Forces of Philanthropy: The Most Influential Donors and Nonprofit Leaders of 2023

We gathered the region's top givers and doers for a photoshoot at the recently renovated The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

BY October 1, 2023
2023 Forces of Philanthropy
Pictured above: Lindsey Sablan, Dave Gibbons, Megan Rose, John and Carrie Cooney, Christine Homan (Photography by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

As The Ritz-Carlton, Naples reopens, ready to reclaim its place as the lead hostess for Southwest Florida fundraising events, we gather the region’s top givers and doers among the grand dame’s elegantly renovated grounds.


Christine Holman
Christine wears a Safiyaa top and pants from Marissa Collections, Chloé shoes, Yeprem earrings and ring by Dena Kemp from Saks Fifth Avenue. Styled by Amanda Miller, Beyond the Closet. (Photo by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

Christine Homan

Christine Homan didn’t expect to walk away from Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens’ 2022 Zoo Gala having named a tiger. “I didn’t even turn around,” the longtime Neapolitan says of the moment she shot her paddle in the air for the lot to name the zoo’s new resident. “I wasn’t going to put my number down … These Naples people are crazy with their bidding.”

She recalls early days in Naples with her parents and siblings in the ’70s visiting Jungle Larry’s, the zoo’s predecessor. “My mom used to ride the elephants,” Christine says. She decided to name the Malayan cat Namoh, her family’s name spelled backward. The Homan name has been prominent in Naples philanthropy over the years. Her parents donated the Frank X. and Margo S. Homan Middle School building at Saint Ann’s Catholic School, and Christine served on the board for her family’s foundation for years. But, she’s relatively new to the world of personal giving.

The Ohioan doesn’t have a set giving plan. “If I sit down and have a wonderful conversation with someone like Carrie, then I’m on board,” she says, referring to her meeting with fellow cover star Carrie Cooney at our Forces of Philanthropy photoshoot at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, which inspired Christine’s interest in STARability Foundation. In the past year, Christine created her own foundation and has given to American Cancer Society, Kids’ Minds Matter, and the Women’s Foundation of Collier County’s Women Lifting Women initiative, among others. After Hurricane Ian, when the Port Royal home she’d been renovating for two years was destroyed, she turned her attention to others and met Marissa Collections’ $50,000 match for relief efforts. “I had a place to go,” she recognized. “A lot of people didn’t have that.” 

Coming from a big family—she’s one of 52 kids and grandkids—she feels deeply for people who don’t have a home. She recently joined the leadership cabinet for Women Lifting Women, which assists unhoused senior women. The group advocates that it takes $10,000 to $12,000 to get a senior woman off the streets. “I don’t have $800,000,” Christine says, referring to the figure of about 80 unhoused women over the age of 65 recorded in Collier County. “But I can give $10,000—knowing that can turn someone’s life around is pretty impressive,” Christine says. Still, a lot of what she does is done quietly—something she learned from her father. “He was the guy leaving a $100 bill strapped to the handlebars for the guy who rode a bike to church,” she says.


Dave Gibbons
Dave wears an Emporio Armani suit and Hugo Boss shirt. (Photo by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

David Gibbons

David “Dave” Gibbons spent his career running big corporations like 3M, Perrigo Co. and Rubbermaid, so he knows a thing or two about managing finances. The New York transplant only aligns himself with nonprofits where he can see a measured impact and offers his counsel as well as his treasure. “Having been a CEO, from a business standpoint, I want to look at results,” he says.

One of the first groups he got involved with shortly after moving to Naples in 2007 was the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF). “I studied what NCEF was doing and could see they were making a real difference—I could see graduation rates improving, college attendance going up,” he adds.

Dave sees the line sheets, the impact reports from funds raised during Naples Winter Wine Festival. He sees how NCEF has provided meals to nearly 30 million children and families, how graduation rates are up 83.7 percent in Immokalee. Dave served as vice-chairman of the NCEF board for two years, then another two as chairman. Last year, he ran the online auction, which brought in $600,000 for the nonprofit.

While many local donors give along county lines, Dave goes where the cause and need take him. His son was diagnosed with osteosarcoma as a child. Dave and his wife, Patricia, were forever marked by the impact cancer has on children and their families. Motivated to ease the pain for others, in 2008, Dave became a founding trustee of Fort Myers’ Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which benefits Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. During the pandemic, he lost his wife to cancer and complications from COVID-19. When he was ready to re-engage, he came out with force, with the local American Cancer Society chapter prominently on his list of causes to support. “Last year, they committed that the funds they raised would be used for supporting Southwest Florida programs,” he says. 

You may have also seen Dave raising a paddle for Youth Haven, Artis—Naples and Gulfshore Playhouse last season. “I am tremendously impressed with the enthusiasm of the people in Southwest Florida to really pitch,” he says. “[In other places], they don’t put their heart and soul and time into it the way I see people in Naples do. What makes it even more amazing is you’re talking about people who are seasonal residents … But when they come to Naples, they have a very strong desire to give back. There’s a very strong culture of giving.”


Lindsey Sablan
Lindsey wears a Stello custom dress and Bottega Veneta earrings. (Photo by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

Lindsey Sablan

Lindsey Sablan has been thinking about philanthropy a lot lately. The WINK News anchor grew up in a Catholic, military family where faith, family and service were central themes. In her adult life, there hasn’t been much time for volunteering, with two little kids at home and a full-time job. But, she’s never stopped giving. “As journalists,  we forget how much of a platform we have,” she says. Recognizing that storytelling is her talent to give, Lindsey gives generously.

In the past few years, she’s become a face of local fundraising, emceeing more than a dozen events in season. All the time—from the prep interviews to the planning calls to the time on stage—is donated. She may be at a gala until 10 p.m., and up at 2 a.m. the next day to be in the studio in time to co-anchor WINK’s This Morning show. “At first I thought, I’m just there showing up with a fancy dress and smile,” she says. “But I started to realize how much value there is in growing awareness and getting patrons engaged.”

The gigs started during the pandemic when Baker Senior Center Naples asked her to help with their virtual gala in 2021. Other nonprofit leaders signed on, gleaning insights for their virtual pivots, and were charmed by Lindsey’s charisma and authenticity. