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Business Observer Thursday, Mar. 26, 2009 13 years ago

A New Way

Nonprofits are struggling along with businesses in the recession survival quest. One approach, from an organization already tops: Be bold.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Nonprofits are struggling along with businesses in the recession survival quest. One approach, from an organization already tops: Be bold.


Organization. Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice
Industry. Philanthropy, Nonprofits
Key. The foundation, the largest in Florida, is thinking big in order to survive the downturn.

Teri Hansen might be from Southern California, but she is anything but a laid back chief executive.

Hansen, president and chief executive of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, abhors organizations that will talk an idea to death rather than simply take a chance.

“I am even willing to take the wrong action, as long as it's some action,” says Hansen. “Inaction just drives me nuts.”

It's a bold and aggressive approach that might be the best line of attack these days, especially considering the nonprofit and philanthropic community on the Gulf Coast is reeling from a series of gut punches typical to the industry in a downturn. The recession has dried up once-flowing charitable giving streams at the same time that needs increase.

Florida Philanthropic Network President Katie Ensign says if the recession lingers much longer, the impact could be particularly pronounced for the state's 28 community foundations, which are traditionally set up to serve a variety of nonprofit needs for a given geographic area. A community foundation relies on a stream of continuous donations, as opposed to say a family foundation, which usually receives a lump sum of money up front.

“Certainly, asset sizes have dwindled,” adds Ensign, whose group serves as an association for foundations statewide. “So there is less money available to operate community foundations.”

Of course, the story of struggles during a recession, from big corporations to tiny nonprofits, isn't novel. But through Hansen's entrepreneurial and big-picture thinking leadership, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice — already the largest community foundation in Florida — is poised to grow its reach and legacy during the downturn, if not its asset base or its revenues.

Call it a survival strategy for the philanthropic set.

“I always said this business is recession proof,” says Hansen, a onetime public affairs officer for the U.S. Air Force who was grew up in San Diego. “But this economy is really testing that.”

With $235.9 million in assets in 2008, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice is not only the biggest in Florida but it ranks in the top 50 of the more than 700 U.S. community foundations nationwide.

To be sure, assets and revenues at most community foundations statewide are down considerably; the Venice-based foundation, for example, saw its assets drop almost 10%, from $260.3 million in 2007 to $235.9 last year, and its revenues drop 22%, from $13.2 million in 2006 to $10.1 million in 2007, according to the most recent IRS tax return data.

Standout projects
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, which has 19 full-time employees, is currently working on dozens of projects, from providing small loans to struggling nonprofit groups in the Greater Venice area to writing grants to running training sessions on how groups can build a better board.

On grants, the foundation has awarded $80 million in funding to various civic, human services and education-based groups over the last 12 years. A pair of recent ventures, however, standout as examples of the foundation's be bold approach, including:

Solar Energy Project: This venture, announced March 2, has the potential to be the largest urban solar-energy project in the country, say foundation officials. The plan is to take a 300-acre tract in Venice that the foundation already owns and build a 40-megawatt renewable solar energy power plant on it.
That power source can in turn provide power for 4,800 homes and 11, 200 people in Venice — more than 25% of the city's households. In a letter to the foundation, Gov. Charlie Crist lauded the project for its renewable energy focus, but Hansen says it means much more than providing electricity.
“We don't want to build a dinosaur,” says Hansen. “We want to create a catalyst project that stimulates the economy and creates jobs.”
The good news with the project is that the foundation is sitting on the land, which it bought several years ago with the intention of building a large affordable housing community there.
The more challenging aspect of the project is how it will get funded. The foundation will put up some of the money, but as this project will cost well into the millions, it will take a partnership with a local power company for it to come to fruition.
Hansen has spoken with at least two energy companies, including Florida Power & Light, which is the main power provider for Venice homes and businesses. FPL has yet to commit to the project.
Hansen is undaunted.
“You get a project like this and it's sort of like Disney in Orlando,” she says. “Other things will start coming up around it.”

Military grants: Late last year, the foundation was presented with the unique task of dispersing a $5-million grant for local soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The grant is designed to cover the before, during and after deployment needs of soldiers and their families living in a 25-county area on the Gulf Coast and Central Florida.
The fund is one of three $5 million grants currently being dispersed statewide, all of which stem from the Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, a trust worth more than $200 million, which itself stems from a single anonymous donor through the Los Angeles-based California Community Foundation.
California Community Foundation officials reached out to Hansen for help with the grant giving process, based on the foundation's nationwide reputation. And a foundation board member, Chris Pfahler, has since volunteered to coordinate the task of matching the grants with the right programs.
Pfahler, a onetime nurse for V.A. hospitals, says the idea of helping soldiers through a series of grants like this is what helps define the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice's overall mission. The foundation has already dispersed $770,000 of the fund to several organizations that focus on both the physical and mental aspect of returning home from combat.
Pfahler, a well-known philanthropist in the Sarasota area, is also spearheading a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $5 million for the project.
“We realize a gap exists in services for these soldiers,” says Pfahler. “How we can narrow that gap and make that transition smoother is our challenge.”

'Dynamic leader'
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice might be the largest in Florida in terms of assets, but it's also one of the newest. It was formed in 1995, the result of proceeds of a sale of the Venice Hospital from its local founders to a national health care company.

That sale seeded the organization, which was initially called the Venice Foundation, with $85.5 million. The foundation changed its name to its current broader moniker in 2003.

Hansen was hired to run the foundation in 2002 after working in leadership roles at foundations in Ohio and Indiana. Foundation work was something that found Hansen by accident: She had just returned from Tokyo in the early 1990s, fresh off a stint with the Air Force as a public affairs officer, when a friend told her about a startup community foundation in rural Hamilton County, Ind. that was looking for a dynamic leader.

Hansen, a journalism major at San Diego State, knew more about media deadlines than foundations, but she gave the gig a shot. And she has since grown to appreciate a community foundation's ability to help all kinds of groups and people.

Florida's community foundations

There are 28 community foundations in Florida, including nine that are based on the Gulf Coast. While each specific foundation's mission varies, the general goal is to serve a variety of nonprofit needs for a specific geographic area through grants and other initiatives.

While some foundations run on small staffs, a large board of directors serves just about every foundation, and many of those directors are well known in the business community. The board of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, for example, includes Norbert Donnelly, the former president of Tervis Tumbler, the Venice-based custom-made drink ware manufacturer.

Other prominent business names scattered on the boards overseeing the foundations on the Gulf Coast include Charles Idelson, the president and CEO of Investors' Security Trust and David Lucas, chairman of the Bonita Bay Group, who serve on the Southwest Florida Community Foundation board in Fort Myers; Vernon Peeples, who served 14 years as a state representative and is now on the board of the Charlotte Community Foundation in Port Charlotte; and Roy McCraw, a high ranking executive for Wachovia in Tampa, who is on the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay's board.

Above is a breakdown of the assets at the community foundations based on the Gulf Coast, using figures from 2007, the most recent year data is available for all the foundations.


Gulf Coast Foundation Assets
Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice $260.3 million
Community Foundation of Sarasota County $159.8 million
Community Foundation of Tampa Bay $140 million
Pinellas County Community Foundation $93 million
Community Foundation of Collier County $67 million
Southwest Florida Community Foundation $57 million
Manatee Community Foundation $11 million
Cape Coral Community Foundation $7.4 million
Charlotte Community Foundation $4.3 million
Source: Florida Philanthropic Network

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