When Adrienne Bookhamer came on as the first executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund in May 2022, two of her top priorities were raising awareness among residents about the community’s 23-year charitable arm and re-engaging with Lakewood Ranch’s 17-plus accredited homebuilders.
Bookhamer and her board of directors came up with a way to tackle both of those goals at once — and pull in some money as well. Working in partnership with master developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch (SMR), the LWR Community Fund rolled out the Builders Give Back program on April 1.
It works like this: For each home closing, participating builders commit a $100 donation to the fund, which is matched by Lakewood Ranch Communities. Some weeks later, once the new residents have settled in, they’ll receive a packet that includes information about the charity and how they can get involved. Additionally, the homeowner will get a certificate noting that their homebuilder and LWR Communities have made a $200 donation to the LWR Community Fund in their name.
While Bookhamer is happy to have the $200 gifts, she recognizes that they don’t exactly move the fundraising needle. “It isn’t necessarily about how much the donation is, but about letting new homeowners know who we are and the good we’re doing,” Bookhamer says. “It’s more about raising awareness of the Community Fund with new residents. Since I’ve been here, I would say that most of the [residents] I’ve met don’t know who we are. But, at the same time, there are people who’ve been around here for a long time who do know who we are and have been very active in supporting us.”
Keeping up the organization’s profile was easier when Lakewood Ranch was a fledgling community with 2,000 of its projected 40,000 homes occupied. Now that Lakewood Ranch has 26,000 households and a population of more than 63,000, it’s understandable how a small nonprofit like the Community Fund could get pushed into the background.
When the Builders Give Back idea was hatched last fall, LWR Communities quickly signed on. “We feel that the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund is one of the organizations that has contributed to the continuing legacy of Lakewood Ranch,” says Sandy Shahinian, VP of sales and marketing for Lakewood Ranch Communities. “The new program is a great way to thank new residents for moving here and introduce them to the philanthropic side of the community.”
Thus far, seven of the 17-plus builders have joined the program, but the other 10 aren’t all holdouts. “Some of our builders have corporate rules or limitations that prevent them from participating,” Shahinian says. “They may have their own modes of giving.”
Lakewood Ranch’s philanthropic culture dates to its earliest days. In 2000, John Clarke, then SMR’s CEO, felt that the newly minted community needed a charitable component, so he helped form the LWR Community Fund. Over the years, the organization has built an endowment that is currently valued at just over $1 million and has granted $1.4 million to local nonprofits.
The Community Fund spent its first two decades under the umbrella of the larger Manatee Community Foundation. In 2021, it established its own 501(c)(3) status. An all-volunteer board ran the nonprofit until Bookhamer became its first paid employee. “They needed someone to execute,” says the director, who moved here from Denver three years ago and has been working in the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years. “Most of the board members had regular jobs, and the organization didn’t have the manpower to put it all together for the ideas they had.”
Bookhamer’s one-year tenure has seen the addition of two new events. Last October, Wine and Giving drew 260 people to the Esplanade Golf and Country Club. In February, 300 people signed up for the first Mardi Gras 5K Run, after which came a big, family-friendly party at Waterside Place. Bookhamer and the board plan to make both of these annual events.
Last year, the organization granted $60,000 to 22 local charities, including the Friends of Lakewood Ranch Library, the Humane Society of Lakewood Ranch and Safe Children Coalition. The gifts ranged from $1,500 to $5,000. In addition, the Community Fund partnered with SMR and Lakewood Ranch Community Activities to raise an additional $10,000, which was awarded to four nonprofits directly affected by Hurricane Ian.
“I’d love to double what we gave out last year,” Bookhamer says of 2022. Builders Give Back will assist in achieving that goal. But more than the money it adds to the coffers, the program will promote an invigorated synergy between the LWR Community Fund, new residents and homebuilders.