Inland Empire Community Foundation

Concrete Evidence

Building on 80 years of philanthropic work, Inland Empire Community Foundation aggregates the resources of donors and organizations to effect long-lasting change.

Janice Kleinschmidt Current PSL, Social Scene

Inland Empire Community Foundation

Youth Grantmakers cultivates critical qualities and skills in tomorrow's leaders.

It seems unlikely that a Riverside banker and civic leader in 1941 grasped the enormity of his actions when he established an endowment to help young people in his city access higher education at Riverside Community College. When he died in 1947, Charles Brouse left a legacy of philanthropy that thrives today as the Inland Empire Community Foundation and aims to improve the lives of the 4.6 million people living in 
Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Two decades into a different century, what has emerged is a vivid portrait of socioeconomic disparities and the need to navigate a “new” world of work, partnerships, and community needs.

“The pandemic showed us what racial, gender, and economic inequity look like in stark numbers, as well as in personal experiences,” says IECF president and CEO R. Michelle Decker. “Though ‘equity’ can be seen as a broad term, pursuit of its most fundamental aspects demands that we answer the question, ‘Who is most affected by this problem?’ Related to that, we ask, ‘How do we empower and invest in those most affected to make the lasting changes they need?’”

Charles Brouse
In 1941, banker and civic leader Charles Brouse established and endowment that continues to serve the Inland Empire.

Such questions underpin the foundation’s foundation.

IECF manages more than $130 million in charitable assets in about 400 funds entrusted to it through grants from national foundations and donations from individuals who want to improve opportunities for their neighbors.

“In 2021, we wrote a plan for growing a regionwide culture of philanthropy,” Decker says. “Our 80th anniversary primes the pump for what we recognize is a long-haul effort to develop resources needed by people in the Inland Empire. That culture of philanthropy will be built with equity at the forefront and in tune with the nonprofits we serve and with which we collaborate, our fundholders, and our donors. Our future is filled with the promise of positive, transformative, and community-led change. IECF brings to this vision a wealth of tools, knowledge about the Inland Empire and its nonprofits, and innovative thinking about the role philanthropy can play.”


Julian Cuevas leads IECF’s Office of Policy & Engagement.

The Arts Area in Ontario received a grant from IECF’s Community Impact Fund.

The bulk of IECF’s strength lies in the 
network it has established so that nonprofits join forces to magnify their impact. Housed within the Riverside headquarters, for example, is a collaborative project called Inland Empire Growth and Opportunity. The Kresge Foundation awarded a $140,000 grant that in part funded an executive director to oversee the mission of growing 
industrial sectors to provide quality jobs for the region: sustainable logistics, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, and green technology.

For effective advocacy, IECF launched an Office of Policy & Engagement in July 2021.

“Our goal is to support nonprofits to ensure they have a voice in the decisions that directly impact the constituents they serve,” explains Julian Cuevas, director of policy and governmental affairs. Recognizing that many nonprofits lack a staff member dedicated to advocacy, he says, “We want to be a vessel that helps advocate and steward their ideas and priorities in the legislative and budgets processes.” The Inland Empire has operated in silo fashion for so long. It is important for all corners of the region to come together.”

Cuevas notes that a component of the policy office resides in encouraging donors and fund holders to invest in its five priorities: education equity, inclusive economic development, housing, health, and environment.


IECF president and CEO R. Michelle Decker (left) and 
board chair Paulette Brown-Hinds.

Equity as a Touchstone

“We adhere to our conviction that setting and pursuing goals must be done with a lens on racial, gender, and economic equity,” Decker says. “We rely on data that shows where disparities exist. We listen to people impacted by our actions and incorporate their experiences into our decisions.”

To that end, IECF administers projects and programs such as the following:

The Community Impact Fund issues grants to Inland Empire nonprofits, collaboratives, and coalitions whose missions, governance, staffing, and joint-venture relationships prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in the communities they serve. The goal is to help grantees improve their capacities to manage change and respond to opportunities, as well as to boost their effectiveness. In May, this fund awarded $589,500 to 40 nonprofits.

Just SB, a collaboration involving community-based organizations interested in shaping a human-centered economy, began with developing strategies in response to historic and growing disparities in education, health, housing, and employment. The resulting People’s Plan for Inclusion launched in March 2021 with a $2.7 million James Irvine Foundation grant. Based on the success of community engagement in the 18-month research phase of surveys, interviews, and focus groups/community meetings, The James Irvine Foundation in March of this year issued a three-year grant of $9,345,000 to support the continued operation and development of Just SB.

In May 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $1 million to IECF’s Educational Equity Initiative. The grant covers programs and projects that (1) provide strategies for positive behavior support, restorative justice, and access to social and emotional services; (2) pursue systemic changes in child care and early childhood education; (3) develop policy solutions based on relevant data; and (4) engage, promote, and/or advocate for an educational system that supports students from households that are not primarily English speaking.

In September 2021, IECF and the Black Equity Initiative of the Inland Empire (in partnership with the IE Funders Alliance) invited nonprofits to apply for IE Black Equity Fund grants geared toward ending systemic racism and building economic and political power for the black community. The inaugural round of 16 grants totaled $740,000.


The Webb family — Reggie and René and their children, Karim, Kiana, and Kyle — partnered with IECF to create the Webb Family Fund for Parity.

Structural Support

While fulfilling a family legacy of creating fair housing in California, Randall Lewis wants people to have a sense of belonging beyond the walls of their homes. The 
Claremont resident himself feels “strongly connected” to at least 15 Inland Empire cities in which The Lewis Group of Companies has developed real estate.

