September 23, 2023
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Opinion: Reflecting on 30 years of service at Center for Nonprofit Leadership


By Dena Jenson

Preparing for the Center for Nonprofit Leadership’s upcoming 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Sector has been quite a walk down memory lane. So many extraordinary supporters of our region’s nonprofits show up countless times in photos, videos, archived social media posts and printed newsletters we unearthed.

It is a great honor to steward the legacy and build on the contributions of the center’s founder, visionary past directors, remarkable colleagues, respected facilitators, dedicated volunteers and generous donors and funders who believe in our mission of helping nonprofits do their good work better, through trainings led by subject-matter experts.

Dena Jenson

That work also has become my legacy.

I was hired as the center’s director in 2005 and remember my first day like it was yesterday. I inherited a library filled with books on nonprofit best practices, a treasured colleague who would remain the heart of our work together, and a vision for building the organization into a trusted community asset.

From humble roots in 1991 at the Ventura County Community Foundation, the Center for Nonprofit Leadership created impactful programs by responding continuously to the needs of the sector’s professionals and staff, welcoming excellent regional practitioners and national experts to lead workshops, and growing our resources so we could share them.

In 2016, the Center for Nonprofit Leadership found a home at California Lutheran University, and in this chapter of our story we launched innovative programs that prepare volunteers for the huge responsibility of board service; took on racial justice and equity issues in the nonprofit sector; and partnered with Cal Lutheran’s faculty and students as they explore lives of purpose and vocation, committed to service and justice.

Along the road we have traveled with our fellow nonprofits, we have been tested by disaster: The crash of Alaska Flight 261 off our coast in 2000; the La Conchita landslide of 2005; the crop freeze of 2007; the Great Recession of 2008; the Thomas Fire in 2017, followed a year later by the Hill and Woolsey fires and the tragedy at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

In each instance, nonprofits galvanized, coordinated and mobilized in response. Little did we know how critical our collective efforts would be in the face of what was to come in 2020.

Yet, as the recently released Ventura County Civic Alliance State of the Region report — mailed last week to Pacific Coast Business Times subscribers — documented once again, Ventura County nonprofits remain undercapitalized and expected to do more with far less compared with our counterparts in neighboring counties and the state as a whole. Citing 2019 IRS figures on per capita revenue, the report states Santa Barbara County nonprofits brought in more than triple Ventura County’s total per capita. Los Angeles County’s nonprofit revenues posted per capita revenues more than double our county’s figure. And the state’s average was nearly triple ours.

While 8,714 people work for nonprofits in this county, most of the organizations are powered entirely by volunteers. Yet, the social fabric of Ventura County depends on high-impact, well-led and well-stewarded nonprofits with sufficient working capital to address our region’s most pressing priorities. That’s why it is so important to give where you live.

As we reflect on 30 years of service, we are reminded of the ways our nonprofits have demonstrated resiliency and adaptation, organizational success and transformational change in meeting the basic needs of our neighbors and friends. As nonprofit leaders, we have cried together in quiet corners of conference rooms, tears of happiness and joy and of anxiety and uncertainty. The Center for Nonprofit Leadership serves as a safe harbor, where we take very seriously the trust our community places in our work.

As we turn our attention to 2022, we double down on our commitment: excellent workshops and networking opportunities where staff, board members and volunteers will learn, grow and build relationships with one another; intensive programs such as our Board Leadership Institute that aid in strengthening governance practices in the nonprofit boardroom; and the continued scaling of the center’s Board Service Bootcamp, where underrepresented and underrecruited corporate and community leaders can tap into their personal values and passion to prepare for future nonprofit board service. Ours is a table where all are welcome.

This op-ed has too little space to name everyone who is a part of this story. I simply extend an invitation to all to join us Nov. 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Zoom for the Center for Nonprofit Leadership’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. To learn more, visit

Our work is far from complete. But as the last three decades demonstrate, our combined efforts are rich and rewarding. Knowing what we can achieve together, join us as we journey forward in the next 30 years.

• Dena Jenson is the director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at California Lutheran University.