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Holiday Dinners, Dolls, and Dignity

Holiday Dinners, Dolls, and Dignity

Holiday giving is heartwarming.  There are so many opportunities to reach out into the community and do something generous for a neighbor.

I don’t think there is any easier time of year to jump right into the act of giving.  Walk into the grocery store and drop some bills into an iconic red kettle, stand in the checkout line and donate a turkey, adopt a child or a senior citizen from an angel tree and select a gift to make their holiday brighter.

Join with others from your neighborhood or workplace and provide a special holiday for a family that is struggling, donate toys to a local toy drive or food to an animal shelter, smile at a busy shopper who might look to be having a bad day, the chances to reach out are abundant.

These things make us feel great and connect us to our fellow man.  Most of the time we never meet those that we intend to comfort and help this time of year.

That kind of relationship building happens at the nonprofit level with caring case managers, cause area specialists, and volunteers. These are the folks working on the front lines of need and opportunity and create a special combination of resources and compassion.

If we are on the giving side of things it can be easy to unintentionally get caught up in the emotion of how we feel about our donation and lose site of the receiver.  Research continually points to the physical and emotional benefits of generosity, but that is only one side of the story.

I learned this lesson several years ago when I joined a group of friends and colleagues to provide a full-on holiday experience to a family that had faced a particularly tough year financially.

We could not have been more excited about buying a tree, toys for the kids and a holiday dinner.  Better yet, we were going to ride in like Santa Claus and set up the tree, put out the gifts and stock the fridge with food.  We even bought hats and festive t-shirts to add to the excitement.

Maybe you notice how many times I used the word “we” in that last paragraph.  The problem is our “we” did not include the family.  We never spoke with them or the organization that had provided their information about how they would have liked to be included.

I don’t think I will ever forget the look on the father’s face as we began the delivery of holiday cheer.  The kids were excited and hugging us and thanking us for their gifts and the tree.  The Dad was appreciative and kind but clearly it was breaking his heart that the kids were looking to strangers for what he wanted to provide for his family.  We had thought of everything that day except for his dignity.

It was one of those moments in life that I wish I had a do-over button.  My friends and I could have just as easily reached out to the Mom and Dad, met them in a parking lot down the road and given them the opportunity to pull up to the house with the holiday fun.   We had never even thought to ask.

My well- intentioned friends and I had let our own excitement get in the way of what was right for this family.

At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we work with donors to design and execute their charitable gifts during this most generous wonderful time of the year and although we may never meet the ultimate recipients of these gifts, that one father’s face is never far from my mind as we consider not only the giver but the receiver as well.  I am so appreciative of the amazing nonprofits in our community who build relationships and shared goals with those they serve.

May we all add the gift of dignity to our holiday lists this year and celebrate the beautiful season together.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Potluck of Purpose

A Potluck of Purpose

My preteen eyes would scan the table spread with bubbling casseroles and gelatin salads in search of the coveted homemade macaroni and cheese. It would arrive safely in its protective Pyrex casserole carrier that kept it hot and cheesy until its unveiling on the church lawn.   I knew from experience that this dish along with a certain platter of crispy fried chicken were the most desired dishes on the bountiful table and if I was to have a chance for a helping I would have to be early in the line and head straight for the prize.

Certain gatherings that require a culinary entry to pass through the door, better known as potluck dinners, are full of possibilities.  Some offerings, like my childhood mac and cheese are tried and true while others lean more toward the experimental side of the world- I will never forget the first time the Middle Eastern salad tabbouleh showed up at one of my hometown potlucks- everyone was whispering about it as it seemed risky and only the adventurous took a spoonful.

Somehow without a whole lot of organization just the right amount of main dishes, sides and desserts seem to appear.  But I do love the story of friend that hosted a holiday potluck and everyone brought some form of potatoes.  She now takes a little more time assigning dishes to the guests.

