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Catalyze 2021: Marlene Spalten of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay

Jaymi Butler

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Marlene Spalten

We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.

As president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Marlene Spalten has had a front-row seat to all the events that unfolded in 2020. It’s a year she’ll never forget, and a time when she was reminded of just how kind and giving her community is, especially in the face of adversity.

“I learned about the generosity here, and sometimes from the places you don’t expect to find it,” said Spalten, who has worked with the foundation since 2012. “It’s come from both from people who have never needed to ask and those who had never given before who were compelled to help.”

One of the most impactful ways the Foundation has been able to give back – and something that will continue into 2021 – is through its Nonfprofit Needs list. Started during the pandemic, the list is a centralized directory of local nonprofits’ greatest needs and the specific dollar amounts needed to fund their projects. Since March, donors and partners have given more than $3.6 million to fund these urgent requests. Spalten hopes that providing a vetted list of organizations will encourage more people to step forward as donors, including those who haven’t done so before and may be unsure how the process works. Ideally, that will open the door to a lifetime of philanthropic giving, with the Foundation serving as a trusted guide and advisor.

“There are people out there who have made money during the pandemic and many of them are looking around and seeing the great need. Then they will make a grant and realize the joy and satisfaction it can bring, and they want to do more,” she said. “We want people to know that giving is easy if you let us help.”

In addition to continuing to promote and advocate for philanthropy, Spalten has a number of goals and priorities for 2021. One of them is helping connect families with affordable housing options so they can establish a sense of stability and security. The Foundation is considering making impact investments – investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return – to help address housing-related challenges. 

Education is another focus area, especially in terms of connecting adults who may have lost jobs during the pandemic with training opportunities that can lead to certifications and permanent employment. The Foundation will also back the efforts of Complete Tampa Bay, an initiative that provides assistance and coaching to people who have completed some college or technical training but never finished.

“We want to help get them back and make it easier for them to get their degrees,” Spalten said of the estimated 330,000 Tampa Bay residents in this position.

Additionally, Spatlen said the Foundation intends to continue working toward its goal of training 5,000 people through its Mental Health First Aid initiative. Mental Health First Aid, which can be compared to CPR for mental health issues, is a nationally certified training course that empowers people who work in public-facing roles to identify, understand and respond to signs of addictions and mental illness. The certification involves roughly eight hours of training where participants complete a self-paced introduction to the material that takes about two hours, followed by a one-day class that will be taught online through St. Petersburg College. 

“This will be a big push for us going forward,” she said. 

But to achieve these goals and to meet future challenges, Spalten said nonprofits will need to collaborate to best meet the needs of the communities they serve. 

“We need to use the connections that have been made and build on them,” she said. “We can all be more effective if we’re working together.”

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