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Welcome to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s Inspired Giving podcast, where we spend time with innovators and change-makers in the world of non-profits and social enterprise in Tampa Bay. Since 1990, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has been inspiring creative philanthropy and leadership in the Tampa Bay region by working with donors, non-profit organization, and community leaders to build a more vibrant community.

09/11/2018 | Episode 004 | 36:31

Inspired Giving Podcast: Neil & Gianna Gobioff of The Gobioff Foundation

Neil and Gianna Gobioff talk philanthropy beyond check writing, disaster relief for the arts, and keeping a foundation in the family

On this episode of Inspired Giving, Wilma welcomes Neil and Gianna Gobioff of The Gobioff Foundation. This small private family foundation was founded in 2007 by Howard Gobioff, an early employees of Google. When Howard passed away just a few short months later, he left the foundation to his brother, Neil. Now, the Gobioffs run the foundation full-time with a singular goal of honoring Howard's memory and "making the world a better place." They share their learning experiences and give some sage advice for nonprofits. They talk the inspiration behind their current projects and their hopes and fears around the future of the foundation.

Key Insights

  • The Gobioff Foundation was founded by Howard Gobioff, Neil's brother: "The foundation started in 2007 when my brother founded it. He was an early employee of Google and was looking at giving back to the community in a way..."Unfortunately he got sick shortly after that and passed away in March of 2008."
  • The Gobioffs work to continue Howard's legacy through giving: "We looked at what he gave to as an individual and it fell into kind of two categories, being the arts and human rights/civil liberties, and so that’s where we’ve focused our giving."
  • The foundation began with simple check writing, but after attending a conference for small foundations, it became much more: "That was just eye-opening as to what we could do, what was being done, how many other people are out there doing this."
  • "Oftentimes I think our biggest impact has happened when we have provided a tie, when we’ve provided a network to another organization, and that non-profit has been able to flourish with whatever that connection was."
  • Treasure Tampa, a creative place-making effort, is a major project for the Gobioff Foundation. According to Gianna, "Creative place-making is working with your community to make it better by incorporating the arts and having the arts be the heart of the project." According to Neil, "it’s using the arts in a collaborative way while working to solve a problem."
  • "The first year the grant went to the University Area Community Development Corporation for their Art in the Park project at the Harvest Hope Park. They did three arts installations as part of the redevelopment of a park, and they opened it to the public in conjunction with their opening of a new playground."
  • In response to the state of Florida's significant reduction in funding for the arts, the Gobioffs also create Tampa Bay Arts Bridge, which they describe as disaster relief for the arts.
  • "We're talking about a $2.5 million deficit in arts funding just in Hillsborough and Pinellas County, which is our granting area."
  • "When the arts organizations lose general operating funding, that trickles down...if the big organizations aren't getting funding, the little ones aren't going to get even more funding that they normally get."
  • That's where the Community Foundation comes in: "We met with Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and decided to make what we're calling a disaster relief fund. It's a pot of money that will be evenly distributed to the arts organizations based on their funding recommendation from the State and the percentage that we raise."
  • "This year they were cut 94%, so they [arts organizations] received 6%. So an organization that was expecting somewhere… who was recommended for $150,000 from the State, which is a large organization, only received less than $10,000."
  • Gianna, who has a doctorate degree in educational measurement and research, loves researching nonprofits. "I love research, I love data, I feel like it provides information, but there's quantitative data and there's qualitative data."
  • Neil: "This advice is more for the non-profits, and the advice is to learn how to tell your story."
  • Getting their kids involved is extremely important to the Gobioffs: "I worry about the kids really wanting to be involved when they get older, or having the time to be involved."
  • "They are each given $100 from the Foundation to give away to an organization of their choice each year, and we take them on a site visit, and so we go to that organization and visit and they ask questions."
  • Advice for grantors: Gianna, "Really listen to your grantees. Listen to the organizations that are doing the work." Neil, "Be open to taking a risk on someone, on an organization."
  • Small vs. large nonprofits: "There's plenty of small organizations who don't even have staff that don't even have staff, that are doing work that's just as valuable and sometimes more impactful because they're reaching more people directly."
  • "I think the… five years that we hope to have a Youth Board. We hope to have the youth involved in some structured way, and we see that as, they will have their own track of giving."
  • The Gobioff's latest project? $500 mini grants. "We went through the process with the IRS of getting approval for a new program of micro grants for individual artists. So these are grants that we'll be able to actually give to individual artists,"

"This is something that was my brother's legacy, and so it's definitely a family thing for me." - Neil Gobioff

Neil & Gianna Gobioff and their two children.

