The most striking thing about this year's list of richest Floridians in Florida Trend's April issue was not the number of billionaires who happen to live in Florida or their wealth, but rather how many focused their philanthropic efforts outside the state, usually in the communities where they made their money. It's a phenomenon all too familiar to the state's community foundations and other philanthropic organizations — newly arrived residents of all income levels too often continue to give more "back home" and less in Florida.
Local charities and non-profits do a good job of reaching out to individual donors, and the Florida Philanthropic Network — an association of more than 100 grant makers, including many of the state's biggest private independent, corporate and family foundations — works hard at getting government, business and non-profit groups to collaborate.
But the state can do more without spending a ton of money. The governor's office and Enterprise Florida could build a philanthropic element into the state's economic development sales pitch — sending a message to relocating companies that they're moving not just to a location with a set of tax breaks, but rather to a real community where they can have a great opportunity — via philanthropy — to make a difference in their new homes as soon as they arrive.
Executing this idea could involve nothing more complicated than making a representative of the philanthropic community a visible player in the state's trade missions and recruitment efforts. A more substantive approach would be to create a Florida Governor's Office of Philanthropy, run by an experienced, non-political philanthropic leader who would serve in the governor's office but not be part of his political team.
The director's job would be to help educate, inform and leverage the philanthropic assets of Florida in strategic partnership with the governor — both in economic development and in developing approaches to public problems.
The position, which should be funded by foundations around the state, could also seek other philanthropic partnerships from national and international foundations.
A robust philanthropic environment is one of the key markers of a healthy community — and a healthy state.