Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Knitting a Social Fabric

[Photo: Serge Bloch / Marlena Agency]
Community foundations have emerged as one of the fastest-growing philanthropic sectors in both Florida and the U.S. The foundations, which are steered by boards of local citizens, solicit gifts from individual and corporate donors and distribute the money to a variety of charitable organizations within the community.

In 1997, there were 12 community foundations in Florida with approximately $323 million in assets. By 2005, 26 Florida communities had foundations, and their collective assets exceeded a billion dollars. Annual gifts have grown to almost $70 million statewide, and preliminary estimates for 2006 show Florida’s community foundation assets at more than $1.3 billion.

The state still has far to go. Jacksonville’s community foundation dates to 1964, but most community foundations in Florida are young by national standards and can’t match either the funding or impact of those in other states. In the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s most recent study of community foundations, for example, not a single Florida foundation made the top-50 lists either in terms of gifts received or grants. The state’s largest community foundation, the 12-year-old Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice was the only community foundation to make the list of the top 50 in assets, coming in at No. 46. That foundation has current assets of $260 million, with a grant-making budget of $8.5 million this year.

In a state with so many non-native residents, however, the growth in community foundations has heartened philanthropic leaders, who see evidence that more Floridians are beginning to view the state as home. Ruth Shack, president of the Dade Community Foundation and chairwoman of the Florida Philanthropic Network, notes that more new residents are giving. “I think that people are feeling much more a part of the community structure,” she says.

“People are much more into seeing the impact of their gifts.”
Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Both Shack and Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Venice foundation, note that more people are giving during their lifetimes rather than making bequests. “People are much more into seeing the impact of their gifts,” says Hansen.
Shack notes that some companies and law firms now give to community foundations instead of directly to non-profit groups, in part because the foundation can more carefully assess the financial health of smaller non-profits. International businesses and individuals are also contributing to foundations and not-for-profits in general, she adds. “Slowly but surely they are becoming part of the giving fabric in south Florida.”

As community foundations have grown, some have become bolder and more targeted in their response to local needs. Hansen’s foundation, for example, is focusing on what she calls a “fourth-sector” project to help address the shortage of affordable housing in southwest Florida.

The project will involve developing mixed-income housing on 146 acres in north Venice. The community, called The Bridges, will include workforce housing alongside market-rate residences, with much of the land remaining undeveloped. The project is structured as a limited liability corporation and will pay taxes. Harvard University plans to document the project and study the social aspects.