"We're talking about a $2.5 million deficit in arts funding just in Hillsborough and Pinellas County." - Gianna Gobioff

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 1:08) Introduction

(1:09 – 4:05) Gobioff Foundation Background

(4:06 – 9:08) The Treasure Tampa Initiative

(9:09 – 16:39) The Tampa Bay Arts Bridge

(16:40 – 18:12) Funding disaster relief, not replacing the State

(18:13 – 19:38) The Gobioffs’ Backgrounds

(19:40 – 21:03) Emotional Connections versus Data

(21:04 – 22:41) Inspiration across Generations

(22:42 – 25:39) Concerns and Challenges

(25:40 – 28:37) Plans for the Future

(28:38 – 35:36) The power of a $500 Grant

(35:37 – 36:31) Conclusion

Full Transcription:

Wilma Norton: Hi, and welcome to another edition of Inspired Giving from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. I’m Wilma Norton, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, and with me today are Neil and Gianna Rendina-Gobioff from the Gobioff Foundation. Welcome.

Gianna Gobioff: Glad to be here.

Wilma: Thanks so much for joining me. The Gobioff Foundation is a small, private family foundation, so I wondered if you could just talk a little bit about what you do and how it came to be.

Neil Gobioff: Sure. So the foundation started in 2007 when my brother founded it. He was an early employee of Google and was looking at giving back to the community in a way, and so he started this foundation. Unfortunately he got sick shortly after that and passed away in March of 2008, and that’s when he told me that the foundation would pass on to me and I’d be in charge of it. When I asked him what his plans were for the foundation he just said, “To make the world a better place.” So we looked at what he gave to as an individual and it fell into kind of two categories, being the arts and human rights/civil liberties, and so that’s where we’ve focused our giving.

Wilma: Well, that’s both a wonderful and a big task to be given by someone you love, go make the world a better place. How did you guys go about doing that?

Neil: It took us a little while. At first we, like I said we looked at what he gave to as an individual, and then we were fortunate that he had actually set up the foundation at an organization called Foundation Source, who handles all the back office. So that took a lot of pressure off of us, from dealing with having to worry about accounting, having to worry about a lot of the rules and regulations that we need to be followed, and they could give us some guidance on things. Because he had set it up at the end of 2007, our first year of grant making wasn’t until 2009. That also gave us some time to kind of settle his estate a little more before we focused on that. The beginning was really just check writing with the organizations we were familiar with. So we gave to those organizations, and then we also attended a conference. So we went to, at the time it was the Association of Small Foundations, it’s now Exponent Philanthropy, and that was beyond helpful. I mean, that was just eye-opening as to what we could do, what was being done, how many other people are out there doing this.

Wilma: I think that surprises a lot of people. I know when I got into this business it surprised me how many folks there were out there like you, who either from their own resources had started a foundation, or in this case, had been gifted with a foundation and with a task. So I think that is surprising to a lot of people.

Gianna: What I think the main thing that came out of going to the conferences is that it gave us a better perspective on what the possibilities are for giving. Rather than just check writing, as Neil said, which is how we kind of started. You know, you go to those conferences and, you know, everybody’s telling you about all these creative ways and different ways, and it’s kind of like you’re coming into there. And if you’re just check writing it feels like you’re not doing enough, you know, and that’s good. You know, the baseline of giving can be and oftentimes is very helpful but, you know, establishing the relationships with the different organizations and finding out how maybe you could collaborate with another organization to better help that non-profit, rather than just giving them the money. And oftentimes I think our biggest impact has happened when we have provided a tie, when we’ve provided a network to another organization, and that non-profit has been able to flourish with whatever that connection was.

Wilma: And that’s how we came to know you, is that as the Gobioff Foundation, you know, we’ve worked together as the Community Foundation on some projects and collaborations and that sort of thing. One of the first times I think I met you was when you were getting the Treasure Tampa initiative started. So I’d like you to talk a little bit about that because I think that’s a little different perspective on giving than check writing and some of the things that we ordinarily see.