I like the idea of potlucks because everyone plays a role and tends to bring a dish they are comfortable making and has a good chance of turning out well. It’s also a great way to try something unfamiliar and new.   Each offering is delicious on its own but the real beauty comes from the collective and the people who gather to share a meal they have all worked to prepare for each other.  Sharing a meal brings people together.

Once a quarter the Southwest Florida Community Foundation opens its doors for a potluck of sorts.  No one is asked to bring food- just their ideas and passion for the community.  The invites are not curated in any way, rather nonprofits that are interested in sharing their work with the Foundation team and other nonprofits in the region gather for a cup of coffee and conversation.

Everyone knows in advance that it is not tied to our grant making and funding, but rather a chance to share thoughts, current opportunities and ideas. Some of the organizations are well known to us while others we are hearing about for the first time.  The nonprofit leaders come from across the five county region so many times they are not familiar with each other.

The gatherings produce thoughtful insights and conversations and on more than one occasion new collaborations and partnerships between organizations have been launched.  There is so much good happening in our communities and caring leaders and teams bringing their best skills and talents to creating a vibrant region, it only makes sense to bring them together for the greater good- a potluck of purpose and possibilities.

All we have to do is set the table.

 

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.

 

 

 

 

Gratitude in the Present Tense

Gratitude in the Present Tense

My sister-in-law has a decorative plaque hanging in her house that begs the question, “What if tomorrow you had only the things you gave thanks for today?”

Inspirational quotes show up on pillows, artwork and signs in many of our homes and offices.  They have become so common that is easy to read them and move right along.

I only visit my sister-in-law and her family about once a year and generally around the holidays.  I was with her when she bought the sign and there is something about that simple question that challenges me every time I encounter its call to action.

Inevitably when I visit her I lay in bed at night letting the list of things I want to carry over to the following day roll over in my mind.  It’s as if I don’t want to fall asleep for fear that if I forget something it might be gone when I wake the following morning.

This exercise has a way of bringing laser focus to my gratitude.

I am fortunate to work in the world of philanthropy at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation where gratitude and its outward expression though giving and generosity is part of daily life.

Often our team is astonished to learn the stories of gratitude that inspire giving by generous donors and friends.     We have written about them often in this space and sometimes wonder out loud how and why people are so big-hearted particularly at this time of year.    Even if we don’t have a sign to remind us to be grateful the calendar has a way of doing that for us.

I have always thought of gratitude as a feeling or emotion expressed in a journal or a quiet moment of introspection, but recently I read an article by Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies the “science of gratitude.” He argues that it leads to a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, as well as “more joy and pleasure.”

I like the idea of examining gratitude from a scientific point of view.   Recent research also points to the fact that gratitude keeps you connected to the present and can be extended from an internal experience to a social interaction.  Ultimately gratitude is expressed through others; a higher power, a friend, a boss, the farmers growing your food, and the list goes on.  Most everything we are grateful for can be attributed to someone in our lives.

I find this to be true in my contemplation of the question on my sister-in-law’s sign.  Nothing on my list would be there without the people and relationships that make my gratitude possible, tangible and meaningful.

So this Thanksgiving I plan to make certain that I don’t keep my expressions of gratitude to myself.    I will find ways to share it with those who help me realize this grateful state of mind.

To those of you that work tirelessly to make this community better and the work of philanthropy so meaningful, I say thanks.  I wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow without you.

 

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.

 

 

 

 

 

Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s Annual Report now available -Record $5 million granted to community

Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s Annual Report now available -Record $5 million granted to community

Record $5 million granted to community

FORT MYERS, Fla. (Nov. 15, 2016) –Celebrating its 40th anniversary as leaders in philanthropy in our region, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is now sharing its 2015-2016 Annual Report online at www.floridacommunity.com/annual-report.

“This year was a record-breaking year for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s work as active change-makers,” said Sarah Owen, CEO and president of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “We invested $5 million in grants and services that allowed our impact to reach farther than ever in the five-county region.”

Since its inception 40 years ago, the Community Foundation has distributed $67 million in direct support to the community.

