Consider walking through the grocery store, reflecting on what seems like thousands of options in salad dressing.

Clever packaging may catch your eye, but I bet you’re also interested in the ingredients, the calories, the price, and of course, past experience tells you what tastes you have enjoyed or care to forget.  Although you may be grateful to Publix, Whole Foods or Trader Joes for carrying so many choices, you do not assume each is “good” simply because it is available.

People are different. Consumers are different. Donors are different. We make choices based on that perfect combination of what’s most important to us. Most of us look for a combination that addresses value, our personal taste, and our expectations—whether we’re talking about a salad dressing or a charitable donation.

Last week we published a post about nonprofit trust and transparency.

The Giving Partner allows nonprofits in Southwest Florida to share in-depth information about their financials, leadership, programmatic impact, needs and strategies.  But the availability of such rich data points and stories for hundreds of organizations is only part of the story. We have the power to make informed choices when we use the information to compare, ask, and get engaged before we give.

You’ll see a “Reviewed by Your Community Foundation” icon by each organization in The Giving Partner that has disclosed key information annually. The “Reviewed” icon is not an endorsement for the organization. It’s certainly not our role to rate nonprofits or to say who is “good” or “bad.”

Donors, businesses, the media and funders can make informed choices by doing a few things:

  1. Look to see if the nonprofit has an updated profile in The Giving Partner. Remember that the “Reviewed by Your Community Foundation” icon isn’t a seal of approval.

  2. Find out what is most important to you. Does the organization provide specific stories and data that demonstrate it is making an impact? Do its IRS Form 990s and audits indicate financial health? Is the board committed, showing up to board meetings and making personal donations to the organization? Can the nonprofit articulate its goals for the future? Are standard policies in place? These are just a few questions you can research in The Giving Partner.

  3. Ask questions. If there is something you want to learn more about, reach out to the organization and ask. Good organizations always have accessible and knowledgeable people who are happy to talk with you and provide more information.

It’s important that nonprofits and donors alike feel empowered to connect with each other about choices in philanthropy. It starts with information but doesn’t end there.  The Giving Partner is a launching point.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County



It's a clear day for nonprofit transparency in Southwest Florida

It’s a clear day for nonprofit transparency in Southwest Florida

A few years ago, when we first introduced The Giving Partner to our community, we passionately shared the reason for our investment: to help donors and others make more informed decisions about their giving and to meet a growing demand from donors for transparency.

Now, equipped with three years worth of data and new efficiencies The Giving Partner has created for nonprofits and for those who make choices in philanthropy, we continue to keep the big picture in mind.

And the big picture goes back to one key word: trust.

  • Can you—as a donor, citizen philanthropist, funding institution, or business—trust that you have good knowledge of the local nonprofit marketplace before you decide where you will give your time, talent, or treasure?
  • Can you trust that the organizations you invest in are committed to disclosing information that should be available to the public?

A barrage of commentary recently emerged from a recent article about four national cancer charities accused of fraud.

When stories like this and the infamous Tampa Bay Times piece published in June 2013 called “America’s Worst Charities” are unveiled, donors begin to question our entire sector. Are other “bad players” close to home? How do we know?

An organization with a published profile in The Giving Partner is not “endorsed” by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. But each organization does answer key questions that help us understand how committed and engaged the board is, how healthy its financials are, what operational and strategic planning processes are in place, and whether or not it’s achieving real results that help our community.

The fact that organizations are providing these data points on a public platform moves our community one step above the rest in retaining the trust we need from donors in order to accomplish the good things philanthropy can do.

Sure, some local nonprofits only complete profiles in The Giving Partner so they can be eligible for grants, opportunities like the Giving Challenge, and access to pro bono consultants, but the number one reason strong nonprofits complete and update a profile leads back to that one word: trust. They know we all have a vital role in establishing and maintaining trust.

There are calls for the IRS to maintain better oversight over charities. There are calls for new watchdog groups to form. I’m grateful that in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, we’re making information available through our own efforts.

We’re on a path that distinguishes our community, thanks to more than 400 nonprofits committed to transparency; to media partners that spread the word including Sarasota Magazine, iHeart Media and Herald-Tribune Media Group; and to funders including Sarasota County Government, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, The Patterson Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation and others that insist on using The Giving Partner in their processes.

-Susie Bowie
VP of Philanthropic Education
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

new home page


Today we’re happy to reveal a fresher look for The Giving Partner. Our technology partners at GuideStar are committed to making data a bit easier on the eyes, and they have been working with us to upgrade our site to “Donor Edge 4.0.”

Now you can search for nonprofits alphabetically, and it’s also easier to find nonprofits sorted by keyword using the advanced search criteria right on the home page of our site.

With more than 430 updated profiles for nonprofits serving Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties, The Giving Partner will be even more accessible for donors searching for meaningful information about local organizations to inform their giving.

Our new home page features images from three nonprofits representing some of the diverse missions donors support:

  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, our beautiful local botanical garden providing oasis of inspiration and tranquility while furthering the understanding and appreciation of plants, especially epiphytes.
  • The Friendship Centers, promoting health, dignity and quality of life throughout the journey of aging with services in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Desoto and Lee counties.
  • Links to Success, a largely volunteer-led organization providing resources, services, experiences and guidance to prepare youth in Desoto County for post secondary education and careers.