Gianna: So Treasure Tampa initially started from a conference where Neil attended and saw Jamie Bennett from ArtPlace America present. And from there, Neil, he was in New York and was able to meet with Jamie and he was like, “Well, you know, how do I get you to come and speak in Tampa?” And he’s like, “You invite me.” And so…

Wilma: Sometimes it’s not that complicated.

Gianna: Right. So we invited him to come and as we were developing what the content of the presentation was going to be, Neil and I realized that we really wanted… so we wanted to create an educational aspect, like what do you learn? So the Treasure Tampa umbrella is about creative place-making. And Jamie Bennett is obviously an expert in the field. And so we wanted him to come and kind of provide ideas of what has been done, and for Tampa folks to hear it and be like, “Oh, what could we do? How could we change up what we’ve heard and make it a big impact in Tampa?”

Wilma: And can you give us the 15-second definition of creative place-making?

Gianna: So, creative place-making is working with your community to make it better by incorporating the arts and having the arts be the heart of the project, that it drives what makes the community better. And it can be simply trying to gather information from community members, but you do it in a way that’s creative and that you get more valuable information. You get more in-depth information because you’ve created this fun way of providing data to your city or your community. So, you know, it can take so many different impacts. It could be public art, but it’s public art that has been influenced, designed by your community. It’s not that someone has come in and put the public art up without involvement. I don’t know Neil, do you have anything to add to that more than 30-second definition?

Neil: So it’s using the arts in a collaborative way while working to solve a problem.

Gianna: There you go.

Wilma: I heard Jamie’s presentation when you guys brought him in. It was like, “Yes! That makes complete sense.” But it’s a little hard to explain. Maybe Jamie just needs to go around and tell people.

Gianna: That’s his job.

Neil: Well, and it can be very big projects, or it can be very small projects and simple things that don’t take a lot of money. And that’s why when I saw these presentations it’s like, this is definitely something that could be done here and should be done here, and it’s not being done here.

Wilma: And you have done one project?

Gianna: Two, at this point.

Neil: Two, so, well the second one’s currently happening – we’ve had two rounds of grants. The first year the grant went to the University Area Community Development Corporation for their Art in the Park project at the Harvest Hope Park. They did three arts installations as part of the redevelopment of a park, and they opened it to the public in conjunction with their opening of a new playground, which the neighborhood had no playground for kids to play on. And they own, they’re redeveloping this park into an amazing space. They’ve already had a community garden and a community teaching kitchen. They’ve added now the art, which are these huge, amazing pieces of art. One’s a fountain, one’s a giant sculpture that says love, and it’s really kind of a selfie kind of spot. And then there’s this playground, and then they’re also going to be developing it with exercise equipment, a fishing pond, all these other aspects. The art and the playground were just the first step. So that was great.

Gianna: I think the most beautiful thing about, when we went to the opening of the UACDC’s unveiling of the artwork. So I’ve mentioned that the community is involved, and so in this particular project there was community input on what the art would look like, and there was community involvement in the actual construction of it. And when we were at the opening, one of the gentlemen who’d spoke and who came up and talked to us, he was so proud of his work on that construction. He’s like, “I brought my grandson over and I pointed to where I laid that cement.” And it was really fantastic to see the pride in what was created and that he really wanted to share with his grandkids that this is important to give back to your community and to help out.

Wilma: And that’s a community, for those who don’t know the university area, that’s a community that has had a lot of issues with homelessness and transients, and having some functional beauty in the middle of it has gone a long way toward that community pride and helping bring that community back. And I know that’s what I think you were trying to help spark.

Gianna: Absolutely.

Wilma: Okay, so I want to talk about another project that’s going on right now, another way we are working together. The two of you saw what happened with a number of our arts organizations in the area that had applied for, and were expecting, a substantial amount of money from the State during this last session. And when it came down to the bottom line, instead of getting even 25 or 30% of what they were expecting, as they had in years before, they got 6%. And you started looking around and had some creative ideas about how the community could come together to do that, and are working with us and some others. So if you could talk a little bit about the Tampa Bay Arts Bridge and what you’re trying to do, and how, as philanthropists and people in a private foundation, how you see that as a responsibility, I think. There’s a big question.

Gianna: Right.

Wilma: That was kind of like a Terry Gross run-on sort of question.

Gianna: That’s a good thing, to be compared to Terry Gross, right?