Last year, the Foundation granted a record $4.1 million through endowed funds, scholarships, community impact grants and other donor-funded sources. It also provided $900,000 in resources to the community through initiatives, programs and other services.

Highlights from the past year include the opening of three new specialty funds for the environment, causes specific to the LGBT community and The Land of Opportunity Fund to provide opportunities for all who call Southwest Florida home. The Foundation also added two regional satellite offices in Labelle and downtown Fort Myers, initiated four new board of trustee members, hosted the first FutureMakers Coalition of Champions meeting, granted $50,000 to the Glades County Training Center – the first sizeable grant in Glades County, sponsored the first compassionate shark tank for veteran entrepreneurs, welcomed seven new Prima Donors to the Women’s Legacy Fund adding $70,000 to the WLF endowment fund, expanded support of nonprofits through the Florida Fellows program, took a statewide leadership role with Owen being elected chair of the Community Foundations of Florida and earned the highest level of recognition offered by GuideStar, the world’s largest source of nonprofit information.

“The Southwest Florida Community Foundation offers customized services from helping every donor find the right opportunity for them, whether it’s a one-time contribution or an endowment that lives on in perpetuity, a family fund or foundation dedicated to a specific cause, or jumpstarting a new idea to fill a community need,” added Owen.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, it partnered with individuals, families and corporations that created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation’s invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $93 million, it has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Community Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.

Based in Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers.

Copies of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s IRS Form 990, IRS Form 990-T, if required, and the current annual audit are available for your review online at www.floridacommunity.com or at its main office by calling 239-274-5900, ext. 228.

 

Never Too Early for Others

Never Too Early for Others

Like clockwork, a few weeks before Halloween the holiday decorations began creeping onto store shelves.

It seems as soon as employees crack open the boxes of the latest tinsel and ornaments, a proverbial unifying sigh is heard across the land and people cry out, “Not yet. Too early.”

I find myself avoiding those aisles at all cost.  I keep my head down, eyes averted and cruise right on by.  If Christmas music is playing I just hum quietly to myself to block it out.

The day after Thanksgiving I take a deep breath, lift my head, open my eyes and start singing along and embrace the season.

Maybe I am breaking my own rule by even writing about this so many weeks out, but last week at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I realized we had also begun to prepare for the holidays.  Not with décor and eggnog but rather by readying ourselves for the generosity that accompanies the change of season and the holidays.

Many of our donors and fund holders reach out to us during the holidays to assist with contributions to organizations they support year round and special donations that happen only once a year. Many times first time contributors will reach out to us to ask for assistance in where to direct their gifts or will ask us to work with their children and grandchildren to select a charitable project for the family to take on together.

Corporate partners call on us to assist with holiday giving opportunities for their employees and professional advisors connect with us as they are assisting clients with year-end giving and estate planning.

Our preparation at the Foundation gave me a new insight on holiday planning.  It is never too early to think about others.  And helping others is as much of tradition as anything we find on store shelves this time of year.

My father-in-law shared a story a couple of weeks ago that I was surprised I had never heard before about the founder of the Salvation Army.

Every Christmas the founder of The Salvation Army in London, England, General William Booth, looked forward to addressing the crowd at the Army’s annual convention. He loved seeing the faces of those who were dedicated to the charity and were passionate about its mission to serve.

But on Christmas in 1910, General Booth’s health was poor and he knew he would not be able to attend the convention in person. When the thousands in attendance were told that he would not be present, a wave of sadness and disappointment swept over the crowd. General Booth’s speech every year was the highlight and something everyone looked forward to all year round. However, Booth had sent a telegram to be read. As the moderator opened the telegram the thousands waited in anticipation to hear his message. His telegram was then read out loud to the crowd: 

Others!


Signed,

General Booth 

So no matter what holiday tradition your family observes over the coming months, it is never too early to consider how that will be manifested in helping others. If the Foundation can help in any way please let us know, we are ready.

With that in mind, I say let the holidays begin!

 

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.