New president brings fundraising acumen to CEF

At the last school board meeting, Claremont Educational Foundation President Richard Chute was pleased to present a hefty $201,000 check to the Claremont Unified School District.

The oversized check was merely ceremonial, the nonprofit having already given the funds to CUSD for the 2013-2014 school year. There is nothing phony, however, about the steady support the foundation provides to the district.

Because of the Claremont Educational Foundation (CEF), the district is able to provide art and music education at each elementary school at a time when many neighboring districts have cut such whole-child enrichment programs.

CEF is also responsible for many of the technology resources at El Roble Intermediate as well as at Claremont and San Antonio High Schools. Recently, the nonprofit has additionally begun contributing an increasing amount of technology funds to local elementary schools. CEF is dedicated to getting as many mobile devices such as iPads as possible into the hands of Claremont kids, partly due to the district’s implementation of the computer-heavy Common Core form of assessment.

“It’s also partly driven by changes in society,” Mr. Chute said. “Technology will continue to be an increasing need in the future.”

Traditionally, all CEF funds have been dispersed to school sites based on applications by their respective principals. In a new move, the organization is this year reaching out to individual teachers, encouraging them to apply for $2,000 innovation grants.  CEF sent out its guidelines a couple weeks ago and the applications are due in the spring.

Ten grants will be awarded on merit—on which ideas seem likely to yield student success—Mr. Chute said. One school site might not get any grants and another might get a couple.

Mr. Chute said CEF will work to avoid any overlap between its innovation grants and the $500 Best Bet program that the Claremont Chamber and Kiwanis have offered for a number of years.  Applicants for CEF’s program don’t have to prove beforehand that their concept will work, he said. What’s important is that they learn from the experience.

“We’re more interested in an honest assessment process,” Mr. Chute explained. “We’d rather have people trying and failing than not willing to take some risk.”

A graduate of Pitzer College, Mr. Chute first got involved with CEF five years ago at the suggestion of friends on the board. He was also inspired to join the nonprofit because his daughter Phoebe, now at El Roble, was a CUSD student.

Mr. Chute is a professional fundraiser who previously worked for the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Pitzer College. He is now regional director of trusts and estates at Pomona College.

“I saw the opportunity to bring some of my fundraising skills to bear on Claremont schools,” Mr. Chute said.

As Mr. Chute embarks on what is typically a two-year term, he is urging CEF members to envision what the organization might look like in three to five years. If he has anything to do with it, the answer will be simple: even more successful.

The amount of funds CEF provides to the schools has grown regularly since the organization was founded in 1991. At first, the nonprofit raised less than $100,000 per year. Then, during the 2003-2004 school year, crisis hit. In the face of steadily declining revenues, the district found itself pondering cuts in important areas, including the K-3 reduction program.

With the help of the community CEF rallied to create the Save Our Schools campaign, which netted close to $700,000 over the space of 51 days. Some $400,000 of that money was given to CUSD so that the district could meet all of its program goals for the 2004-2005 school year. In subsequent years, CEF began to average a $100,000 annual donation to Claremont schools.

During the 2009-2010 school year, CUSD was once more rocked by drastic state cutbacks. Another rallying cry was launched, galvanizing the community. CEF’s resulting Get on the Bus campaign allowed the organization to donate $300,000 to Claremont schools for the 2010-2011 school year.

After that point, then CEF president Liz Weigand determined the nonprofit’s regular contribution should be doubled, according to Mr. Chute. CEF was able to successfully transition from gifting CUSD with $100,000 annually to presenting the district with an average of $200,000.

Nancy Treser Osgood, secretary for the Claremont Educational Foundation, said CEF has plateaued at the $200,000 mark. There is room to grow, she emphasized, citing as inspiration the nearly Glendora Education Foundation, which last year raised $450,000. She feels Mr. Chute is an ideal leader as CEF looks to expand.

“Richard is really going to be someone that can help us refine our fundraising practices and move CEF to the next level,” she said. “He’s also very collaborative and very inclusive.”

Individual community members already give very generously to CEF, Ms. Treser Osgood notes. The biggest opportunities for growth lie in forging more partnerships with business. A prime example would be $15,000 tendered to CEF by Metro Honda Acura last year, which allowed the nonprofit to fund more scholarships and classes for its annual SLICE summer enrichment program than ever before. It all came about because a CEF member was willing to reach out.

 “Our challenge is how to have the money we raise grow sustainably without waiting for the next crisis to come around,” Mr. Chute said.

With this in mind, CEF has many events and programs planned for the year. One of these is coming up on Saturday, October 26, an Oktoberfest celebration that will see Claremont Craft Ales (1420 N. Claremont Blvd., Suite #204C in Claremont) and Dale Bros. Brewery (2120 Porterfield Way in Upland) join forces to raise money for CEF. The event, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m., will feature food, beer, a polka band and a raffle. Guests, who are asked to leave kids at home for the night, will be able to travel between both breweries on a school bus offering shuttle service every 30 minutes. 

Also fast-approaching is CEF’s annual fundraising kickoff held at the home of Beth and Ivan Misner (3752 Hollins Ave. in Claremont). The gathering, which will run from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 16, will feature wine, hors d’oeuvres and demonstrations by a CUSD technology teacher. The event is free, although donations will be solicited. Last year, the kickoff yielded $30,000, with the Misners adding an additional $10,000 contribution for CEF. To RSVP, email or call 399-1709.

Another perennial fundraiser that is currently underway is the Toyota Prius Raffle. Claremont Toyota will be drawing the winning ticket in its showroom on the afternoon of March 2.  Tickets, which are $20 each, may be purchased at the Misner event and at CHS home football games, among other opportunities.  For more information, visit

When Mr. Chute is not working or volunteering, he enjoys cycling and watching baseball. Much of his time in the coming months, however, will be spent trying to highlight for members of the Claremont community how their support affects local schoolchildren.

“One thing that really makes a difference in fundraising is the opportunity for people to see the impact that their dollars have in a really direct and personal way,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio


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