Wilma: I would never compare myself to Terry Gross.

Gianna: So the Tampa Bay Arts Bridge Fund really started – Neil and I were attending an event for one of our local arts organizations and the director, in passing, said, “You know, you heard about the State funding?” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, you know.” And I just kind of thought well, there’s always kind of a deficiency in State funding, you know? Nothing to worry about, right? And as we went and we researched it we had a much better understanding of how big of an issue it really was and so Neil and I were kind of brainstorming, you know. We didn’t feel like our foundation could solve the problem on its own, for sure. We’re talking about a $2.5 million deficit in arts funding just in Hillsborough and Pinellas County, which is our granting area. And yet we felt very compelled that when the arts organizations lose general operating funding, that, you know, it trickles down. And we tend to emphasize the smaller arts organizations in our giving, and so we knew it was going to trickle down to them, you know, as far as if the big organizations aren’t getting funding, the little ones aren’t going to get even more funding that they normally get. And so we just really felt like it was important to help our whole arts community, not just… You know, we could have turned around and just donated to our favorite organizations, the ones that are on our list every year, and given them more this year. But instead what we decided to do, we started to, like, say, “Okay, how could we get everybody else together and help us do this?” And so we met with Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and decided to make what we’re calling a disaster relief fund. It’s a pot of money that will be evenly distributed to the arts organizations based on their funding recommendation from the State and the percentage that we raise. So we’re excited about it. We put in a lot more money than we normally do per year. This is going to be above what we normally give each year. We put in $100,000 and we reached out to the Vinik Family Foundation and they matched our $100,000, and it was kind of at that point that I was like, “Okay, we got to make this happen. Let’s get going.” You know, and so from there it’s a grassroots effort to raise money. So we’ve got a website and we’re pushing it on Facebook and Twitter and just trying to get the word out, and on the podcast. So I don’t know. I talked a lot about it, Neil. So you want to add?

Neil: No, I mean it’s just, the main thing is that it’s, when you look at how it played out… you know, traditionally most of these arts organizations are very aware the recommendation from the Division of Cultural Affairs is not going to be what they actually get.

Wilma: Right.

Neil: So, you know if the Division of Cultural Affairs recommends them $40,000 grant there’s a good chance that they’re going to get, you know, at the low end 50%, at the high end 70%. There’s only been one year in the recent memory that they’ve gotten 100%, and that was, took everyone by surprise, much the way that this did. So, when they find out that number that they’ve been approved for, they’ve recommended for in October, that’s when they’re working on their budgets. And they’re figuring what their fiscal year’s going to be like, whether it’s, you know, their fiscal year’s in July to July or January to December, whatever it is. And so they kind of work that number in there with an expectation of, you know, 50% at the low end, and this year they were cut 94%, so they received 6%. So an organization that was expecting somewhere… who was recommended for $150,000 from the State, which is a large organization, only received less than $10,000. Yet they’re still going to have the same reporting requirements as well as the same acknowledgement requirements as if they’d received $150,000 grant. There’s a significant amount of time that these organizations put into the grant, a significant amount of times they put into reporting, and all that then goes back. At some point that trickles, as Gianna was saying, trickles down into their programming and what they have to cut, whether it’s staff because of, this is general operating support so some of this money probably goes into salaries. Some of it goes into programming and they have to find either less expensive programming or actually program less things during the year. We want to hopefully offset that a little bit.

Wilma: Well, and in some cases to get this money becomes a deficit because if you only get $2000 and you have to spend hours and hours of staff time filling out the reports to acknowledge the $2000, it’s going to cost you more than that, and I know that’s one of the things we talked about.

Gianna: I think it’s also significant to point out the timeline in that they were notified about how much money they were getting in like February, March and then they were supposed to get their first check in July, and they had to make some quick decisions on how they were going to adjust their budgets for the significant amount of money that they were told they weren’t going to get, so…

Wilma: And those of us who’ve lived here for a long time know the season starts in September. September’s when you really start your arts exhibits, your play season, and your concert season, all of those kinds of things. So how’s it going? This is kind of a new thing, you know. This is a creative idea.