We thank each of them for embracing nonprofit transparency, always staying on top of updates and information to make their Giving Partner profiles reflect the current state of their leadership, financials, needs and programmatic impact.

We would love to share your stories of success as well. E-mail us at Susie@CFSarasota.org with your photos, and we may feature them on The Giving Partner home page, The Giving Partner blog or on our Facebook page.

Short answer: it is.

The enthusiastic follow-up: yes, yes, yes.

Remember That Board Member Duty?

We cannot forget that charitable nonprofits exist for the public good and are not owned by an individual or group of individuals. Each nonprofit board member must exercise the “duty of loyalty,” placing the interests of the nonprofit before personal or professional concerns when serving, therefore avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

It’s Not that Complicated

We hear from all sorts of well-meaning folks who (unintentionally) complicate the concept of conflict of interest. In a basic example, it’s the kind of thing that should stop a board member from voting on an issue when there may be financial benefit to herself, her spouse, her family, her company or another organization where she may serve as a volunteer leader.

Who Wants to Know, Anyway?

When your organization files its IRS Form 990 each year, the Internal Revenue Service asks you to indicate whether or not your organization has a conflict of interest policy. You don’t have to say “yes.” But if you don’t, it looks a little shady, yes?

Local organizations in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties with a presence in The Giving Partner are also asked if they have conflict of interest policies right on their profiles.

Surprisingly, 32% of nonprofits with profiles indicate they do not have a conflict of interest policy.  We are pretty sure that some of them may have adopted a policy years ago, perhaps when founded, but current leadership does not remember or can’t find the document. In any case, we can do better than this.

A new development in the State of Florida will make conflict of interest junkies jump up and down. The recently approved changes to the Solicitation of Contributions Act require 501(c)(3) nonprofits to adopt a conflict of interest policy and to provide annual certification of compliance with the policy by all directors, officers, and trustees of the organization.

Two Simple Actions for Nonprofit Boards Everywhere

  • Adopt an organizational conflict of interest policy that is frequently reviewed by board members and staff members.
  • Require board and staff members to complete a simple disclosure form each year certifying that they have reviewed the conflict of interest policy and sharing conflicts and potential conflicts of interest.

It is very likely–especially in this community–that your board members may have conflicts from time to time. Many caring individuals and their businesses are deeply intertwined in the work of more than one charitable organization. The conflict of interest policy will provide the necessary guidance to ensure that board members disclose conflicts and potential conflicts and do not vote on related issues if they arise in the boardroom.

And Finally…

The best charitable organizations out there focus on what is best for the missions they are upholding every day. They protect the charitable intent of the donors and funders who make their missions possible. So upholding a good, trusty conflict of interest policy is just natural.  And to add to the glory of it all, it’s not rocket science.

The National Council of Nonprofits has an excellent set of conflict of interest resources, including sample policies and sample annual disclosure forms.


#InformedGiving Tuesday

December 3, 2013

INFORMEDGIVINGWe love the #GivingTuesday movement, encouraging everyone to find a way to give on Tuesday, December 3 and share their acts of giving with others.

And here in Southwest Florida, we have even more to love, since donors, funders and citizen philanthropists are empowered to make informed choices about their giving.

Thanks to GuideStar, the Community Foundation of Sarasota CountyThe Patterson Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, and more than 350 nonprofit organizations serving Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties that have brought The Giving Partner to life, people who want to make a difference have access to in-depth knowledge about local organizations on one online platform.

Many times, giving is an emotional decision–a choice we make based on a connection to a story, to a trusted individual sharing a compelling story, or to an issue we have experienced first hand.

We may not know what other organizations are addressing the mission we want to support. We may not know the right questions to ask. And sometimes, we may not feel as if we are in a position to ask them.

The Giving Partner allows us to better understand what organizations are impacting the populations we care most deeply about while also discovering who is making the work happen, what success measures are in place, how the financial history is recorded, and what needs the organization has.

In philanthropy, we can give to feel good and give based on good information.

So on today’s special day, #GivingTuesday, we encourage you to visit www.thegivingpartner.orguse the advanced search feature, enter a keyword, and discover the nonprofits in our community addressing the specific missions important to you.

Click on one of the nonprofit profiles returned in your search results.  You can:

  • Access the organization’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feeds
  • Discover the organization’s top 5 needs
  • Understand the variety of programs & services offered, along with long and short-term successes
  • Find out who is leading the organization on the board and staff
  • Understand how engaged the board is through meeting attendance and personal giving
  • Discover how strategic the organization is with written, board-adopted plans and policies
  • Review the 3-year financial history of the organization

Don’t let your adventure end there. Use your new knowledge to engage with the organization and determine if it is a good fit for you.

Organizations that have taken the time to develop profiles in The Giving Partner have made an incredible investment in public awareness through transparency.

Accessing this tool, filled with so much rich information, donors will make an investment in what is most important to them.  Understanding all of the choices for giving, we become more empowered to make decisions that most closely reflect our personal values, commitments to excellence, and the ultimate good we would like to see with our charitable investments.

