September 26, 2023
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Ventura County Community Foundation lays off staff, suspends Center for Nonprofit Leadership


The Ventura County Community Foundation has laid off a number of staff members and indefinitely suspended its Center for Nonprofit Leadership.

Shortly after bringing in new foundation management earlier this year, an independent financial consultant found there’s been a “lack of focus and professional procedures,” said Vanessa Bechtel, president and CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation.

The Center for Nonprofit Leadership was launched in 1991 as a hub for charities and community groups in the county, providing headquarter space at below-market rents and leadership classes to other nonprofits.

“The center has been operating at a loss for multiple years and has not identified sources of additional revenue, leading to its indefinite suspension as we work out our financial situation,” Bechtel told the Business Times.

Bechtel said the restructuring and suspension occurred on Sept. 10 but did not specify how many jobs were lost. There are not plans to make additional personnel or program changes, she said.

“We did this in order to ensure we can continue to effectively serve our donors and local nonprofit community,” said Bechtel, adding that the library will remain open and the funding database will be available. “These were difficult choices that needed to be implemented immediately.”

The VCCF purchased a 53,500-square-foot property for $6.9 million from inventor and philanthropist Fred Kavli in 2012 to house the nonprofit center, property records show.

The foundation board committed $3 million of the foundation’s capital to the center and pursued a capital campaign to raise $10 million more.

“We are exploring all options related to the foundation’s building, including refinancing or a potential new owner,” Bechtel said.

Bechtel took over leadership at the VCCF in February for Hugh Ralston, who left the foundation to take on a leading role at the Fresno Regional Foundation. He headed the VCCF for 11 years.

The VCCF has linked wealthy donors with community needs since 1987.

Bechtel oversees about $137 million in charitable assets, as well as a scholarship program that awarded $1.2 million to local students in 2014 and 600 funds that grant more than $4 million annually to local nonprofits, according to a news release.

It has averaged an 8.4 percent annual return on its portfolio for the past 20 years. An independent study by Colonial Consulting found that’s better than the returns posted by 27 other foundations of similar size, Bechtel said.

“We are implementing changes today to update our procedures and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the financial stability of the foundation that assists so many worthy local causes with the support of our donors,” she said. “We continue to work on our restructure plans that will ensure the foundation is financially sound, expertly manages our donors’ funds and is able to support the community into the future.”