Neil: People are receiving it really well. They’re very excited and they’re very complimentary and they love the idea, and we’ve probably got in more shares on Facebook from doing this than we have on any other project we’ve been involved with. But with that said, the donations aren’t coming in as quickly as we would like to see. We’d definitely like to see some donations from people so that we can have more to give. We got a couple of small ones and that’s about it, and they were actually from before we really started going public with it.

Wilma: I know I’ve had a couple of questions, and I know you have too, from folks who have said, “Well maybe I’ll just write a little bigger check this year to my favorite organization.” And I don’t think you want to discourage that.

Neil: No, that’s still a win.

Gianna: Right, at all, but it’s still a win. It is totally a win if everybody just is aware of the budget deficit and the need of these organizations. And we put the full list of everybody who’s impacted by this deficiency on the website. So yes, you can pick your favorite organization and donate to them directly from the website that we’ve created. We also think it’s a win just if people are aware that we need to try and support our arts and be advocates for arts in our community and in our state.

Wilma: But because as a foundation, both the type of foundation you are and the type of foundation that the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay is, we can’t directly lobby or advocate lobbying and that sort of thing, so our role becomes educational for other people to take action. And I know that’s been some of the discussion that you’ve had, but I think in this case it’s interesting that you’re looking at this as a short-term disaster fund kind of fix. You’re not talking about creating an endowment to help organizations for, you know, the next 50 years, which is what we talk about a lot in the foundation world that… Why did you decide to go that route?

Gianna: Well, that’s absolutely correct. We would like for this to be a one-time, as we said, disaster relief. You know, you have a hurricane come through and you pitch in by helping out, whether it’s financially or with your talent, and that’s what we’re doing. We’ve had a storm come through and not provide what our arts community needs this year. Moving forward, we hope that things will change as far as, you know, there’ll be better support for the arts financially.

Neil: We’re not trying to replace what the State’s doing. They left a hole this year and we’re trying to fill that hole but we hope that this’ll be a one-time thing and that this hole won’t be there all the time.

Wilma: If people want to know more, what’s the website?

Neil: It’s tampabayartsbridge.com.

Wilma: And there’s a nice button there that you can make a donation?

Neil: Lots more information.

Wilma: And lots of resources, and one of the things that I have known and admired about the two of you is that you are very researched-based in the kind of giving that you do. You give from your heart but also with sort of the data behind it. What’s your background?

Neil: So, I was an English major and then I did IT work, but Gianna’s the real research person.

Gianna: My background is I have a doctorate in educational measurement and research, so…

Wilma: Well, there you go.

Gianna: So prior to running the Foundation I worked at a certification and licensure testing company on developing assessments. But I love research, I love data, I feel like it provides information, but there’s quantitative data and there’s qualitative data. And so I always like to emphasize that the qualitative, getting the stories, getting out there and talking with our grantees is extremely valuable, as well as getting the numbers associated with an organization or an event or a, you know. So a good example with the Tampa Bay Arts Bridge Fund is that it all started with conversations with the arts non-profits, and then we went to the State and pulled the data to see really, what is the numbers behind what’s happening to these arts non-profits. You know, it’s both. You need both the quantitative and qualitative. That’s how I was trained as a researcher.

Wilma: So how does that translate to your everyday giver, either the $25 or $50 giver or the $25,000 or $50,000 giver? I mean, is there advice in that for…

Neil: I think the advice is more for the non-profits, and the advice is to learn how to tell your story. We saw a really good presentation, went to a National Center for Family Philanthropy conference and they had a presenter who was talking about, you’ll never change someone’s mind with data. That’s not going to change their mind. You can have all the data you want, but it’s not going to change someone’s mind. What changes someone’s mind is the story that goes with the data. Somewhere where they feel an emotional connection is what’s going to change someone’s mind.

Gianna: It’s also what they remember.

Neil: Right.

Gianna: They will remember that story. They won’t remember…

Wilma: A statistic.

Gianna: Right, 96% versus 6% versus… you know. They’re more likely to remember that our arts non-profit has to maybe cut somebody’s salary, or they have to, you know, put an exhibit up that, you know, isn’t what they think is the best fit for their community right here, right now.

Neil: Or scale it back.

Gianna: Or scale it back, you know, less.

Wilma: Or bring 20 children instead of 200 children to something.

Gianna: Right, exactly. You know, yes, when you can’t serve as many kids in arts education, that impact is more heartbreaking and memorable than 96% cut, even though that’s a huge number.

