New LSU philanthropy center aims to aid region

Dr. Jim Erickson, the director of the new Center for Philanthropy at La Sierra University. Photo by Larry Becker.
Dr. Jim Erickson, the director of the new Center for Philanthropy at La Sierra University. Photo by Larry Becker.

April 10, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( )Whether they provide after school programs, adult day care or meals for those in need, nonprofits and their philanthropic donors play vital roles in the well being of their communities.

But a battered national economy coupled with a lack of know-how on the part of many fundraisers and nonprofit managers can restrict the level of services offered to the public, and at a time when outreach programs are desperately needed.

The picture is particularly bleak for nonprofits in California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to a March report from The James Irvine Foundation. It says that most local nonprofits in the Inland Empire generate approximately one-third of revenue from earned income, forcing organizations to rely heavily on donations while struggling to meet the needs of a growing populace. In an area of limited wealth, this task is daunting. La Sierra University’s School of Business wants to help meet the challenge.

On April 14 the school launched its new Center for Philanthropy during a kickoff celebration at the university. The center will offer free training seminars for local nonprofit organizations, a Master’s of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in philanthropy and certificate programs in philanthropy. The center will begin enrolling students in the fall.

“We’re creating the center to meet the needs of the community,” said business school Dean John Thomas who spearheaded the project. Education in philanthropy will involve matching donors and recipients, and educating regional philanthropists about needs in the Inland Empire, he said.

“This is a need that has been unfulfilled by any educational institution in Riverside,” and is the culmination of the school’s assessment of the most pressing business-related needs in the area. The new center upholds and advances the university’s commitment to serve, said Thomas. He has served more than 15 years on many nonprofit boards in Riverside in various capacities.

The university selected Dr. Jim Erickson to serve as the new center’s director. Erickson is a University of California vice chancellor emeritus and former president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation Serving Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. His background includes serving as vice chancellor for advancement at the University of California, Riverside and UC Merced. He also served as executive director of the UC Riverside Foundation beginning in 1985 where annual private sector support grew from $1.6 million to more than $27 million, and over $100 million in private support was generated with the addition of 26 endowed chairs.

“My respect for the vision of Dr. Thomas who really has a commitment, as does the university, to our external publics, that’s probably what influenced me the most” to accept the job, Erickson said. “I have such high regard for [former] President Geraty and President Wisbey whom I’ve worked with on other projects,” he said.

“I’m proud of La Sierra for making this commitment to do something like this. I’m very proud of this university,” said Erickson. He currently serves on La Sierra’s foundation board and provides counsel to its Advancement team. In June 2007, Geraty presented Erickson with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

In his role as center director, Erickson will form a 20-member advisory board comprised of chief executive officers of corporations and foundations, major agency leaders and major donors. He expects startup costs for the center to derive from foundation grants and private donations.

According to the Irvine Foundation’s Inland Empire Nonprofit Sector report, 67% of the region’s 7,566 nonprofit organizations reported revenue of $25,000 or less between 2000 and 2005.

Foundation funding is crucial to some nonprofits’ ability to carry out their work, the report said. However, the region’s foundation capital compared with the rest of the state was alarmingly low; San Bernardino and Riverside counties garnered just $3 and $51 respectively in foundation funding per capita between 2000 and 2005 while the Inland Empire as a whole received only $27 per capita. This compares starkly with foundation funding of $139 per capita in Los Angeles County, $70 per capita in Orange County and $119 per capita statewide.

Furthermore, the lion’s share of $122.5 million in foundation grants Riverside County nonprofits received in 2005 flowed primarily from one source, the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. The foundation is based in Palm Desert, a bastion of retirement wealth in the golf-course-studded Coachella Valley. The Berger Foundation contributed $75.8 million in Riverside County, primarily to nonprofits in Palm Desert. San Bernardino County nonprofits, by contrast, garnered only $17.7 million in grants and grant dollars in 2005.

La Sierra’s Center for Philanthropy will begin to address these issues by providing free educational seminars for nonprofits on donor cultivation and board development. The seminars will help nonprofit leaders formulate a financial assessment and a strategic plan for the organization. “We have to do a better job educating nonprofits and their board members on how to build a sustainable business model that will help them develop a broad range of revenue sources from day one so they can survive the lean years,” Thomas said.

“We’re trying to establish a culture of philanthropy in the region,” Erickson said. “This is such a tough time economically, but in the tough times the ones who are suffering the most are the disadvantaged. …In all my career this has been the most difficult time.”

The center’s academic programs will help business students interested in careers in philanthropy understand that giving begins in the heart and that cultivating such benevolence requires fostering genuine relationships aimed at making the world a better place. The center’s academic courses will include “Obtaining Philanthropic Support,” “Capital and Endowment Campaigns,” “Investment and Portfolio Management,” and “Planned Giving.”

“Nonprofit organizations are always under a funding strain. For those who seek professional careers where they can make a positive difference in their society while also using their interest and ability in finance, the program would be an extraordinary opportunity [on] how to do so,” said regional economist John Husing.

“A center of philanthropy is highly important in terms of developing a philanthropic infrastructure in this region,” said Daniel Foster. He left his position overseeing the Riverside Art Museum to take the helm of the community foundation after Erickson’s departure. “To have La Sierra University step up and see the critical need in the region and provide academic leadership on this issue is worthy of tremendous applause from the nonprofit community,” he said.

“There is no greater challenge to the philanthropic community than is taking place at this time. But there is great opportunity for benefit if we raise awareness of philanthropy,” said Foster. “The challenge for the Center for Philanthropy and the community foundation is to raise public awareness on the needs and opportunities to strengthen communities through strengthening nonprofits and philanthropy.”

Foster praised the university’s selection of Erickson to direct the center. “I can’t think of a greater philanthropic leader of the past 25 years in the region than Jim Erickson,” he said.

The Center for Philanthropy is aiming its programs and services at entry-level and mid-career development professionals, Riverside and San Bernardino county nonprofits, leaders of Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions and other religious organizations. La Sierra University is owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.





PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  December 07, 2009