A Letter from Óscar: Reflecting on my first year as President and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County

A year ago, I walked through the doors of a very familiar place—a place that has long felt like home to me— the offices of Community Foundation Sonoma County in Santa Rosa.  

During my inaugural week as President & CEO, I was frequently asked about my vision for the foundation.  Having previously served on the board for a decade, I had the privilege of witnessing the Community Foundation’s growth and the incredible impact it has had over our 41-year history. My vision, therefore, has always been rooted in aspiration – to see the foundation take on a more prominent community leadership role, to extend our impact beyond grant-making, and to foster deeper community engagement to address our most pressing challenges.

Through conversations with various stakeholders – donors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, fund holders, government partners, grassroots activists, and neighborhood leaders – it became evident that this aspiration is shared by many. Together, we envision a more just and equitable Sonoma County, and this collective vision serves as our guiding North Star.

Realizing our vision necessitates a dedicated team, and I am immensely proud of the strides we’ve made in staffing our foundation this year. In just over a year, we’ve welcomed five new team members, with new faces joining each area of our organization bringing new ideas and experiences. Our team reflects the rich tapestry of Sonoma County, mirroring the communities we partner with, and representing our rich diversity– in all its forms.

We welcomed two new leaders to CFSC during my first year, with Amy Holter, Vice President for Community Impact, joining in September, and Pamela Harris, Chief Financial Officer, joining in February.

Our Community Impact Team has done some important work this year, including the launch of a new field of interest fund to support advocacy and embarking on Trust-Based Philanthropy training. The Environmental Education Pathways Project began in 2023, which is a three-year initiative that has already increased access to outdoor environmental education across the county. This year, the Community Impact Team also opened the Julia L. Grant Basic Human Needs Grant Program up for competitive applications and granted over $1 million dollars to over 40 local nonprofits. Their work to make our grant programs more accessible to a wider range of applicants and to educate and convene our nonprofit community is something we are proud of.

Our Philanthropic Planning Team worked to develop new strategies to help fund holders meet their charitable goals, hosted in-person gatherings to bring donors together to discuss some of Sonoma County’s most pressing needs, and worked with donors to plan their legacy through charitable estate planning.

Our Finance and Operations team continued in their important work to keep our organization running. Our new CFO Pamela brings a wealth of background in Finance and hands-on experience working in the nonprofit sector. I especially resonate with Pamela’s approach to nonprofit finance, which I’ll share with you here: “Trying to do what you can in your own way to improve the human condition is what I think I should be doing on the planet. That’s what I’m trying to do in my own unique way in finance in the nonprofit sector.”

We welcomed five new board members right before I started at CFSC. Our board, comprising diverse expertise and lived experiences, remains steadfast in its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The establishment of a dedicated committee underscores our collective determination to foster a more inclusive organizational culture.

As we embark on an ambitious strategic planning process in the coming month, we are eager to engage with the community and prioritize their voices and concerns. Our foundation’s future will be intricately woven with the aspirations of those we serve, ensuring that our efforts resonate deeply with the needs of our community.

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with numerous community members, donors, and stakeholders. Together, we’ve explored the challenges facing Sonoma County and envisioned a future where all residents can thrive. Our commitment to taking the long view, inherited from our predecessors, remains unwavering as we strive to build a better tomorrow for generations to come.

Recently, we had the pleasure of collaborating with Erik Castro, a local photojournalist, to capture the essence of our partnership with the community through his artistry. This video serves as a poignant reminder of the work we’ve accomplished and the journey that lies ahead.

In Strength and Solidarity,

Óscar Chávez
President & CEO
Community Foundation Sonoma County

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