“I’ve always cared about helping people and inclusivity, but [IECF president and CEO] R. Michelle Decker opened my eyes to thinking about collective impact — the way we can work together to make a real difference,” Lewis says. “I’m really interested in healthy cities, healthy schools, and healthy businesses.

The IE Black Equity Fund at work.

“In our region of over 4 million people, we’ve got a lot of talent,” he notes. “How do we unleash that talent, harness the energy, and give people opportunities to think more entrepreneurially?”

Lewis not only wants others in economic positions such as his to say, “This is my community and I want to give back,” but in fact for the greater Inland Empire population to be able to say, “This is my community.”

“A culture of philanthropy will be built with equity at the forefront.”

Randall Lewis donated $80,000 to IECF’s Here for Good Fund, 
which supports the foundation’s annual operations.

Lewis not only wants others in economic positions such as his to say, “This is my community and I want to give back,” but in fact for the greater Inland Empire population to be able to say, “This is my community.”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” says Kyle Webb, invoking an African proverb. This concept underpins one reason Webb Family Enterprises partnered with IECF to create the Webb Family Fund for Parity.

The Webb family — Reggie and René and their children, Karim, Kiana, and Kyle — have individually and collectively been involved philanthropically and as community leaders

This cause-related wellspring goes back to Reggie’s chairmanship of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association, which negotiated a parity agreement to bring the percentage of African American-owned franchises in line with the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. population. The Webbs believed the same approach could be applied to the Inland Empire, where they live and have operated 16 McDonald’s restaurants. “We felt that we had to organize the leadership of the African American community around unity and parity and drive the community to improve,” Reggie says.

As Kyle puts it, they particularly are passionate about “transforming quality-of-life outcomes.”

“We want to strengthen our ties in the community in an authentic way by putting our resources to work here,” he says. “We have been so blessed and feel we have to share our blessings. When you share your wealth, it grows,” Rene philosophizes.


ICEF board member Jeremy Hobbs takes the lead on the Salton Sea.

In Palm Springs, Jeremy Hobbs focuses on what he refers to as “human infrastructure.” As the president of Western Wind Foundation and an IECF board member, he wants to “work with different organizations to help them achieve their goals by creating the network of support they need.”

“There are a lot of really good organizations doing good work,” he says. “How do we encourage them to work together? Because they’re going to be negotiating with governments and private enterprises and will be heard more strongly [as one voice].”

Hobbs has pledged $118,000 to IECF, which includes $40,000 to seed one of IECF’s 80th anniversary signature funds: the Salton Sea Community Economic and Environment Fund. (See the November issue of Palm Springs Life for more on IECF Signature Funds.)

“Inland Empire Community Foundation gives people an opportunity to invest in issues most critical to our region,” Hobbs says

Investing in Youth = Youth Investing

Because IECF wants to lead the Inland Empire into a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment that can be sustained, it must inspire philanthropy and civic engagement among young people. Its Youth Grantmakers cultivates critical qualities and skills in tomorrow’s leaders. Just as the best way to learn how to fish is to fish, an ideal way to help youth identify and address needs in their communities is by giving them “a pole and bait” so they can award grants that support the work of local and regional nonprofits.

During the 2021-2022 school year, 33 students from 16 high schools in the program awarded $30,000 in grants. Over two hours on Sundays, they discussed community issues, analyzed grant applications, and reached consensus on where funds would have the most impact.

As an example, this year’s Youth Grantmakers awarded $2,500 to Project Fighting Chance, a San Bernardino nonprofit whose mission is to reduce aggression and trauma among youth through a boxing program that includes mentoring, homework assistance, and adjunct activities including arts and horticulture.

“Our future is filled with the promise of positive, transformative, and community-led change.”

Evidencing the range of issues the students considered, the Youth Grantmakers awarded $1,000 to Rancho Cucamonga-based Magdalena’s Daughters, which is committed to transforming the lives of sexually exploited and at-risk females.

“Every year, graduating seniors choose a Senior Charity of Choice,” says Denisha Shackelford, IECF’s youth initiatives manager. “This year, one young man asked if he could give his award to support the Youth Grantmakers program. He felt it was instrumental in his life and wanted to help future Youth Grantmakers.

“Youth Grantmakers gives our bright beacons of tomorrow the opportunity to become active agents of change,” Shackelford concludes.

Solid Grounding

An example of how pooled resources can make a substantial difference in people’s lives is IECF’s aptly named Community Impact Fund. In May, this fund awarded $589,500 in grants to 40 nonprofits in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. To be eligible, applicants had to “demonstrate a commitment to practicing and institutionalizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in governance, staffing, organization practices, and collaborative relationships.”

Unrestricted grants, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, went to organizations focused on serving various sectors of the Inland Empire population, from children to seniors, and causes from the arts to the environment to health.

Cathedral City Senior Center received a $20,000 grant.

“It’s one of most important pieces of funding that we received all year, because it funds our board’s strategic priority initiative of diversifying our membership,” says Geoff Corbin, president and CEO of the senior center. “We are really aiming to look more like our community. Cathedral City has a large Hispanic population, but our membership doesn’t reflect that.”

Corbin notes that, after the senior center’s board established an initiative to address the issue, they sought funds to support a full-time outreach staffer to go out into the community where Spanish speakers gather.

“Now, we offer about a quarter of our programming in Spanish,” he says. “We have a rich tapestry of citizens, including Hispanics, Native Americans, and LBGTQ+. We want to add programming specific to them and fold them into the whole community.

“[The Community Impact Fund grant] 
is a huge endorsement — like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It is helping me not only grow our programming but also leverage it.”

The 2023 grant guidelines and schedule will be available in February of 2023. Individuals wishing to invest in the emerging needs of their Inland Empire communities can visit or call 951-241-7777.

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