#112 The Story of Hurricane Ian and a Local Community Foundation’s Response With Michael Chatman Chief Executive Officer of The Community Foundation in Cape Coral Florida

Jan 16, 2023

Hurricane Ian devastated Michael Chatman’s community in 2021. He joins us today to share his first-hand advice about what to consider when rebuilding his community after being hit by the center of a storm. He offers solutions for all donors to consider who want to help communities impacted by disasters. In general, Michael and Sybil talk about grant-making strategies when disaster strikes, and how to ensure your donation is well spent during a crisis.


Episode Highlights:

  • How to discover the people and organizations to help in times of disaster
  • Navigating a sudden influx of funding that inevitably arrives when disaster strikes in your community
  • Proactive strategies to consider in order to prepare for upcoming disasters 


Michael Chatman Bio:

Michael Chatman is the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Center for Generosity at The Community Foundation, located in Southwest Florida. Michael received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Missouri State University, a Master of Arts in Philanthropy from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, and a Harvard Business School in Social Entrepreneurship. Nonprofit Times Magazine has recognized Michael Chatman as one of the most influential philanthropic leaders in America.



Website: https://www.capecoralcf.org

E-Mail: [email protected] 


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

#57 Terrific Strategies for Local Grantmaking with Michael Chatman, Executive Director, The Community Foundation

#55 The Best Tips from an Amazing Funder at Marisla Foundation with Sara Lowell, Marine Program Director and Trustee, The Marisla Foundation

#52 Sybil Speaks: Fund Amazing Coalitions the Right Way


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Full Transcript

I was very honored to interview Michael Chatman for a second time, so to get to know Michael even better, you should go back and listen to my episode #57, where we talk a lot about his work with the local community foundation he runs in Cape Coral, Florida.

I called him up today because Hurricane Ian devastated his community, and he was right at the front lines. When the hurricane hit, I thought you'd really appreciate this conversation to hear firsthand what it's like for a local community foundation to be in the center of the storm, literally, and to think through solutions to help the community right away. 

Michael's an inspiration to me. He's also a client of mine, as is his organization. I've helped them with their grant-making strategies for the last couple of years. And I sincerely hope you get a lot out of this interview. I definitely got a lot out of just interviewing and speaking with Michael about this. 

Michael Oh my gosh. Welcome back to my podcast. I wish that you came back to my podcast for happier news, you'll have to return for that as well. But the reason Michael, I wanted you to come back on the podcast is that I am working with you, and you run the Community Foundation and which is located in Cape Coral, Florida. And then there's Hurricane Ian just coming through your community recently, and my heart went out to you. We help you run your grants program, and it's been so rewarding to see you and your community come together during Hurricane Ian was so inspirational to me, and I really wanted to talk to you about that. You've got on-the-ground experience with Hurricane Ian and running a community foundation. How were you able to support your community the people who listen to this podcast are donors, and disaster strikes everywhere, and they want to know as donors. How can they help people like communities, foundations, and others in areas when a disaster strikes? I'm sure you'll have great advice there.

But let's talk about what happened with Hurricane Ian. And how you responded at the Community Foundation; tell me about all of these wonderful people who came together to make sure that their community survived and thrived despite this challenge. 

Yes, but where is the first story that starts with you.  I'm one of your clients, but you treat me like family, and I appreciate that.

Oh, that's so sweet. 

Having that individual reach out and say, "Hey, I’m. “We miss you terribly, but as a native Floridian, I've seen many hurricanes, but none of this magnitude. It was flat-out frightening. So, everything that the media said it was going to in terms of the risk associated with the storm surge was true. And the wind's power coming through with all of that. So, there was no hype surrounding it. 

We certainly saw that in terms of the devastation you're familiar with in our area of Southwest Florida; we cover 43 communities across seven counties, and many of those communities were devastated and totally ravaged. There was a lot of loss of life. There was a loss of property. And for many of these individuals, both personally and in terms of the organizations that they represent, it's going to be years before they're able to recover from this. 

And so, as a community foundation, that is the center of hourglass philanthropy, we were smack dab in the middle of all of this being a center that would call and reach out to be connected to different resources with us and the local United Way. 

And so, we most certainly felt the brunt of people saying, "My house has been destroyed." Will you be offering any coaching, seminars, or funding to help us get back on our feet? Or at least point us in the right direction in terms of whom to contact. There, when the aftermath of the hurricane leads to a lot of dishonesty around insurance fraud and other issues like that, so even getting involved as a community foundation with the legal aspect meant reaching out to a team of lawyers who could help provide some intelligence on what they should do has been extremely beneficial, not to mention our grant making, which you assist us with, has gone a long way. I mean, even a 5 - $10,000 grant seems like the lottery for a lot of these organizations, who again walked away with nothing. So, that's just at a very high level of what's been going on here in Southwest Florida?

