Even in the year 2018, the world of Wall Street CEOs remains a male-dominated field. But the philanthropy world has welcomed female CEOs for a long time, and, over the last decade, the nonprofit sector on the Gulf Coast became dominated by women. Female presidents lead Community Foundations and Education Foundations for Manatee and Sarasota counties. Private and family foundations from Selby to Patterson to Barancik chose to put women leaders at the helm, in some cases since formation.

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So what does the predominance of female executives in the Gulf Coast philanthropic sector mean?

Is the region more progressive in gender equality? Do women bring a different skillset or style to the job? The leaders themselves offer a variety of feelings on those questions.

“It was not long ago that women were even considered for key positions of leadership,” notes Mary Glass, president of the Manatee Education Foundation. “Through education, cultural acceptance and major female role models, the opportunity for women to hold positions of leadership in the work force has even evolved. We are fortunate to be living in an age where both men and women are in major areas of leadership in the nonprofit arena, both locally and on the national front.”

When asked if women communicate differently with donors, volunteers or stakeholders, nonprofit executives universally say no. “People communicate differently with donors, volunteers and other stakeholders,” says Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation.

For her, the presence of women in executive positions feels exciting, but not because women handle the job any differently. “Women have ‘done their time’ and are finally getting more opportunities to lead,” she says. “Credit has to be given to those who have helped mentor, coach and develop the women leaders of today and to search and selection committees for finding and subsequently hiring the best person for the job, regardless of gender.”

Roxie Jerde, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, agrees any shattering of a glass ceiling involved past male executives actively grooming women for leadership roles now. But the nonprofit world certainly reached a level of gender parity faster than corporate America. 

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And since the philanthropy world attracts more female workers and volunteers than the private sector, that makes sense. “The nonprofit world is overwhelmingly female,” Jerde says. “If you look at employees in the sector, that’s very tilted toward females. It’s so rich with female talent, so that increased the odds of the sector being led by females.”

Mary Anne Servian, CEO of Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida, believes there’s still room for improvement nationwide in terms of female executives in the nonprofit world, but says Sarasota leads the way. She sees a number of women in the field making the Sarasota area their home precisely because of opportunity here. “They may have thought they were moving here to retire, but then they got involved in the arts and culture and they fell in love,” she says. “Some first get involved at a board level and then see there are many more opportunities for a career.”

A number of female leaders see great significance in the rise to power of the gender. “There are many countries with women leaders, and that doesn’t yet exist in the U.S.,” notes Carol Butera, president and CEO of the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation. She notes roughly half of the U.S. workforce in the nation is female, yet women make up only 5 percent of CEOs, numbers confirmed by a recent look at leadership by Fortune magazine.

“But if you look at philanthropy, and oftentimes in the arts and in human services, women have been able to make a larger impact and inroads into those areas,” Butera says. Even that’s been a development over the last 25 years or so, Butera says, and most women at top-level executive posts today began their careers working for men.

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So why would philanthropy be where this motion happens?

Butera notes one factor: women live longer than men, and, considering charitable giving often begins
in retirement, that means women remain active in the field for a longer period of time. 

Multiple CEOs suggest older generations of donors feel more comfortable with male leadership of organization, but as the generations that actively fought for gender equality rise in age, the values shift accordingly. Basically, the comfort level of many philanthropists with female leadership had to evolve slowly with societal standards.

But what does this all mean in terms of shift in personalities or skillsets for those in charge? That’s a more complicated answer that elicits strong disagreement.“It’s my observation that women leaders have a different approach from men in every sector,” says Jennifer Vigne, president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. “While both genders bring strengths to leadership roles, I’ve observed that women tend to leverage their emotional intelligence, creativity, relationship skills, listening skills, empathy and resourcefulness to their fullest extent.”

Servian suggests the places women long held in society now shape leadership styles in many instances. “There are obviously differences between men and women,” she says. “Not all, but many women tend to be more empathetic and have stronger listening skills. Perhaps it comes from the nurturing aspect of women who are in those roles, they have children or have been caregivers.”

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Hansen, though, doesn’t agree.

