Sarah Owen, who rebranded the Southwest Florida Community Foundation into Collaboratory while overseeing the creation of its Midtown Fort Myers home and a revamped mission statement, is stepping down from one of the region’s largest nonprofit organizations.
Over the past 12 years, Owen built Collaboratory both as an organization and as a place. She presided over the transformation of a 1920s segregated train station into its current home at 2031 Jackson St. with financial assistance from the city of Fort Myers.
During her time, the organization’s assets grew from about $52 million to about $180 million. Collaboratory routinely grants $6 million to $10 million a year in donations to other regional nonprofit organizations. Owen was making $393,000 per year, according to the organization’s 2019 tax form.
“First, I am a proponent of nonprofit leaders being paid equally to people being paid in organizations in the for-profit world,” Owen said of her salary. “Secondly, I’m not making this decision based on that. That’s not why I’m making the decision.”
Owen has yet to announce her next move, but she told Gulfshore Business she would remain in the area and remain committed to Collaboratory’s goals and mission she helped to write in June 2021.
That’s when Collaboratory pledged within 18 years to solve Southwest Florida’s social problems such as homelessness, unaffordable housing, mental illness, institutional racism and more.
“The eventual goal will be reached,” Owen said. “It’s going to happen. And I see the dedication of so many people in our community, our staff and our board included. It will be reached. I won’t be involved officially, but my commitment to the big idea, to solving the problems, hasn’t wavered at all.”
Collaboratory called it the “Greatest Problem Solving Initiative in American History” and partnered with other area nonprofits.
“Me leaving has no indication about how I feel about the big idea,” Owen said. “I actually believe in it now more than ever, and I’m super excited about what the new leadership will bring.”
Owen will remain on the job until the end of the fiscal year in June, assisting the board of directors with the leadership transition.
“One thing I can immediately say, is she has done an outstanding job,” said Aysegul Timur, chair of the board of trustees at Collaboratory. She is also a vice president and vice provost at FGCU. “She has built such a strong organization with such a strong team. We really appreciate her leadership.
“She has put together such a great, great team. I think our momentum as an organization will continue. That shows her great leadership in terms of planning and in terms of putting things in place. We’ll definitely miss her very much. But at the same time, she is leaving the organization with a very strong team.”
Jeannine Joy, the president and CEO of the United Way of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, said her organization has been a beneficiary of Owen’s leadership.
“Sarah has led the way on innovation in the nonprofit sector for our local community,” Joy said in a news release. “She has inspired us to think about our impact and delivery of services. Working with Sarah over the years has made us all better leaders and better collaborators, and I wish my friend the best in this next chapter of her career.”