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Nonprofit Excellence Spotlight: The Fund for Santa Barbara

Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center Townhall

In 2014, the Cuyama Valley, a small, rural community in Santa Barbara County with a population of approximately 1,800 people, faced a significant challenge. In addition to being a low-resourced, low-income community, the region had unique problems that often went unrecognized by policymakers and officials at the county and state level. They also lacked a local government to which the residents could bring their concerns and ideas. To try to identify and address some of these challenges, the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center held a summit to assess needs and encourage community dialogue. The summit gained such momentum that a working group of community members was formed shortly after. Although energized, Lynn Carlisle, the Co-Executive Director of the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center was conflicted about her next step. At that point, she called The Fund for Santa Barbara (the ‘Fund’) for help.

“The technical assistance from the Fund helped the group decide for themselves that they should become a community association,” said Carlisle. “They helped us facilitate meetings, establish a grounded, broad-based structure and were always there to answer any questions we had. There is really no other organization like them in the county.”

Founded in 1980 by a group of Santa Barbara-based community organizers, activists and philanthropists, the Fund for Santa Barbara supports organizations working for progressive social change in Santa Barbara County. In addition to its local grant-making program, the Fund is well known for offering technical assistance in the areas of organizational development, fundraising, community organizing, media strategy, lobbying and advocacy to over 200 community groups each year. Now known as its Capacity Building Program, the Fund is one of Santa Barbara County’s hubs for supporting nonprofit excellence.

“Since inception, the Fund has valued resources other than money, just as much as money itself,” said Gary Clark, Director of Capacity Building for the Fund for Santa Barbara. “Many of the people that we help through this program are grassroots organizers who do not know the sector and they need more than just funding to achieve success.”

Through its Capacity Building Program, the Fund offers many forms of assistance, such as individualized technical advice, an equipment library loan program, connections to consultants and educational workshops and convenings with support from its partners, the McCune Foundation, the Hutton Parker Foundation, the James Bower Foundation and Santa Barbara Foundation.

“These workshops and convenings are more important now than ever because many nonprofits are scrambling to protect budgets,” said Clark. “Through these convenings, we can bring the community together and remind everyone that causes count and that, together, the nonprofit sector does have the economic power to make a change.”

The Fund has supported causes across the county, from helping organize the North County Nonprofit Forum to working with the McCune Foundation and Hutton Parker Foundation to establish the Community Cornerstone Room, a free meeting space for nonprofits in North County. The Fund has filled a key need in the sector by offering a personal touch and a community space for groups to learn together and work towards positive change.

“Since the Nonprofit Support Center closed in 2011, the Fund is really the go-to spot to get technical assistance,” said Michelle Howard, Development Director for the Wilderness Youth Project. “The two biggest benefits of the Fund’s technical assistance include increased efficiency in figuring out how to do things and improved excellence and best practices to move forward without mistakes. For philanthropy, this means more philanthropic dollars are being invested more strategically and having a larger impact in the community.”

As the Fund looks forward to the future of its Capacity Building Program, it plans to continue to work with its partners, like the Santa Barbara Foundation, to spread the word about its programs in technical assistance among the nonprofit community to offer support to those who want to make social change and strengthen Santa Barbara County. For example, the Fund chairs the Foundation Roundtable’s Capacity Building Committee, which is a monthly meeting of funders to discuss gaps in capacity building efforts and resources that support capacity building.

“Achieving progressive social change requires leaders that will step up and take the lead,” said Clark. “When these leaders come into the Fund, we meet them where they are and welcome them into a family that works together to solve issues.”

Whether the Fund is welcoming a single community member with a cause into its family or sending an expert to Cuyama to help provide an entire town with an outlet for change, the Santa Barbara Foundation is appreciative of its partnership and collaboration in the pursuit of nonprofit excellence.

For more information about the Fund for Santa Barbara or the upcoming technical assistance workshops, which are sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation, visit their website.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101