“There are certainly different approaches to leadership, but I don’t think those approaches are gender-specific,”
Hansen says. “I believe leadership qualities are developed over time. We’ve all been inspired by great leaders and unfortunately demotivated by bad ones. Traditionally, men have just had more opportunities to lead, so they’ve
had more influence—good and bad.”

As far as the notion that women provide a more nurturing environment, that’s largely brokering in stereotypes in her eyes. “I’ve read that women leaders are more empathetic and flexible and have stronger interpersonal skills than their male counterparts, but I think it has more to do with your life experiences than your gender,” Hansen says.

Glass says she’s certainly picked up her skillset from co-workers of both sexes. “I have learned from some of the
best in the business world and I have found different leadership styles in both men and in women,” she says. “It depends on their mentors and training styles.”

In many ways, Butera says, climbing up the same career ladder means those at the top share attributes regardless of gender. “Women have to go through the same labyrinth, so they need to have the same gaming skills to get to that position of CEO,” she says. But she also says, stereotype or not, perceptions that woman prove more nurturing and empathetic impact the profession the same way the notion men can be more assertive impacts work in the corporate world. Anyone can be empathetic or aggressive, Butera says, but the world manages to put you in boxes anyway.

She does point to research to show women excel at transformational leadership, and, in the constantly changing world of philanthropy, that’s an important ability.


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Vigne says while individuals can excel in any particular arena, there are certain skillsets that prove especially vital in philanthropy. “While many leaders of either gender possess skills in empathy, collaboration, resourcefulness, enduring energy and a positive mindset, these skills are utilized frequently in the nonprofit world,” she says. “Women are able to leverage these skills in productive ways.”

Jerde says, in her experience, female leaders more often ask more questions and listen to outside perspectives intently. “Those are inherently skills women do bring,” she says. But especially as society as a whole evolves, an overriding principle should drive the sector’s hiring practices as strongly as it does their mission. “People are people,” Jerde says.

But even if women ultimately provide the same leadership as men do for nonprofits in the region, the presence of female presidents and CEOs provides invaluable gains for the sector.

“As a young woman working in the ‘70s, there weren’t any female role models,” Jerde says. “About 20 percent of
those in my business class at the University of Iowa were women. In my early training positions, there weren’t many females. Regardless of what it takes to be an effective leader, it’s just great for community and great for our Sector to have women and men in leadership positions.

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When most people think of philanthropy, they think of donations and fundraisers, galas and gladhanders—money. And when people say untapped resources, they think unwritten checks. With BeyondMe, a new philanthropic initiative introduced and headquartered under the umbrella of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, founders Stephen Fancher and Laura McManus-Mesia hope to introduce a paradigm shift in how younger generations think about philanthropy, and how they can get involved beyond the bankroll.

“We felt there was a great need in the community for a platform for young philanthropists to begin their journey,” says McManus-Mesia. And the problem wasn’t that this demographic, ages 21 to 45, didn’t want to get involved in the community, but simply that they didn’t readily know how. With BeyondMe, McManus-Mesia and Fancher set up a system that makes involvement easy, by bringing philanthropic opportunities from around the region to a central, accessible hub and by creating a network to communicate these opportunities out into younger networks. “We’re trying to bring young people as much information about what philanthropists look like as we can,” says McManus-Mesia. “Maybe it’s donating your time, maybe it’s coming up with a special project, maybe it’s working in the office with the organization—it’s tailoring it to what that person wants, hoping that one day they’ll become donors in our community.”

Operating under the umbrella of JFCS gives an institutional advantage, and both Fancher and McManus-Mesia, vice president of major gifts and planned giving and chief development officer for JFCS respectively, bring a wealth of knowledge to the burgeoning initiative, but BeyondMe is open to partnering with all sorts of nonprofits from around the region, unifying all of them into one great philanthropic network. So even if a young philanthropist starts their journey with JFCS, BeyondMe can bring them to all sorts of different opportunities. “Six months in, if you want to try something new, then BeyondMe is still right for you,” says Fancher, and the BeyondMe network already includes projects with Selah Freedom, the Patterson Foundation, All Faiths Food Bank and Sarasota’s Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC). “We’re like a one-stop shop for you, in that we create a platform with lots of different opportunities.”