Wilma: That’s a number you can remember.

Gianna: Right?

Wilma: So you do this full-time?

Neil: We do.

Gianna: Yes.

Wilma: What gets you up in the morning every day to go about this work?

Neil: For me it’s definitely, you know, this is something that was my brother’s legacy, and so it’s definitely a family thing for me. And that’s the family and the family foundation and why we do it, and leaving that legacy and passing that on to our kids.

Wilma: And your kids are fairly small, right?

Neil: Nine and 13. They are actually involved. They’re very aware of the Foundation. It’s because it’s our full-time thing and it’s just Gianna and I, and so it’s talked about constantly and they get dragged to arts events all the time. And so they also are each given $100 from the Foundation to give away to an organization of their choice each year, and we take them on a site visit, and so we go to that organization and visit and they ask questions, they think of questions to ask. And we’ve even done a virtual visit with an organization and we’ve also, in some cases we show them ways that that can be more than just the money. One of our son’s grantees that he chose was an organization that connected people who had 3D printers to print prosthetic limbs for kids, and then we turned that into a connection at a conference for youth philanthropy where they did a build event for that organization. So they came with pieces and all these kids assembled these hands, and so it showed how not just the money, but you can have an impact with beyond that, and so that was really meaningful to us.

Gianna: Right, at the end of that event there were 20 built prosthetic hands. You know, they brought the parts, but I mean, they needed the labor, and these kids all loved it, you know? They sat there and they helped, you know, put the peg in to make the joint and it was fantastic.

Wilma: So you’re talking about stories. That story gives me goosebumps, see? Like this.

Gianna: It’s a pretty good story. We tell it a lot.

Wilma: Because that really is, you know, what this whole, I mean it’s hard to talk about philanthropy as an industry, but it is an industry. But that’s what this whole industry is about, is making those connections and those stories and living that legacy out. What concerns you? I mean, what keeps you up at night related to this all?

Neil: It’s kind of the same thing. It’s the succession. It’s like our, you know, worry that… right now, like I said, it’s just Gianna and I. We don’t have a board, we don’t have, you know, outside people that, other than people we’re paying, like Foundation Source, and so I worry about the kids really wanting to be involved when they get older, or having the time to be involved. We’ve heard about so many horror stories, you know, that was part of the reason we got them involved so young, was because we went to, like, first the conference we went to. We went to a NEXTgen pre-conference thing when we were still qualified as in the NEXTgen age group, and we were at the high end of the NEXTgen age group at that point. And some of these people were showing up and they were like, “My parents just told me about this last week and said I should come.” And there were other people who have been involved since they were, you know, five and they were very much like, “You need to get them involved early.” And then we heard about people who are on NEXTgen boards in their 50s because the older generation just didn’t want to let go. So, you know, I worry about whether they’re going to want to be interested, and how are we going to do that, and what that’s going to end up looking like.

Wilma: And that’s something that we hear from the families who have family foundations with us at the Community Foundation, is that they do it because they want to instill this in their children, but the ones who seem the most successful at it are the ones who do it younger, and I think that’s probably pretty common. So you have no siblings?

Neil: I just had my brother.

Gianna: I have siblings and so we do hope to bring on our nieces and nephews potentially, depending on their interest level with becoming active in the Foundation.

Neil: We actually had some plans for that to really be launched this year with the Youth Board, and then we hit some snags as we realized that, we found out the IRS doesn’t let you pay for things till they’re like 16, and they have to have direct board involvement. And so that changed how we were going to go about things and so now we have to kind of rethink that structure and make it a little more virtual. We’re hoping to actually kind of do a youth retreat and have some… and actually facilitators that would actually give them some philanthropy training, but we’re going to have to do that more as a, we can just kind of do over, you know, a video conferencing kind of thing.

Wilma: So do you think your brother had any idea what he was setting up for you?

Neil: I don’t think so. I’ve thought about, like what he probably would have been doing with it and, you know, as long as he was working there probably would have been more check writing to just organizations that he believed in and he probably would have been writing larger checks to those specific organizations. You know, and I base that somewhat on people that I know who were friends with him, who are also from Google who, that’s kind of how they run their foundations right now. But their families are on their boards but you know, the family kind of just rubber stamps whatever they want to do, so…

Wilma: Well, I just think it’s really admirable that, you know, you guys took this on truly as that mission to make the world a better place. What kind of advice would you give someone who either, as in your case, was gifted this thing or wants to start it? What do you do first?

