Foundation Getting Back On Track With Finances

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Board chair named

By Stephanie Sumell

A better mortgage rate, a reduction in staff and cost-cutting on overhead have helped the Ventura County Community Foundation weather a financial crisis that nearly sunk the Camarillo-based nonprofit.

Now that it’s on better financial footing, CEO and president Vanessa Bechtel said, the future looks “promising” for the foundation, which manages hundreds of scholarship and grant funds that benefit local students and numerous charity groups.

Bechtel said the foundation distributed over $1.5 million in grants late last year — a sign of better times.

“I feel very confident in the progress we’ve made over the past two years,” she said. “The business that we’re in is in full swing, and (its mission) is to support our local nonprofit communities.”

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Shortly after Bechtel took over for former CEO Hugh Ralston in February 2015, the executive learned the cash-strapped foundation had too many employees on the payroll and couldn’t cover its overhead costs.

That put VCCF at risk of shutting down, and Bechtel was faced with a long list of difficult decisions to keep it afloat.

The discovery prompted Bechtel to sift through mountains of paperwork and cut staff from 22 to five. The remaining staff saw their salaries cut by 20 percent.

The CEO was also faced with an impending $4-million balloon payment on the foundation’s mortgage loan that would have crippled the nonprofit.

Bechtel considered moving VCCF into a smaller office to lower costs — its 53,000-squarefoot headquarters on Mission Oaks Boulevard was once listed for $9.8 million — but she and the board of directors opted to stay put after a new lender agreed to better loan terms for the foundation.

Because the loan is still being finalized, Bechtel declined to comment on its specific terms or name the lender, who, she said, has funds “specifically designed to help nonprofits fulfill their missions.”

Bechtel did say the new deal will help improve the foundation’s financial future.

“Those pressures have been alleviated,” she said. “Because of the refinancing and the terms we’ve been receiving, our intention is to keep the building.”

Although the foundation is no longer slated to move, Bechtel said it will reduce the amount of office space it is using and rent the unused space to other nonprofits to generate income.

She said there is talk to add a few new employees in the coming months.

“The good news is that we will be able to add a position or two once all the financing is confirmed because of the terms being so favorable,” she said.

But it wasn’t just financial woes that plagued the foundation.

Soon after learning about the foundation’s money problems, Bechtel self-reported her findings to the California attorney general’s office to ensure VCCF was complying with state law as a charitable trust.

In the time since, she said VCCF has worked very closely with the state, providing regular updates on its “financial turnaround.”

Though there’s work to be done, the CEO and president said VCCF is on the right track.

It has revamped its website and welcomed new board chair Scott Hansen in October.

Hansen, the regional managing director of wealth management for the Santa Barbara and Westlake Village markets of Wells Fargo Bank, has served on the boards of numerous community organizations, including the CSUCI Planned Giving Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County.

Bechtel said Hansen is a “natural leader” and a “phenomenal addition” as board chair.

Hansen said he is glad to be of assistance.

“ I am confident that the Ventura County Community Foundation will continue into its next three decades of service to the residents and nonprofit organizations of Ventura County,” he said in a statement. “We are looking forward to a bright future as we tackle our community’s most pressing needs.”

Those needs include education. Bechtel said the foundation recently ended its scholarship application season and plans to give out about $1 million in scholarships to Ventura County students during the spring.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I feel very confident about the future of the Ventura County Community Foundation.”

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