With an inaugural meeting this past July bringing more than 200 eager young philanthropists, successful projects have already included volunteering at SPARCC events, revamping an outdoor gazebo for the women at Selah Freedom and a pop-up laundry assistance day with the Patterson Foundation, which saw BeyondMe volunteers heading to area laundromats, where they handed out quarters for laundry and read to families at the reading station. This month, BeyondMe plans to work with Selah Freedom and SPARCC to create resource boxes full of necessities for women and children either rebuilding their lives or escaping domestic violence situations, and the organization hopes to grow organically through networking dinners that unite older and younger generations of community-minded givers. “Philanthropy doesn’t always have to be writing a check,” says McManus-Mesia. “It can be about getting up every Saturday to help with whatever’s going on.” P.Lederer


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Traditions and long-time values like solving problems and helping others inform the work of the philanthropy sector, but the world relentlessly changes nonetheless. So how can the nonprofit world continue to innovate without abandoning long-time missions? Mark Brewer, president and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation, will keynote an upcoming SB2 Symposium on that topic. We spoke to Brewer in advance of his visit.

SRQ: What are the most important changes happening in the philanthropic world? Brewer: 

In years past, the public sector has been the place where we take on big social issues. Now the public sector isn’t doing that anymore. They’re focused on policy, or in some cases lack of policy, to address things. Philanthropy is starting to take on a new, more visionary role about how we get to outcomes for complex social problems. It’s about more than money. It’s about hearts, minds and wallets. How do we bring some intellect and measurement and data to the field to figure out what the problem actually is and how we solve it. Philanthropy is either the rocket that makes that work, or the servant leader of it. Sometimes you’ll see philanthropy say, “Hey, here’s a problem we have to solve.” In other cases, philanthropy is the thing that comes to the table where there’s need for capital that isn’t available in the other two sectors. 

Has anything changed in terms of demands from donors and partners?  What we’re seeing is the demand change from investors. That is a move from “I want to contribute, I want to help,” to “I want to find a way to fix or change this, and I want to move it at a faster pace.” In the past hundred years, philanthropy is really based on the assumption that this problem is so big and complicated nobody can do anything about it, so I’m just going to try to help out and give a little money. We’ve seen over the last three years a dramatic move, primarily because of the three youngest generations focusing their activities on philanthropy now, saying let’s get some data and improve this. It’s about the difference between feeding hungry people and solving the hunger problem. We could spend all our resources feeding hungry people, or we could find a balance where we can alleviate the hunger problem as best we can, but focus our resources to solving the actual hunger problem, which is more than just money. It’s policy. It’s the ability for us to think through how the public and private sector work together to solve actual problems of economics and difficulties in culture and how communities prioritize things.

How does that affect nonprofit operation?  Nonprofits designed to primarily operate the way nonprofits did 50 years ago say “We’re going to help everybody we possibly can and may even put ourselves in jeopardy in order to help.” For the better part of the last 25 years, foundations and funders focused on capacity building in the nonprofit sector. Now the question is not “What’s your capacity?” but “What’s your capability?” The second thing nonprofits are wrestling with right now is the fact many of them have been placed in a position to be the vendors of the public sector. Back in the Reagan days, we basically said we don’t want this top down strategy anymore. We want local people to have decision-making capability. That sounds good on paper. But now we’ve got money that isn’t tied to outcomes. Many nonprofits were put in a position to go out and do the best they could with a limited amount of private or public sector dollars. When you go to the private sector when you’re getting public sector money, the private sector always says, well, you’re getting government money. Then it’s the exact opposite on the other side.  

What does this mean in a big picture sense?   A whole bunch of nonprofits are programmed to fail. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s not even malicious. It’s just a system that’s been developed that we’re tied to. The third thing is, if we’re going to move into a leadership or servant leadership position, we have to be able to work with other people, and that takes capital. You and I could go out and fail fast at 10 businesses and raise $100 million failing and some people would go “Hey, you guys are really smart.” But if the nonprofit sector takes a dollar of revenue and doesn’t produce something with it, then everybody goes well, I don’t know what’s wrong.  An understanding of capital revenue is just coming to the nonprofit sector.  