Gianna: Well, in our case what we think was really valuable was attending those conferences that Neil has mentioned. The conferences gave us the information about all the possibilities and the ways that you can give. It also educated us on, you know, things you can’t do. And then also talking with other people who are either striving to do what you’re doing or currently doing what you’re doing, is really helpful, you know. And just in general, being with your peers enriches you, and so it was a great first step for us while we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. Another thing is to really listen to your grantees. Listen to the organizations that are doing the work. They’re the ones doing the hard work, really, I mean, and so being a good listener, open to exactly hearing what is going on for that organization, what might be what they need, and asking them that directly. Not what do they think you want to hear, but what is it that they truly need for that organization, what they’re going to benefit from the most. Because sometimes organizations think that they have to give you a boxed answer, you know, like that grant answer, right?

Wilma: The cut and paste grant answer.

Gianna: It’s a cut and paste grant answer, and, you know, you have to establish that relationship with the organization of comfort and safety, that even if I say, “Well, the air conditioner broke last week and we lost, you know, $3,000 because we had to replace it.” You know, that they feel comfortable telling you that and that you’re not going to recede and not help them because you didn’t have a backup plan for how you were going to fix that air conditioner and lose that $3,000. You know, it’s like you can’t have a safety net for everything that could go wrong in a non-profit.

Neil: I think another advice on that same thing is, be open to taking a risk on someone, on an organization. You know, don’t just give to the safe organizations that have always been there and that already have huge budgets and a huge staff. You know, just because they’re managed well, and even if their money’s, most of it’s going to their programming. There’s plenty of small organizations who don’t even have staff that don’t even have staff, that are doing work that’s just as valuable and sometimes more impactful because they’re reaching more people directly than they are, and more people from the community than the large organization. Some of those larger organizations, at least when it comes to the arts, you know, a lot of them, they do hire local people for their staff. But the arts people that they’re hiring, are paying, are often from out of town, while these smaller arts organizations who might have zero staff, most of the artists that they pay are locals, and so you’re really enriching the local arts community more in that way.

Wilma: And you’ve been very locally focused.

Neil: Yes.

Gianna: At least on the arts branch of our mission, absolutely.

Neil: I mean, the arts has definitely taken a larger role recently with Treasure Tampa and the Arts Bridge. We’re actually looking to identify some more human rights and civil liberties types of organizations that are local that we can give to, because most of that giving has been on a national level. Because our art connections, we had friends and family involved in the arts locally so that’s where we had those connections. We had relationships there already, so when we knew we were going to give to the arts that was an easy place to go and to build that relationship even more, but it’s a little harder when you’re looking at civil liberties and human rights. We don’t have those connections directly.

Wilma: And everything that you talk about is about relationship, I mean, that’s the thread that runs through everything I’ve heard in this conversation. Where do you see your foundation in five or ten years? You guys are young. I mean, do you see doing this for 25 more years, or are you hoping by that point you can move on to something else and turn it over to your kids? Have you thought that far ahead?

Gianna: I think the… five years that we hope to have a Youth Board. We hope to have the youth involved in some structured way, and we see that as, they will have their own track of giving. We think that for youth to be involved and be interested they have to be able to pick their passions. I think that’s also kind of advice for anybody going into this is, make sure that you’re passionate about where you’re giving. So if we have a Youth Board, they’ll have their own track of focus and so we hope to have that established. We think that that’ll also enrich our ideas on giving in general and give us new perspectives on how to give. I think that the youth have very interesting, creative ideas and we will be definitely trying to utilize their energy. It’s just fantastic. We’ve gone to some conferences on youth philanthropy and the ideas that are generated in those rooms with a bunch of, you know, 13 to 20-year-olds is amazing. So that’ll be, certainly, a part of five years down the road.

Neil: We’re thinking ten years hopefully some of them will have created an actual board beyond just Gianna and I that they will be on and, you know, that it’ll be a lot more of a family collaborative effort than just Gianna and I kind of driving things the way they are now.

Gianna: I agree.

Wilma: What else should people know about either the Gobioff Foundation or the projects that you’re working on?

Neil: We have other things that we’re trying to do that we’re not ready to announce yet, but…

Gianna: Do you want to bring up the mini grants?