Happy #GivingTuesday!  Happy #InformedGiving Tuesday!

We remain grateful for so many excellent local nonprofits, working hard every day to make positive changes in our community.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

sunriseDuring the week of Thanksgiving, we are more open in expressing gratitude for the greatest and smallest of good things.

While we may be vocal with our appreciation this time of year, we have so much to be thankful for every day.

  1. Generous donors.
    First and foremost, the work we are able to do to help our community is made possible through generous donors.  “Generous” donors are those who trust our nonprofits and foundations with their legacies, their major gifts, their recurring monthly donations, or their single contributions of $10 or $25.  Thanking them year-round by relaying stories of the positive difference we are making–made possible by them–is an important way to boost our organizational stability and reaffirm their commitment to it. We can also thank them by continuing to instill trust in the nonprofit sector as a whole and in our individual institutions.  Special thanks to the nonprofits demonstrating transparency, updating their profiles in The Giving Partner on a regular basis.

  2. Strong leaders.
    Organizational leaders are our board members and our executive staff. But they are also the program assistants, development associates, marketing directors, volunteer managers and others who lead with fortitude, determination and courage within their roles. We can express our gratitude by affording all of our team members opportunities for ongoing professional development.

  3. Daring and caring media partners.
    Southwest Florida is home to media partners who regularly showcase their generosity with many thousands of dollars of in-kind support for nonprofit organizations and foundation-led initiatives.  Make no mistake, space in publications is not “free” for our media friends. Additionally, reporters and editors frequently cover the stories our nonprofits and foundations address through philanthropy–homelessness, human trafficking, the arts, conservation, education, and many other issues.  Kudos to the Herald-Tribune Media Group, Clear Channel, Sarasota Magazine, The Observer Group, SNN Local News 6, the Venice Gondolier, Bradenton Herald, and all of the media partners who strengthen our voices for positive change.

  4. Dedicated volunteers. Volunteers sort food, answer telephones, transport homeless animals, teach adult literacy courses, mentor kids aging out of foster care, table events at the local farmer’s markets, evaluate scholarship applications, lead special events committees, serve on your board of directors. They deliver a full spectrum of services without receiving compensation for their time and talents. We could not deliver on the promises to those who depend on our organizations without them. What gratitude we owe volunteers! And many, yes many, are also donors.

  5. Investments in capacity building.
    The Council on Foundations, Southeastern Council of Foundations, Florida Philanthropic Network and other organizations deliver incredible resources to help foundations build their capacity, advocate, take care of their grantees, innovate in philanthropy. We are grateful for the contributions of their staff and boards. Locally, nonprofits have the gift of associations such as a strong local chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Florida Public Relations Association. The Patterson Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County are each heavily invested in helping nonprofits beyond the dollar–whether it’s facilitating collaborations, providing access to professional consultants, or offering free trainings and workshops.  Foundations and donors are grateful for the organizations who make excellence and continuing development a priority.

Let’s not be shy about expressing our gratitude throughout the year.

For many, hearing the simple message of “I appreciate you” provides the fuel to charge forth with renewed energy and commitment to the mission.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

A recent article in the New York Times by Wealth Matters columnist Paul Sullivan discussed how and why people are making their charitable giving decisions.

Sullivan’s perspective and highlights of the recent U.S. Trust report he cites shed even more light on the importance of tools like GuideStar‘s DonorEdge platform, implemented here in Southwest Florida as The Giving Partner.

Increasingly, donors are sharing that tax incentives and tools for giving may not be as important to them as understanding which organization(s) are the best matches for their passions and charitable goals.

While financial advisors may focus on the technical aspects of the donation vehicle when working with individuals and families, many donors wish to focus their conversations largely on their charitable interests as well as family goals, the U.S. Trust report says.

This is a common experience with our donor development team here at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Vehicles for giving are important to donors, but many donors wish to talk more about maximizing their charitable investments by partnering with organizations that can address their aspirations for environmental preservation, better health care, access to human services and education, experiences in the arts, and a myriad of other “creating a better world” goals.

The U.S. Trust report shares that donors also wish to have a greater understanding of how their gifts are making a difference. We second that.

The Giving Partner is a tool to help donors make more informed decisions about giving, and the hefty program section of each nonprofit profile contains the long and short-term success measures of the organization’s programs and services, how success is measured, and examples of success.

For advisors who may have more knowledge about giving vehicles than knowledge about local organizations, The Giving Partner is a perfect aid to help them gain a better understanding of the nonprofit choices in our local market, and to also understand their financial history, management and governance structures–in addition to the priceless information about programmatic impact.

Donors can go directly to the tool to do the same.

As we move more deeply into an era where donors view themselves as charitable investors, community foundations and nonprofits share responsibility to equip them with current, in-depth knowledge about who is doing what and the difference it is making.

Special thanks to GuideStar for its vision in making this tool available and to the many nonprofits and donors in our local community who make The Giving Partner possible in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties.

The Giving Partner is a partnership among four foundations:  The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the Manatee Community Foundation.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County