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As Jane Pratt gets ready for the first big meeting of Impact 300 SRQ, she has trouble containing her emotions. “We are just beside ourselves with excitement,” says Pratt, founding president of this new philanthropic force. 

The group in early November brought to town Wendy Steele, who founded the first Impact 100 group of female philanthropists in Cincinnati, OH in 2003. Now, Pratt believes female donors in Sarasota and Manatee counties will prove to be one of the most compelling all-female grant organizations.

The group represents the power of collective giving. The idea behind Impact brings together at least 100 women giving $1,000, then using that to award $100,000 grants within the community. “It’s a simple yet ambitious model,” Pratt says. “The women involved are vested in the effort. $1,000 is a stop-and-think amount no matter how many or how few zeroes you have in your bank account. We all pause at $1,000, and we want to know where it goes.”

For years, women played an outsized role in philanthropy, if only for the fact women outlived their husbands and made decisions on estates and inheritances even if they never had been involved in business and finance the bulk of their lives. But as a generation of working women who built their own fortunes reaches an age of financial empowerment, today’s female philanthropists want change they can see in their lifetimes and demand a say on
how it comes about.

Women do appear to be using that power to increase their voice in society as a whole. Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute, for example, found that donations from female donors to progressive charities jumped six-fold after the 2016 elections, while donations to those same charities from men remained flat and at similar levels to non-election years. Perhaps ironically, philanthropy habits can be more fiscally conservative. Female donors like to invest in causes where you can see a direct return and projects that require less risk, according to the Institute’s Women Give ’18 report. 

The study finds that all children who grow in families donating to charity are more likely to do so themselves, women are more likely to do so and to devote more of their time regularly toward giving. The Institute also finds that when women control their household finances, a higher percentage of household income typically goes to charitable causes, and these donors report greater happiness resulting from the act of giving itself.

As to where there money goes, Roxie Jerde, president of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, says women sometimes show greater propensity toward supporting social services and family-related causes, but every donor brings their own priorities to the table.

That’s why efforts like Impact 100 SRQ show such potential for the region. Pratt says as the group gets into motion, it will divide members into focus groups to look at areas including arts and culture, health and wellness, family services, education and the environment. The number of women who chip in a grand for a grant will determine how much money gets dispersed, and the donors themselves will make the decision on where awards of no less than $100,000 will go. “It’s just such an empowering and rewarding thing to be involved with,” Pratt says.  J.Ogles


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In the worlds of marketing and entertainment, youth may be king. But in the world of political change, the voice of tomorrow remains largely underrepresented. But a group of Riverview High School students seeks to change that, and the fledgling nonprofit Gen Z Votes looks to engage more young people ages 16 through 21 in the electoral process.

“The focus of Gen Z Votes is to promote awareness and education of inhabitants of Florida regarding the voting process and to encourage voter registration and pre-registration,” says senior Jake Harvey, who serves as volunteer coordinator for the group. He and friend Trey Buckman, the group’s president, formed the organization earlier in the school year, and in the lead-up to the November election held canvassing drives, organized informative barbeques on Siesta Key and provided shuttle services to get high school- and college-age voters to an early voting location on the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus. The organization played a role in getting more than 350 new voters registered before the general election this year. And that was all before the group got its nonprofit status and ability to raise money. 

Harvey says that unlike other youth-oriented groups such as March For Our Lives, which formed after the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February and quickly garnered national attention, there’s been a conscious effort with Gen Z Votes to avoid being associated with any single cause or ideology. “While there’s a place for that too,” Harvey says, “we’re about giving people room to create their own opinions on things that are important to them, not just morphing opinions around the news. We want independent thinkers.”

That has the potential to let the group endure, organizers hope. Another step toward ensuring that? The young people founding the group established nonprofit status for Gen Z Votes, hopefully putting in place an infrastructure that will continue long after its founding members advance in age themselves. J.Ogles