Tough Community Issues Call for Leadership

This post originally appeared on The Council on Foundation's Re: Philanthropy blog.

As my colleague Peter Pennekamp from the Humboldt Area Foundation says, when it comes to community leadership it’s not always the most pressing issue that you need to be working on; it’s the issue where there’s energy and heat. In a word: tension. And in our community, there’s tension around immigration.

In the next 25 years, Napa County will become predominantly Latino, the first county in California’s Bay Area to reflect this significant demographic change. Yet there has been little public discourse about it aside from angry letters to the editor every time the local paper prints a story that involves immigrants.

As our community foundation began looking for a way to use our reputation as an even-handed convener for good, we decided it was important to have a local discussion about what we can do to move forward together on immigration-related issues.

We decided to fund a study that will talk specifically about the economic and fiscal impact of immigration in Napa County in the hopes of sparking reasonable and civil public discourse in a political climate that is too often polarizing and not based on data. We’re also bringing together elected officials, law enforcement agencies, nonprofit service providers, and community groups to talk about concerns surrounding deportation and the county jail.

We’ve made a significant investment in terms of our very limited time, and we’re seeing positive results. There are a lot of people in the community who are hungry to have this conversation. Groups that disagree with each other are talking and working toward a common understanding. Within the ranks of the nonprofits that we support, we’ve gotten a lot of props for trying to tackle an issue that nobody else is working on. I think there’s a real appetite to try to find a better way.

Being a community leader is ultimately about trying to get people to focus on where they live, as simple as that may sound. You can’t fix Washington, D.C. No matter what your politics, you can acknowledge that the federal immigration system is broken. So the question then becomes, what can we do together to make a difference in our community and make it better for everyone?

What can you do in your community?

The road to community leadership is different for every community foundation, which is why I hope you’ll join me and Kris Jaeger, my board chair—along with the leaders of two other community foundations—for the Learning to Lead webinar on May 2. We’ll be talking about our experiences in community leadership and sharing the lessons we’ve learned about what community foundations have to offer, what communities and their foundations have to gain, and some common challenges we faced along the way.

The expanded Community Foundations Series, created by The James Irvine Foundation, now addresses three new topics: becoming a recognized community leader, staffing at a small scale for big results and engaging board members to boost progress.

Earlier topics are: enlisting board members as ambassadors for growth, marketing with limited resources and planning for financial sustainability. Access the full series here.

Terrence Mulligan is the president of Napa Valley Community Foundation

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