Written by T.M. Jacobs, Jacobs Writing Consultants
Michael Chatman was born and raised in Miami and remembers it as a ‘happening place.’ “I loved it,” he says sporting a smile. “There was tremendous diversity and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live. I was very fortunate.”
He left Miami when it came time to go to college in Springfield, Missouri. “Everyone who worked and lived in Missouri wanted to work for Anheuser-Busch,” he said. So, after graduation when Michael was offered an opportunity to work for them in their corporate social responsibility division he said, “It was like a dream come true.”
Back to Florida
Michael had worked with the Anheuser-Busch foundation for 15 years when he decided he wanted to move back to Florida to be closer to his family, yet he didn’t want to go back to Miami. He was acclimated and comfortable with the slower pace of living he experienced in Springfield, but at the same time, he wanted to be in striking distance of visiting with family.
After learning of a national search for a position at the Cape Coral Community Foundation, it intrigued him to apply and he was accepted. Moving to the foundation seemed like a natural transition for Michael. “Being in a larger corporate setting, you seldom got a chance to be nimble and innovative. Here, I get to offer my own ideas.”
Doing It All
Michael is a visionary and, because of that, there is a lot of momentum happening inside of the organization. His excitement is contagious, as he states “I see this move as an opportunity to take a small unknown and turn it into a global center for generosity.”
The Cape Coral Community Foundation has been around for 43 years and crosses all religious denominations, as well as political affiliations. “We’re an evenhanded convener to bring people together,” and the foundation supports many different initiatives and fields of interest. One major issue they are researching currently is finding and sustaining affordable senior housing in the Cape Coral area. It also supports everything from education to social services to the arts.
“We do it all,” says Michael.
Because so many charities are forced to live hand-to-mouth, the foundation helps them get on their feet and become a self-sustaining network. “We are endowment builders.” To understand how the Cape Coral Community Foundation works, you have to think of it as a bank for charities. The nonprofits will open a fund with them, and in turn, the foundation grows the money, enabling them to live off the interest. “It’s a rainy-day fund that grows in perpetuity,” explains Michael.
Residents who call Cape Coral home donate money and pull their resources together. Then, in turn, the foundation puts that in the form of a charitable endowment and grants that money back out to local charities so they can do their work.
A lot of donors have a certain cause they want to support, such as Habitat for Humanity, while others give unrestricted gifts with the understanding that they don’t know what the needs of the community will be in 20 years, but trust the foundation to meet those needs. Unrestricted donations are understandably preferred because then the Community Foundation has total discretion and it can look at different proposals and decide which ones will give the biggest bang for the donor’s dollar. “Of course, there is always more need than grant money,” says Michael.
One of the challenges of having a foundation in the Cape is that a lot of the residents have moved here for retirement and/or are snowbirds and may already be working with a charity back home.
Another challenge is that, because the Cape is a newer community, it has a limited amount of commercial industry. Whereas Naples and Bonita Springs have the benefit of traffic flowing through US 41, the Cape’s geography makes it more isolated. “I think the Cape Corral Community Foundation has been viewed as ‘less than,’” says Michael. But in a short period of time with Michael at the helm, the foundation has been able to build a bridge allowing all of Lee County to see who they are and what they are doing in such a way that they are not competing with another foundation.
One of their first initiatives kicked off on January 12. The foundation hosted a regional wide conference for wealth managers, such as professional advisors and estate planning attorneys. They were instructed in how to talk to their clients about giving non-cash assets as a donation, which is groundbreaking as most nonprofits host fundraising events that feature trivia nights and galas.
“There is a lot of donor fatigue because the same people are being hit up continuously for donations,” explains Michael. The average person’s portfolio has 5% of their wealth in cash,
but 95% of it is in real estate and life insurance. No one is talking to the donors about giving these assets. “This will give new opportunities for people to be a benefactor when they originally thought they could not.”
In April, the foundation is hosting a national delegation where they have cherry picked 25 executives. These administrators will be representing such companies as the Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Wal-Mart Foundation. The Cape Coral Community Foundation will talk to them about the needs of this area. “We will be telling them about our leadership work here, in turn we hope it will lead them to make an investment in our community.”
Emerging and Energized
When asked about the future of Cape Coral and the foundation, Michael responded, “I would like to remain here and grow the foundation to a point where it continues to do a lot of good in the community. I see it becoming a global center for generosity where we’re not only working with local residents, but working with people from all over the world who have an alignment to our mission and our work.”
Michael wants to build a global model and at the same time be deeply rooted in The Cape. He wants to continue to attract more business in The Cape because he knows that will draw more residents. “I think it’s really going to be a happening place.”
The challenge is going to be managing that growth. Currently Cape Corral is only at 45% capacity with 175,000 residents.
The Giving Arm
Michael lives in the Cape with his wife and their two young children and likes that it’s a “big small town.” His oldest son is a musician and resides in Miami.
“A year ago,” says Michael, “I would have said he is a struggling musician, but he’s doing really well now as a DJ and playing the keyboard. He’s in demand and does a lot of touring.”
His daughter is a senior at Cape Coral High School where she runs track and hopes to earn a scholarship and run for the University of Florida.
His youngest son is a gifted student and is home-schooled by his wife, who is a health and wellness advocate and aerobics instructor by profession.
Michael is soft spoken and being part of the giving arm seems to pour out in all areas of his life, even asking this interviewer how he could help him grow his business. He does a lot of speaking in the space of generosity and provides editorial content for Forbes Magazine around nonprofit and philanthropic issues. In addition to that, he also has what some have called ‘the most followers in Southwest Florida’ on twitter with about 315,000 organic followers.
“More than anything, I want my legacy to be in the in the field of philanthropy.”
Cape Coral is thrilled to welcome Michael Chatman and his family to our community. Thank you, Michael, Cape Coral is lucky to have you!