He chuckles over his lengthy job title: associate vice chancellor of Advancement and Communications and CEO of the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges.
Quite a mouthful, he concedes, but bottom line, it’s all about aiding students acquire a college education – the brass ring of American success. As the district’s chief advancement officer, Valencia is charged with creating fundraising strategies for the foundation that was formed in 2011 as the philanthropic arm of the two colleges. He’s also responsible for overseeing the district’s Communications Office and the GCCCD auxiliary, which solicits and administers grants and contracts for the district.
“This district has needed this position for quite some time and John will be a key part of our efforts to seek philanthropic support to supplement a budget heavily reliant on state funding,” Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said. “John has an impressive fundraising record and has a lot of exciting ideas to inject vigor, excitement and even fun into our donor-solicitation efforts. I’m delighted to have him join the district’s leadership team.”
Before joining the district this month, Valencia had worked since 2008 as the executive director and chief operating officer of the San Diego Oceans Foundation, a nonprofit that leads community-supported programs promoting ocean sustainability. With his remarkable success as a fundraiser – he has acquired more than $50 million for local charities over the past 15 years – he sees his new role as the perfect combination of continuing his work in the nonprofit sector and advancing higher-education opportunities for anyone who’s ever dreamed of going to college.
“I’ve always wanted to work in higher education,” Valencia said. He holds a bachelor’s in business administration, marketing and finance with a minor in nonprofit management and leadership studies from the University of San Diego, and earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Our Lady of the Lake University’s online program in nonprofit management.
Valencia sees his biggest challenge at his new post as developing the focus and long-term strategies for the foundation. Key to that, he said, is creating exciting programs and events to attract alumni and retiree support, and seeking widespread donor support that draws on the high regard for programs such as Allied Health and Nursing at Grossmont College, Ornamental Horticulture at Cuyamaca College, and others that attract students countywide for their academic excellence.
Valencia, tech-savvy and a social-media expert, said advances in technology have changed the landscape of nonprofit fundraising and he is excited about using his skillset to advance the goals of the district.
“There needs to be a strong social media component to this job because the demographics we serve are all on their smart phones,” he said. “We can get people to donate maybe just $5 if we make it as easy as being able to click a ‘donate now’ button on their phones.”
A graduate of West Hills High School in Santee, Valencia took Spanish classes at Grossmont College in 2001 to satisfy a foreign-language requirement at USD. He is amazed by the college’s transformation as a result of the construction work enabled by the passage of the Proposition R bond measure in 2002.
“I remember the passion for teaching that instructors here have from my personal experience as a student – it’s fantastic that they now have more of the facilities and high-tech infrastructure that wasn’t there before,” Valencia said.
Valencia was still in high school when he was introduced to the world of nonprofits by the Heartland Human Relations and Fair Housing Association in El Cajon, which recruited him to head a new group, United Students, to teach tolerance and acceptance of all people. The group was organized in the wake of the 1997 beating of Lance Cpl. Carlos Colbert, an African-American Marine attacked at a party in Santee by a group of men yelling racial epithets. Colbert was beaten so severely that he was left paralyzed from the neck down.
The group organized a “Stop the Hate” march that drew hundreds of West Hills students and also solicited 2,000 solidarity letters that were presented to Colbert’s Camp Pendleton unit. The television coverage by national networks helped galvanize the group, which Valencia continued to head as executive director until 2005.
His professional life took another turn with the founding of a holiday light manufacturing business that in four years amassed $18.5 million in gross sales and employed more than two dozen workers and 52 sales representatives.
“Still to this day, I can drive around and see my lights being used on houses throughout San Diego during the holidays,” said Valencia, who sold the business in 2009. He said the lights were inspired by his legally blind mother, who was able to see the specially-designed lights because of their intensity.
Valencia credits his mother, a single parent, for raising him to be a self-starter and a problem-solver from a very young age. When he was 6, he and his sister – now a Santee chiropractor – decided to take matters into their own hands when their mother told them they would have to come up with $600 to pay for the popular Commodore 64 home computer they had been begging her to buy.
“We got out our little red wagon and sold these lollipops we made ourselves from a kit we bought at the Del Mar Fair to all our neighbors and raised the money ourselves,” he said. “I think it was that old Commodore that sparked my interest in technology.”
It is with this same sense of challenge and openness to new ideas that he approaches his new job.
“Right now, I’m spending a lot of time listening and learning,” he said. “I want to find efficient solutions and ways to streamline our efforts. Ultimately I want to be able to provide the resources to those students in need of help so they’re not derailed by life’s little problems like car troubles that could prevent them from getting the education they need to be successful.
“This job is truly rewarding because it all comes down to helping students,” Valencia said.