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Come On In –The Water’s Fine

Come On In –The Water’s Fine

I remember the summer I chose Peter Benchley‘s novel, Jaws as my annual beach read over the 4th of July holiday. I had heard the tales of people reading the thriller about a killer great white shark terrorizing a small resort community and refusing to ever enter the water again, but I was a fearless teenager ready to throw caution to the wind. Besides, I had spent my entire life frolicking on the beaches of Florida without a single encounter with a shark.

That was the summer I learned how powerful words can be in creating emotional reactions. I read the book in two days and spent the rest of the vacation in the pool. Over the years I have returned to the water but never to the novel.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received some questions about one part of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s new grants process we have coined the “Compassionate Shark Tank.” The moment some folks heard the word “shark” they immediately conjured up images of menacing underwater creatures ready to strike. But this is not that kind of tank.

When we use the phrase “compassionate shark tank,” we are not thinking of the great white variety, but rather we are playing off a television show that brings people with great ideas and innovations together with investors who are willing to fund them. We actually added the word compassionate to signal that we were not out for blood but rather benevolence.

The SWFL Community Foundation is dedicated to bringing the community together to solve our region’s most pressing issues and to join together in supporting causes. We want to welcome everyone to the waters of giving and changing the world.

Over the last several years I have met with hundreds of individual donors, businesses, the faith community and family foundations who are looking for ways to fund great ideas and great organizations in the Southwest Florida nonprofit sector. I also meet with countless nonprofits who are seeking their funding.

I thought bringing them together in our Compassionate Shark Tank, might be a great way to introduce them to each other. It was never my intent to throw the nonprofits to the sharks, but conversely, to introduce them to savvy and compassionate investors who wanted to help.

During the years I was leading a talented team fighting hunger and homelessness in our community, I often wished that we could get in front of people with resources and expertise and share the vision that the organization’s board had crafted and explain our ideas beyond a narrative grant proposal. I wanted them to see our passion, share our solid business and strategic plan and beyond asking them for financial support I also wanted their advice and wisdom.

So in a few weeks, nonprofits that have submitted some great ideas to the Foundation for funding consideration through our Community Impact Grants, will come face to face with a group of funders interested in investing in the causes they represent. The Compassionate Shark Tank panel will consist of a wide range of donors and philanthropists, some with funds at the Community Foundation and some who have foundations of their own. Our hope is that when a cross section of funders hear the ideas, we can work together and leverage our funding.

Additionally after the idea is presented by the nonprofit, the funders can ask questions, brainstorm and offer feedback. This will provide nonprofits and funders the opportunity to think collectively about issues and solutions in our region.

Several of the funders (aka sharks) have already emailed me to let me know they will be joining us. They can’t wait to talk to the nonprofits and hear their ideas. We have worked with them all and they are extremely non-threating creatures who desire to swim together in the clear blue waters of change.

So to all involved I invite you to join us- come on in, the water is fine.

If you are a funder interested in being part of our Compassionate Shark Tanks or a nonprofit that would like to learn more about our impact grant making in Southwest Florida, please contact me at [email protected]

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $60 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at

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