And now for an ad, but I know that Michael captured your attention, so stay tuned to get more advice from him and hear about his story right now. 

And it appears that because you're so close to the ground, the Community Foundation was able to help. Know the people. I'm referring to the grant program that I am assisting you with. It’s the grants that are recommended to your board by a team of nonprofit folks who are advisors. It's really inspiring there.

Michael, I was rooting for you this time when I heard about it. It sounded like some of the potential grantees had lost their entire facility, like some of the churches that were trying to help communities. Can you tell me some personal stories about these communities and their facilities for example, where were you wiped out by the hurricane? How did they do it? The rally, and what did they do to respond to the challenge while also going above and beyond to help people?

Sure, that's a great question. If you could recall, one of the grants that you assisted us with was the first-time grantee. We had never funded Nations Choice Church before, and now we had. This small church has an outreach program for children and families, and they have worked together in an impoverished area. They used every nickel and quarter they could find to get their own storefront location prior to the hurricane, and then when the hurricane hit, I think it was It would have been maybe a matter of months before the hurricane actually hit that they were able to move into the Lifelong Dream facility, only to have it damaged. 

We learned about their story from one of our board members, and we were able to connect them with other volunteers in the community who went in from the building and construction industry to help them put up some drywall, do some painting, and get them back up and running, and so the $10,000 that you assisted us with was part of that project, and it was so gratifying and fulfilling to be a part of it. Saying the right across the street from our local community, foundations, and an organization called the Cape Coral Caring Center, which is an area of food insecurity and provides light building assistance, it was a situation that when the hurricane hit, even though the local power company extended a lot of grace.to allow pets. a long runway to start paying their light bill again. We were just happy to be a part of a small grant that assisted this organization to help those families with their light bills. And so, it's just been fulfilling and gratifying all around.

And let's talk a little bit about how you found all these folks. I mean, one thing you're talking about is how one of your board members discovered a potential grantee that you'd never heard of before but that really needed the support. Talk to me a little bit about that in terms of how, in this time of urgency, you were able to really sort of pivot and support folks. Maybe you already know, but there are also folks you don't know who really needed that help to support the community at this time. 

Well, one of the things about us, and you know us very well, us being one of your clients, is that so much of our work is focused not just on the organization but on the people that leave the organization. So, we do take a very deep vested interest in building the relationships. Primarily, at the CEO level and, in particular, at the Chief Financial Officer and board level. And then that trickles down to the development offices. But for the most part, our relationships are with the CEO and the board members that run these organizations. 

So, because a lot of our platform work is providing other platforms for them to be on our television show. For them to be a part of our advertising, we spent a lot of money just providing a platform for these organizations, so they know us very well. 

So, it's just through those personal relationships that they reach out and say, "Can you help us?" We also have a program called the anonymous donor program that goes above and beyond our unrestricted grant-making and our donor-advised funds—it's actually a national program that we promote—are That's called the anonymous donor program. As a result, we advertise and send out a lot of media releases saying, "You know, we're the home of the anonymous donor." Now, if you want to give and be publicly recognized, we will do that too. But if you want to give to our organization and be like a behind-the-scenes undercover giver, we can assist you with that”. 

So we were able to get a lot of Donations to come through that as well from all over the country, which trickle down to these non-profits that are the beneficiaries of this generosity.

Well, that's a great point. A lot of times, I see the community foundations that exist in communities when disaster does strike. A lot of Donors who may not even live in your community want to support it, which I think is wonderful. And so, all of a sudden, you'll have this influx of funding, how did you navigate that? Because community foundations navigate in a variety of ways, I'd love to hear your story about how you dealt with increased attention.

And now for an advertisement. But stay tuned to hear how Michael navigated the increase in funding that came when disaster struck through Hurricane Ian.

Yeah, we're the interesting thing about our area. In our region, there are so many community foundations in Florida. And within our region alone symbol, there are about six community foundations, so there are a lot of us, and we all have our own unique niche.

So, we tend to be a bridge grant front funder, which means they may go to a larger community foundation. And suppose they require 100,000 but only receive 50,000, so they may come to us for the other 20. Five, which is similar to our niche. It’s similar to this bridge, grant, and funder, and with all of the attention that we received, there were a lot of gifts under, say, $10,000, where people felt that these smaller gifts can really add up and have a tremendous impact. I almost felt like we were running a Giving Tuesday movement prior to Giving Tuesday.

Yeah, that's great, and that makes total sense, and I think it's really important because you filled a very critical role, because when there's a lot of money coming into these disaster zones, which is important and helpful, there's a lot of low-level local organizations like the ones you support, and you really know you can't start flooding them with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unless there is an intermediary who knows the community and knows what they need and how to help them, it appears that you were one of many people who served as the local community foundation. 

