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CAUSE & EFFECT: Idea Factories

CAUSE & EFFECT: Idea Factories


I work alongside a team member who likes to ask “there are no bad ideas, right?” before she launches into an idea generating session at the office.   I find myself tempted to reply with, ‘actually there are tons of bad ideas, but go ahead, I’m still interested.”

I appropriately resist saying it because I don’t want to do anything that shuts down the flow of idea origination.  The goal in this setting is to encourage others to share their thoughts and insights with the strategic bet of landing on an idea that is a keeper.    Of course, every brainstorm presented is not going to be a winner and what my teammate wants is permission to feel safe in exploring all kinds of interesting possibilities.

The concept of brainstorming in general has come under fire in some of the most recent research on this long held practice of creative teams.  Those studying the topic have found if a group is going to use brainstorming for idea development the best results come from facilitated sessions rather than a free for all and some of the best results occur when individuals handle idea generation solo and then come together to share as a team rather than the group think model.   This is somewhat disappointing because I have always loved a brainstorming session- good, bad or ugly.

At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we consider ourselves somewhat of an Idea Factory.  I don’t mean to suggest we come up with all the ideas, but rather bring the ingredients together that allow community change making to be fostered, cultivated, supported, connected and in some cases funded.  We take this role seriously and spend time considering under which conditions the best ideas for impact and change can be formulated and executed.

One of the places we seek out ideas most intentionally is in our grant making process.  The Foundation distributes about $5 million a year in our community and that means a lot of brainchildren of nonprofit teams and the residents they serve are being supported by our donors and trustees.

We just recently opened our 2019 Community Impact Grant Cycle which distributes just over $500,000 to local nonprofits to create change and impact in our region.  These granted dollars are generated by donors establishing funds that support ideas in the areas they are most passion about and want to invest in while they are alive and after they are gone.

One of the Foundation’s most important roles is to gather ideas, select one that most closely honors the desire of the donor, meets a community challenge or opportunity and then measure the impact. If our grant cycle is not able to fund an idea, we keep it on hand to share with other donors throughout the year. We have nearly doubled our investment in the community by sharing these projects with individual and corporate donors. The Idea Factory is always up and running, not just during the formal process.

As we await the approaching deadline for submissions in this year’s grant cycle our team is filled with anticipation and hope.

People who work at an Idea Factory are significantly invested in learning from the experts in the field and from the voices of our diverse community.  We are always inspired to read and discover more about the work that is happening in our region and the hundreds of letters of idea that pour in give us some of the fuel to keep our factory cranking.

But the ideas are just the start.  Once a project is funded, the nonprofit has to get to work to create the reality.  The only thing that matches our excitement for the idea is the beauty of the impact when that idea takes shape.

Our nonprofit partners, we like to call our “tribe,” not only do the heavy lifting of bringing the idea they designed to life, but they also work hard at telling the story of change they create.

Sure, there are bad ideas, but our 20+ 2018 tribe stories are not among them. Check out some of their ideas in action at  You can see Lee County Animal Service’s “No Bite” program helping with a recent outbreak of rabies, or 10 young women participating in the Florida Gulf Coast University’s STEM camp collecting mud samples to study hurricane activity, or LARCs idea to increase the dignity of their clients through the construction of an accessible bathroom.  The ideas are endless and so are the stories. We are posting one a week so please click now and check back. Also, a list of our recent grants is listed on our website under “Nonprofit Partners.”

If you are a local nonprofit with a great idea be sure  we hear about it, you can find details and guidelines on our website and if you are someone who loves an idea as much as I do and are interested in learning more, reach out to me at iamlistening. The Idea Factory is always open for business.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
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. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 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. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit






Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More