Here are just three local charities setting the example for doing the most with your donations.
When you give to a charity, want to know your money is doing real good for people or animals in need — not lining an executive’s pockets. Using data from nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator, we’re highlighting three of the local organizations that spend the most on the programs and services they give to the community and giving you an inside look at the unique ways they’re making an impact.
ZOOTAMPA AT LOWRY PARK
87.8 percent of budget goes to the cause
Formerly the Lowry Park Zoo, ZooTampa is recognized by the state as a center for conservation and biodiversity and is operated by the nonprofit Lowry Park Zoological Society. Participating in 116 Species Survival Programs to protect animals like African penguins and Malayan tigers, the zoo’s main philanthropic effort is conservation. “By continuing to care for these animals on the brink of extinction, we are helping preserve these species for future generations on a global scale,” says ZooTampa spokeswoman Andrea Alava. “Our hope is that guests are inspired to take action to protect and preserve wildlife.”
One of the zoo’s most pressing concerns is with the preservation of Florida’s manatees. In addition to teaching guests how to avoid causing harm to the animals with boats, fish hooks and litter, ZooTampa is home to the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center — the first facility of its kind dedicated to the care of critically injured, sick and orphaned manatees. Open since 1991, the center has treated more than 400 manatees and is in the midst of updating the water filtration system, allowing the care team to treat increasingly difficult cases. All other species at ZooTampa are treated at the Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Clinic, which is the only facility in the United States to have earned accreditation with the American Association of Animal Hospitals twice for meeting or exceeding the organization’s list of 900 standards.
Members of ZooTampa’s veterinary and conservation teams often take their expertise beyond Tampa. They have lent resources and knowledge to organizations like the African Sanctuary Alliance to support care for African apes, the Puerto Rican Crested Toad Recovery Program and the state of Florida to preserve Florida panthers. “Zoo Tampa is prepared to lead the way in saving species,” Alava says.
Where to find them:
1101 W. Sligh Ave. | (813) 935-8552 | zootampa.org
SPECIAL OPERATIONS WARRIOR FOUNDATION
87.6 percent of budget goes to the cause
Born out of tragedy, the Tampa-based Special Operations Warrior Foundation provides children of fallen special operations forces across the country the chance to reach their full potential. In 1980, Operation Eagle Claw failed to rescue the 52 Americans held hostage in Tehran, leaving eight servicemen dead and 17 children without a father. The surviving operation team members made a promise to fund the education of those children, a decision that has had a decades-long impact. “Thirty-eight years later, those 17 children have grown into 1,285 children surviving over 1,000 special operations service members who have lost their lives,” says SOWF community and business relations manager Aly Olson.
Following the death of a service member, the organization will help fund and support his or her children’s education from preschool through college and everything in between — including covering the full cost of tuition, housing, books, travel and other expenses at any college to which the student is accepted. “The Special Operations Warrior Foundation will fund preschool and early education programs, and we will provide and fund tutors from kindergarten forward, no matter if the student is having trouble learning to read or is trying to get their A- to an A in their AP History class for college applications,” Olson adds. The foundation also assists with the full range of college prep, including ACT and SAT materials, college visits and applications. This culminates in a weeklong course at the University of Tampa that brings SOWF students from across the country to get ready for college. Once their freshman year begins, the foundation continues checking in, even providing tutors if necessary.
In 2006, the foundation expanded their mission to encompass seriously injured special operations service members. As soon as a member is wounded in action, a $5,000 check is sent overnight to help their family get to their injured loved one as soon as possible. Since 1980, SOWF has provided $62.8 million in grants and funding for the children of fallen troops, with 322 scholarship recipients graduating from college through 2017.
Where to find them:
1137 Marbella Plaza Drive (813) 805-9400 | specialops.org
HILLSBOROUGH EDUCATION FOUNDATION
91.4 percent of budget goes to the cause
Particularly in Hillsborough County, education funding — and the gaps within it — is a hot topic right now. The nonprofit Hillsborough Education Foundation was founded specifically to fund resources for students and teachers that don’t make it into the district budget, like supplies, mentoring, scholarships, teacher recognition and support for career centers. One of the foundation’s largest initiatives is the Teaching Tools Store, where teachers from Hillsborough County’s Title I schools can pick up free school supplies for their students; this past school year, Hillsborough Education Foundation president Kim Jowell says the foundation distributed $3 million in supplies. “Teachers say this resource is making a difference in their classrooms,” she adds. “Their students are more prepared to learn, and they have seen increased classroom participation.”
In the 2017-18 year, the foundation funded 78 creative or innovative learning projects throughout the school district — totaling almost $108,000 in support — and nearly 300 scholarships, ranging from $1,000 grants to four-year scholarships. Donors to the foundation have a significant amount of say in where their money goes, with options to choose donation categories or specific projects and scholarships to fund. “We are happy to work with individual donors who would like to choose the exact project they donate to,” Jowell says.
The Hillsborough Education Foundation also awards Take Stock in Children scholarships, which provides support and guidance for students potentially at risk of dropping out from the time they are in middle or early high school through college. Students in the program are paired with both a mentor and success coach who monitor and track their progress throughout high school; after graduation, students receive one of four different college scholarships. “There are about 375 HCPS students in that program right now, and many of them will be the first in their family to go to college,” Jowell says.
Because of the growing need for the foundation’s services, the scale of what the HEF can do each year depends heavily on the donations they receive. Jowell says support from the community and local businesses is vital to the foundation’s work. “Community partnerships are infused in everything we do,” she adds. “Every business should be investing in our students and in education. It’s vital to our community’s future workforce.”
Where to find them:
2306 N. Howard Ave. (813) 574-0260 | educationfoundation.com