Neil: One of our plans, which we were hoping to have been done or have already launched this year, but we went through the process with the IRS of getting approval for a new program of micro grants for individual artists. So these are grants that we’ll be able to actually give to individual artists but within the guidelines of this program, and those are grants of up to $500 that will be – with the requirement that there’s a public component for projects. So if someone needs just, they need some, $500 to get some more canvases for a show that they’ve scheduled, or they need $500 to help rent a space for a performance or to pay their actors for a performance. This is kind of the finishing fund idea, where this $500 can go a long way in Tampa, and we’re going to be working to put together a review panel that’ll be quarterly. And this’ll be a quarterly grant, so it’ll be, you know, I think if four grants, a maximum of four grants every quarter, but it might not be that there are four grants every quarter. And this is based on something that we funded a few years ago with another organization that is no longer around in Tampa and so we’re kind of taking that idea again, and we just had to go through the… We tried to find a partner here locally that could work across both sides of the bay and Community Foundation was one of the ones we reached out to originally, only to find out you couldn’t give to individuals either.

Wilma: We can’t give to individuals either.

Neil: So we ended up just going through the process with the IRS so that we could do it in-house. And that was with the great help from Foundation Source to help make that happen.

Wilma: Well, and I think one of the things that may surprise people who would be listening to this, that, oh, you’re a foundation. You give away $500 and see an impact. Can you speak a little bit to how much of an impact a small grant to a small grassroots organization?

Gianna: Should I tell the story of Meghan? Meghan Hildebrand?

Neil: Sure.

Gianna: So in the prior iteration of the $500 grants, mini grants to artists, an artist, Megan Hildebrand, received the grant and she was in her first, like month, first semester at least, of grad school and found out that she had cancer. She had lymphoma, in fact.

Neil: Which is what my brother passed away from.

Gianna: So she, you know, went through treatment and everything and she documented, in her process of going through that she created art along the way, and the grant was used to print a graphic novel about her experience. It’s beautiful and she did that and she was extremely grateful for the opportunity to print it and to, you know, be able to share her process of surviving and moving through that terrible time. In addition she had, some of the artwork was displayed, the larger pieces, not the graphic novel, were displayed in Moffitt, in the Moffitt Cancer Center, in their lobby. So it was a really great $500. I mean, she was able to put together a resource for others who are healing as well as kind of, I don’t know if I’m putting words in there, but you know, probably helped to add closure to that part of her life as she’s moving on.

Neil: And she’s been cancer-free for years now.

Gianna: Yes.

Neil: Just so, to add that. She’s teaching at Interlochen.

Wilma: Wow.

Gianna: There was so many connections. When we found out that it was lymphoma that she was diagnosed with and just, it was great use of $500. I mean you can’t, I mean some of the other stories. I mean, there’s like the CD.

Neil: Right. One of them did it for, they used the $500 to, I mean, they sent us an email and it’s like how they took this $500 for a CD release party, is what they used it for, which actually turned into a tour and generated all this more opportunities for them, just from our $500 grant. And I think that’s one of the significant things is, you know, especially in Tampa, I mean $500 can really just turn into so much more and can be leveraged in such a way if it’s done correctly or used correctly. But it’s not about just the impact to the individual artists, it’s also about for us, the whole idea of this grant is to enrich the cultural landscape. The idea is to make it so that more of these events or more of these projects can happen, that aren’t necessarily happening now just because the artist needs a little bit of extra funds.

Wilma: We’ve come to the end of another episode of the Inspired Giving Podcast from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, and I’ve been thrilled to have Neil and Gianna Gobioff here today from the Gobioff Foundation. You can find out more about the Gobioff Foundation…

Neil: At gobioff-foundation.org.

Wilma: And about the Tampa…

Neil: tampabayartsbridge.com and also treasuretampa.org.

Wilma: And you can find out more about the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay at cftampabay.org. Thanks so much for listening.

Matt: We’ve come to the end of another inspiring podcast from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Thank you to the Saint Petersburg Group, to the Catalyst, and to Big Sea.

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About the host

Wilma Norton joined the Foundation in 2014. She was a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for more than 20 years. Most recently, she was assistant director of public information at St. Petersburg College. Wilma has a BA in journalism and political science from Western Kentucky University and an MBA from Florida International University.


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