Crowd Funding: Time is running out for Valerie’s House!

Crowd Funding: Time is running out for Valerie’s House!

Two great ideas – Valerie’s House and Fab Lab Fort Myers – were standouts at the 2014 #SWFL Impact Forum. You can help make them a reality. Learn about Valerie’s House below and click the link to make a contribution to either project today! Every little bit helps.

Valerie’s House is a special place for children and families in Southwest Florida to connect with one another and learn the tools to heal after they have experienced tragedy, loss and death.  The purpose of Valerie’s House is to help families in Southwest Florida work through their loss together and go on to live successful lives.

Am I Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Am I Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Several weeks ago I survived one of the toughest meetings of my career. A group of philanthropists had requested some time on my calendar and when the group’s leader called she asked that a significant block of time be secured as they had a number of issues they wanted to discuss.

The philanthropists arrived early to our office and were ready to begin promptly at our designated hour. I offered them some afternoon refreshments but they were clearly ready to get straight to work.

Many times when donors come to my office they are looking for me to lead the discussion, but this group of concerned citizens had a set agenda and had clearly done considerable research prior to our meeting.

They asked insightful questions about issues they cared about including education, the environment and animals. Their questions were well constructed and thoughtful. The group challenged me when my answers didn’t make sense and they also had ideas on how they could make things better in our community. There were questions they asked that I didn’t have the answers. “Why would we let kids sleep out on the street? Why are we tearing down trees? And why would anyone hurt a helpless animal?” Most importantly they wanted to know how they could help and make a difference in our community.

They were spending time with me to gather facts and information that they would compile into a report and share with a larger group of caring citizens- their fellow classmates at Renaissance Montessori School in Fort Myers. Renaissance has programs for toddlers, primary and elementary students and the group that was meeting with me was from their elementary classrooms and through experiential learning that is a hallmark of a Montessori education they were investigating what it meant to be a strategic philanthropist.

The school has an Agency Endowment Fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to support their work, but that fund was set up by well-meaning adults. The founder and head of school Kathleen Leitch felt it was important to engage the students in a meaningful way, and didn’t want the design of the charitable work of the school to be outside of the students reach.

On their website Renaissance reminds all of us that while we want to teach children about life, children actually teach us what life is all about.
At the end of our time together, which flew by, the students presented me with a piece of artwork. I told them how much I would love to have it in my office, but they quickly explained they would like me to sell it and place the money in their fund.

One of the questions on the way out was, “How do you become a philanthropist?” I smiled and assured them they already were.

I am looking forward to many more meetings with them. If you have some unanswered questions, let me know, I obviously like a challenge! Email me at

Cause Funding Gives You a Chance to be Part of Innovation in SWFL

Cause Funding Gives You a Chance to be Part of Innovation in SWFL

Here’s your chance to help turn an innovative idea into a real program! Last year, the SWFL Community Foundation partnered with the Florida Next Foundation to provide a forum for Next Gens to propose ideas addressing local challenges. Two rose to the top – Fab Lab Fort Myers and Valerie’s House. Click on the link below to help make these dreams a reality for our community! Every little bit helps.

Fab lab valeries house

Half Packed for the Journey

Half Packed for the Journey

When I picked up my daughter at RSW over the holidays after a long flight from her home in Amsterdam, I was shocked when I lifted her suitcase off of the baggage carousel.

I have long been amazed by how much one small young woman can pack and haul across the ocean. She takes the art of the 50 lb. weight limit to a whole new level. I have even seen her wearing several winter coats on board an aircraft after a showdown at ticketing due to the weight of her bag.

But this trip I was shocked in a whole new way when I hoisted the bag and it was so light it almost flew out of my hands. I had to check the name tag to make sure we had the correct baggage.

I wondered if half of her load might have been left in customs.

But when I ask her what was up a zen-like expression came over her and she said, ” I just wanted to leave room for something exciting to take back with me. If I am already over the limit I don’t leave any room for adventure.”

