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Will We or Won’t We

Will We or Won’t We

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to play a small part in the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s Celebration of Reading in Bonita Springs. This year my involvement went one small step beyond buying a ticket for this inspiring event when I was asked to join the Foundation for their pre-event press conference with Former Governor Jeb Bush who now serves as honorary co-chair of the Foundation that bears his mother’s name.

I am sure many of you saw the outstanding coverage of this year’s signature event featuring celebrity and best-selling authors including Teri Hatcher, Eric Draper, Debbie Macomber and Mary Pope Osborne, but as promised this column is dedicated to the backstories that may otherwise never be told when it comes to the world of philanthropy.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was more than a bit thrilled to be included in the press conference. Being invited would have been fantastic, but the most exciting part for me was that the Southwest Florida Community Foundation was asked to be part of a new partnership with the Barbara Bush Foundation! And, I was actually going to have the opportunity to make a few comments and answer questions.

The press release described the Southwest Florida Community Foundation as a key partner in the new “Family and Community Connections Initiative,” marking the first community-wide approach to family literacy.

But what I was most eager to talk about was the fulfillment of a promise the Southwest Florida Community Foundation had made to the non-profits, donors and residents of our region over a year ago.

The Foundation had committed to doing all it could to provide an environment to attract national funders, like those involved in this project, to our region. We acknowledged that our role needed to expand beyond raising endowed assets that helped solve community issues, to that of a support system that encouraged philanthropy and increased funding for causes and organizations in Southwest Florida.

Additionally we promised to provide non-profits with the support that would allow them to build their capacity (also known as overall organizational health) and to possess the tools to report to donors the impact they were creating in our region.

So you can see I had a great deal to share and about two minutes plus to do it. There was no way I could tell the entire story of the Bush Foundation’s desire to increase funding to families and programs in our region through their scholarship program, or Dollar General’s willingness to step in with additional dollars for literacy in our communities, or the great vision the Bush Foundation was seeing with this approach to family literacy. Nor would I have time to talk about the yearlong conversations and roundtables that had been happening between the partners that led to this announcement.

Let’s all be honest, no one was coming to the press conference to hear from me-even if it was only two minutes. I knew that the media was showing up to hear from Jeb Bush and others associated with the Bush family.

The Governor did an outstanding job of explaining the new partnership, sharing results of similar work across the nation and providing a launching pad for the Dollar General Foundation and me to share our thoughts.

Then it was time for the questions. I was nervous, wondering what hardball zingers the band of media might throw our way.

When the Governor opened the floor for any “on topic” questions, you could have heard a pin drop, or crickets chirp. The silence was deafening and for a moment I thought we all must have done such an amazing job there just weren’t any questions.

Then I awoke from my naïve trance as the “off topic” questions started rolling in. The press conference was in full tilt with questions firing and cameras flashing.

All the questions were centered on Governor Jeb Bush’s plans for 2016. Not his literacy plans, but his presidential ones. The story the reporters had been sent there to get was the “was he or wasn’t he” going to run and what was it going to take to make up his mind. The media did a fantastic job; the one they were assigned to do while I was able to sit back comfortably in my overstuffed chair next to the podium and watch the action.

It was exciting, but for different reasons than I had expected. I was honored to be a part of the whole process. I know I promised a back-story, but sorry, I don’t have the political backstory as he didn’t whisper his political intentions in my ear.

In the weeks since the press conference I have been imagining what would transpire if we questioned the timing and solutions to our most pressing regional issues with the same intensity we questioned the former governor. What if at the press conference the reporters had grilled me on the status of education, hunger, homelessness, the environment or how many more parents and children would be literate and leading more fulfilling lives as result of the new partnership.

Instead of asking one of us “will you or won’t you,” rather ask all of us, “will we or won’t we?”

Don’t wait for a press conference to ask. On behalf of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, I am open to both on and off topic questions 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 $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at www.floridacommunity.com.

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