonprofit leadership academy that is advancing skills training in the philanthropic arena. That’s a program worthy of funding because as Ventura County becomes more wealthy it will need a mix of home-grown talent as well as imported executives.

• Where is the growing wealth of Ventura County’s family’s going to wind up? Both VCCF and Boys & Girls Club of Oxnard and Port Hueneme benefited from the generosity of a single donor: The Martin and Martha V. Smith Foundation, which is now housed at VCCF. But soaring land values, rising corporate fortunes and the success of family-owned businesses is creating a reservoir of new wealth that eventually will find its way into the community.

Will that wealth endow youth programs, CSU Channel Islands and California Lutheran University, health-care organizations or arts organizations?  There are huge needs in all of these areas across the region.

• How to balance social justice, jobs and the environment? Among the toughest problems nonprofits in our region face is how to set priorities in fundraising and spending. Ventura County Together was a terrific tactical response to the recession.

But inevitably, jobs and skills training are the real solutions to poverty problems. And, as the Ventura County Civic Alliance has discovered, there are urgent needs to balance support for companies that provide good paying jobs, with housing and environmental issues. Nonprofits can facilitate solutions — or stand in the way.

For the immediate future, both VCCF and the Boys & Girls Club can count on strong boards and transition help. Ralston is staying on until September while a search goes on and he will likely to remain within easy reach of Ventura County as he and his wife figure out what’s next. “This is definitely not a retirement,” he told me.

Blaylock will continue with the Boys & Girls Club organization as an advisor to some 27 large metropolitan area clubs in nine western states. The majority are in California. He said he’s already been contacted by Oracle Corp. Chairman Jeff Henley, a Santa Barbara resident and national BGC board member, who has offered his support.

Meanwhile, my guess is that the leadership transition that began this past week is only just beginning.

• Contact Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.

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