Business Columns & Blogs

Giving Back: In this season of giving, here’s how we can maximize all of our assets

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.

More than any month during the year, December inspires us to contemplate our good fortune and give.

It’s hard to beat the feeling, knowing our donations become part of a more positive chapter in someone else’s life story. Even with the dollars we share, there is no better time to expand our view of what it means to make the best use of our wealth.

I took a refreshed look at giving when Feld Entertainment executive Vincent Foderingham asked me to address the sixth grade class at Lincoln Memorial Academy. Foderingham and his colleagues at the Gamma Xi Boule Foundation provide resources for mentoring, internships and college scholarships for under-served youth in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

This school year, they initiated a new partnership with Lincoln Memorial Academy, supporting the school-wide assemblies through Journey to Success. All students participate in the weekly “CALM” programming, offering exposure to thought-provoking conversations about college and careers, arts and athletics, life skills and municipal responsibility.

A discussion about philanthropy was a natural for students at Lincoln, where teachers infuse self-awareness, purpose and character development into the academic experience.

In our short time together, the sixth grade class enjoyed guessing how many charitable dollars were invested in nonprofit organizations through individuals, foundations and corporations in the U.S. last year (more than $400 billion). But we spent more time focused outside the numbers.

During a recent conversation with a community foundation colleague in Georgia, I was reminded of Ambassador James Joseph’s personal impact on me when I first read his essays about philanthropy years ago. His message is poignant for all of us — and the younger we hear it, the better.

Joseph is a former CEO of the Council of Foundations and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. He spreads the gospel of SMIRF, the concept of using our social, moral, intellectual and reputational capital — not only financial resources — in our pursuits of leadership and giving.

SMIRF is what enables students to use their network of friends to influence peers in positive ways.

It is personified by the star football player who persuades others to look out for the small kid.

It is the commitment to personal values that stops us from making short-term gains at someone else’s expense.

And it is the understanding that knowledge can open a lifetime of new choices that make life better, both for yourself and for others, when actively deployed.

As my new sixth grade friends considered giving in the context of all of their assets, the wheels started turning about their current potential to improve the human condition. Giving isn’t about waiting for some future situation — becoming a celebrity athlete or becoming rich. No one has to wait.

In Manatee County, we excel at pooling our collective assets. Last Saturday, hundreds of people from our region came together to raise money for scholarships, books and tools for adults returning to school at Manatee Technical College, USF Sarasota-Manatee and the State College of Florida.

The success of the event, the Horne Moon Social, was largely driven by the social and reputational capital of its hosts, John and Amanda Horne, Stewart and Trudy Moon, and Stewart Jr. and Macey Moon. Through their networks of friends and business colleagues, they leverage their capital for an essential mission in education.

Earlier last week, the community room Manatee Community Foundation was filled with people who accepted an invitation to better understand the growing children’s mental health crisis.

Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, the director of psychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shared her intellectual capital as our currency. A number of attendees are already using their new knowledge to encourage others to advocate for children experiencing trauma or mental illness.

Morally, they do not find it acceptable to know that insufficient resources are being dedicated to this issue. The opportunity to gather was made possible by Sam and Doe Seider, community leaders who freely use their various forms of wealth for the greater good.

Providing forums for people to use all of their capital to improve life for others is a role we love at Manatee Community Foundation. Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s focus on affordable housing, United Way Suncoast’s leadership in grade-level reading, and local businesses that go “all in” for our community are other fine examples.

Our hope is that each of us will donate to charitable causes as generously and as often as we can. But by maximizing all of our assets, there’s so much more we can do.

The Gamma Xi Boule and the students and faculty at Lincoln Memorial Academy provide vehicles for our youth to explore their potential to make an enormous difference, starting in their formative years.

We applaud these efforts, knowing that we all have multiple roles to play in our community’s ultimate success.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: Phone: 941-747-7765.