The Perceptions and Realities of Philanthropy in Southwest Florida

Nearly 90 guests packed the room at the May 2, 2019 NPC lunch meeting to hear three experienced and respected community leaders discuss the unique environment for philanthropy in Southwest Florida. 

Among the many highlights, we learned the following: While the area enjoys incredible wealth, significant poverty in Collier County is also a fact of life. Collier County government provides absolutely no funding for programs to meet the needs of children. Thus, collaborations and partnerships to meet the needs of the community are encouraged (forced) and rewarded with grant funding. If we don’t capture the wealth currently held by baby boomers in the area, it will go back up north to fund education, healthcare and churches. If we could secure even 1% of the wealth, it would be worth multiple millions to our community. There is a clear expectation that organizations receiving grants and gifts will be able to demonstrate measurable results (outcomes). 

Eileen Connolly-Keesler

Eileen Connolly-Keesler, who became President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County in 2013, talked about the significant growth of the foundation. It now oversees more than 700 funds, collaborates with more than 400 nonprofits, has almost $178 million in assets and has distributed over $137 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and community programs since its inception. 

Maria Jimenez-Lara

Maria Jimenez-Lara, CEO of the Naples Children & Education Foundation/Naples Winter Wine Festival, talked about their mission to support charitable programs that improve the physical, emotional and educational lives of underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County. She explained that unlike many areas around the country, Collier County provides no funding for programs for children’s needs, which explains why so many nonprofits have to step in to offer early childhood education, food programs and many others.

Mary Beth Geier

Mary Beth Geier, Florida Director & Senior Program Officer for the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, discussed the evolution of the foundation from one that funded grants in Minnesota and Southwest Florida to a broader geographic area, which now includes the state of Florida. Mr. Schulze, Chairman of Best Buy, with corporate headquarters in Minnesota, has made a commitment to give grants of $1 billion in the next few years. Over the past four years, the foundation has provided grants in excess of $26 million to local community organizations. They work with the Community Foundation of Collier County to provide matching grant programs, including the highly successful Give Where You Live program.

Eileen joked that after a few years of nudging, Mary Beth and the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation finally agreed to fund an extensive Collier County Community Needs and Assets Assessment (CNA). The CNA, completed in 2016 and presented to the community in 2017, provided a portrait of Collier County and the needs of its residents by presenting data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, as well as an appraisal of economic, physical, service, and social environments. 

The CNA addressed three primary objectives:
• Identify and quantify the conditions, needs, and assets of the community.
• Analyze access and delivery of resources to county residents.
• Provide findings that will allow community leaders and members to develop priorities and strategies to address identified needs and gaps while utilizing and mobilizing existing resources.

It continues to serve as a useful tool for nonprofits seeing specific information about gaps in the community and data they can use in formulating and evaluating grant requests.

Because the interest was so strong for this program about philanthropy, another press club event may be planned in the next few months to address more of the challenges and issues of nonprofits, fundraising and unmet community needs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.