Capacity Strengthening

The Sierra Fund was founded to increase and organize investment in the Sierra Nevada region. The Sierra Nevada region is served by a small but growing network of community and environmental groups working to protect and restore the region. Many have vision and passion but lack the administrative experience to build a lasting and sustainable organization. These groups need more resources to grow their financial and technical capacity and their strategic approach to program development and fundraising. It is easy to document that most of the large public and private foundations in California are located in either the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles, and that none make their home in the headwater region. This results in a disconnect between these foundations that invest in an idealized Sierra Nevada as a pristine vacation destination with abundant resources and the reality of a region still devastated by the extractive ethics of the 19th century Gold Rush. Building a strong philanthropic and administrative presence in the region, led by people who live and work here, brings critical capacity to the Sierra, to the benefit of the entire state.

The Sierra Fund is a leading voice in articulating the connections between the resiliency of Sierra Nevada ecosystems and communities and the long-term sustainability of California’s natural resources. We know what is needed to address environmental challenges facing the region. Our task now is to improve our own capacity, and the region’s capacity, to attract and deploy the mechanisms needed to implement these solutions.

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Major donors living in the Sierra Nevada first helped form The Sierra Fund by creating Donor Advised Funds that allowed these donors an opportunity to have their charitable investments advised and implemented by an organization that is dedicated to the region. The Sierra Fund established seven Donor Advised Funds in its early years. TSF has also assisted numerous organizations and projects in the Sierra with fiscal project management, administrative support, and organizational incubation.

The Sierra Fund serves as a fiscal sponsor to several organizations whose mission and activities complement and extend its own. It has “incubated” several organizations that are now independent and thriving, including the Sierra Cascade Land Trust Council and Mammoth Lakes Public Trails Access. The Sierra Fund continues to be available as a fiscal sponsor for regional groups or organizations requiring such services and which help TSF to achieve its mission.

The Sierra Fund has served as a convener to lead diverse participants in collaborative strategic and program planning meetings. These collaborative projects have produced results ranging from trail building to acquisition of keystone parcels threatened with development. Most recently, The Sierra Fund has stepped in to provide a fiscal vehicle for projects funded through the Cosumnes, American, Bear, Yuba (CABY) Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Group, serving as fiscal sponsor for nine regional implementation projects funded by two grants totaling nearly $6.5 million from the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR). 

The Sierra Fund’s Vision for strengthening capacity in the Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Fund’s Capacity Strengthening Program provides management assistance to donors and grassroots organizations wishing to play a role in restoring and protecting the Sierra as a whole. A small but important piece of the program is TSF’s donor advised and grant management program. The Sierra Fund has the honor of managing several Donor Advised Funds, ensuring that gifts are being held at the donors’ discretion in investment instruments that help build their fund over time. TSF makes grants to non-profit organizations at the direction of donor advisors.

Over the next decade the growing population of people that love the Sierra Nevada and come here to recreate— and sometimes to buy second homes—can play an important role in serving the region. New residents and visitors to the Sierra can provide technical expertise as well as funding and other support. Philanthropists from outside of the region need a trusted partner from the region to advise their investments to ensure that they build capacity and have a lasting impact instead of propagating “random acts of conservation” in the region. 

As TSF’s reputation for careful management and smart strategic planning grows, the organization hopes to continue to attract new investors. TSF is interested in attracting funds from companies that have a connection to the Sierra Nevada, either through their name or their location, and will pursue relationships with these donors as they are identified.