So, Michael, you told me that you talked about this earlier on the podcast. You've had lots of hurricanes come through, but this one, Ian, was one of the most devastating that you've seen. Knowing this and knowing that hurricanes are something that happens in Florida, have you and other community foundations considered a proactive strategy in which they consider, "Okay when disaster strikes, there is X number of non-profits that immediately we will support and fund and then we're going to look for the other ones that get hit. And I mean, do you all have any sort of proactive strategy? Do you feel like you don't? You'll need that in your area, where it's more prevalent. When things like hurricanes happen, you can really pivot, shoot, and support. 

No, I think we very much need a strategy. It's just that there are so many community foundations in our area—six to be exact. There's another, larger community foundation that is the champion of hurricane preparedness and hurricane recovery, and so it's kind of like their niche. And so, we come along with a separate pool of money. Try to support their larger initiative.

So, our role in all of this is to maintain our anonymous donor program. The other piece of that is to provide some of the smaller types of funding that the larger community foundations typically won't deal with. In other words, they do not want to be in the weeds helping the church through their benevolence gun club or synagogue through their vanilla Benevolent Fund. And put together a few small buckets of funding to help with light bill assistance or groceries. Smaller items that people require prior to purchasing a generator. 

So, while we don't really do that directly, we will raise money for those smaller things for families. But we do have a conduit through which we work through the churches, the synagogues, and the parishes to be able to accomplish that.

Right, I love that description because I think this is really common across the country. There are smaller and larger community foundations, and what I've seen is only from my point of view. In all parts of the country, community foundations have banded together, larger, and smaller, and some of them are doing the more disaster response planning there is, and others are doing what you're doing, where you're linking into that and then saying we can really do the smaller grants to support the community members, the better. 

So I'm really happy we're talking about this. I think it's important for donors to see that there's this network in the community and to decide if they're interested in supporting after a disaster, a community can ask these questions, where are the community foundations? Which are the ones that are sort of closer to the ground and do the smaller grants, and which are the ones that are larger? How much do I have to give as a donor? There are just all these really interesting conversations you can have there. 

Now, of course, there are lots of other organizations too that are ready and equipped to respond when disaster strikes. But I just wanted to bring this up because: It is an area in which I work, as well as a Grantmaker. You know, I'm not sure how many people really know about the vital role that community foundations play in these disasters.

Yeah, the neat thing about a community foundation is that there's so much flexibility around our model. We truly can be all things to all people in terms of what we do, and it's so nimble to run a community foundation, and it's easier to be able to pivot. 

So going back to what you were asking civil about what role we play, when a hurricane or natural disaster strikes… Sometimes, interestingly enough, even though we have our bucket of money that we give away, we're not always asked to serve in that role. Sometimes we're just the convener.

so, when The American Red Cross comes in, or these big organizations like the Salvation Army or even the government, or Convoy of Hope is another big organization that specializes in disaster relief. So, when they come in, they will come to us and say we're not looking for any money. We have money, but can you tell us which families or which organizations have been impacted most? And can you make those introductions for us? Can you put together a town hall meeting in a church or a synagogue? Bring the people together so that we can talk about what we're doing. 

And oftentimes, we're doing that in conjunction with our local media outlets to be able to do that. So, we're not always the funders. Sometimes we're just the conveners.

That is an excellent point on which you have much to say. A multifaceted approach to being able to support communities on the ground.

Michael, thank you for this conversation. But it looks so hopeful in the face of huge challenges that we as a society have when disaster strikes, but it was just very I'm just glad you could take the time. I know you're so busy doing so many things, so thanks for taking the time have come to discuss your strategies with us. Before we go Can you tell me anything else you'd like to say? I mean, are there any others? Are there any other words of wisdom you have for us?

Well, not so many words of wisdom. You have all of those, and I don't.

That is so not true.

But one of the things that happened in the aftermath of the hurricane really was a seal of approval. To demonstrate that we are doing the right thing, we hold an annual event that recognizes outstanding performance and is known as the Yearly Awards.

It's like a knockoff of the sport SP awards; it was shortly after the hurricane hit, and we were getting some pushback suggesting that we cancel this. This is not a good time. We did it and hoped for the best, hoping that something good would come out of it for these CEOs who were being recognized for their contributions in the fields of generosity, board service, and development—all of these. The grateful were so grateful, and we had the media there, so it cast a bright light during a very dark moment and gave our community such a ray of hope, and they were just grateful that we could do that. This idea of appreciation and recognition is for the hard work that they're doing in the face of challenges.

Yeah, I like how she just focuses on hope, even when things are tough. And I also see that you know that the best in people comes out when this kind of thing happens, especially when we have places like You, the Community Foundation of Cape Coral, can be the center of that. So, you sort of keep order in the chaos and support people. So, thanks for all you do, Michael, and it's just been delightful to talk to you. 

Thank you. Likewise, it is always good to talk with you, Sybil.