I almost sat down at baggage claim and cried. It gave a whole new perspective to the idea of “you can’t take it with you,” and for the 3 weeks she was visiting we focused on what she could take back to share with friends and loved ones instead of how many sweaters she could physically wear at one time to pass the weight test.

This experience caused me to reflect on how much “stuff” both physical and mental I carry around with me from one place to the next or one conversation to the next instead of looking for new perspectives and insights.

As I begin my journey into 2015 I want to be sure I am examining the weight of my baggage. Now that I have been in my role at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation for 3 years, I want to be sure that I don’t lose my focus on listening to new ideas, learning from donors, advocates, nonprofits and my neighbors in Southwest Florida.

Recently the Foundation hosted an Idea Lab that brought nonprofits together from across the region to consider new ways they could partner and work together to solve southwest Florida’s most pressing issues. Some of them worked together after the Lab to design projects for an upcoming funding cycle.

As I spent some time just reading over their ideas, I realized how much our community would miss out on if the Foundation didn’t create a space for this kind of design thinking.

I have no idea what will come of some of these ideas- but it’s ok because I have left plenty of room in my bag for this journey.

In the months to come I will try and keep you posted on what I discover. I would love to hear from you at

Cape Coral Art League establishes agency fund to continue growth

Cape Coral Art League establishes agency fund to continue growth

The Cape Coral Art League (CCAL) recently established an endowment fund through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to continue to grow and maintain its mission of promoting the advancement of art throughout Southwest Florida.

Incorporated in 1966, the CCAL is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers year-round classes for adults, youth and children, eight major art exhibits each year in addition to its annual art fair in January and other art shows, workshops with world-renowned arts, and scholarships programs.

“The Cape Coral Art League has provided our community access to the visual arts for almost 50 years, and it is our hope that this newly established fund will continuing giving back to the community by sustaining our beautiful facility and hardworking volunteer organization for another 50 years,” said Suzanne Sims, president of the CCAL.

Nonprofit agency endowment funds allow an agency to take advantage of the Community Foundation’s financial management, administrative resources and expertise on planned giving. The funds are owned and managed by the foundation on behalf of the nonprofit and provide a simple and effective way for charities to build endowment and sustainability. Agencies can opt to receive annual proceeds as a source of income for operations and programs or roll over the amount to increase future endowment.

“We support the efforts of the CCAL and their strategic leadership who have an eye on today’s needs and a plan for the future of the organization,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the SWFLCF. “Their endowment fund is a great tool for their members and supporters to use to maintain and strengthen the organization that they care so much about.”

CCAL Board - Judy Biddle, Marian Borneman, Carmen Sprague, Marjorie Ewell, Linda Wildman, Pat Gilbert, Monica Rahman, Susie Nelke and Suzanne Sims

CCAL Board – Judy Biddle, Marian Borneman, Carmen Sprague, Marjorie Ewell, Linda Wildman, Pat Gilbert, Monica Rahman, Susie Nelke and Suzanne Sims

As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $80 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, the Foundation granted more than $2.8 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services. The Foundation granted $782,000 in nonprofit grants including more than $400,000 in regional community impact grants and additional $450,000 in scholarship grants. For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit

The Cape Coral Art League is located at 516 Cultural Park Boulevard in Cape Coral and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 239-772-5657 or visit


Prima Donors Put Their Colorful Shoes Forward to Step Up for Our Community

Prima Donors Put Their Colorful Shoes Forward to Step Up for Our Community

Christina Harris-Schwinn and Gay Thompson blue shoes

Oh the Joy of Feeling Blue!

Christina Harris Schwinn and Gay Rebel Thompson, Prima Donors of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, took to the malls this weekend to find just the right pair blue shoes for Harris Schwinn, one of our newest members of this thoughtful group of givers.  As the tradition goes, the last prima donor buys the next one her blue shoes.  It is the subtle symbol of this group of philanthropists who give to the Women’s Legacy Fund endowment to experience collective giving as women toward causes they care about.

For more information on the Women’s Legacy Fund or how to become a Prima Donor, click here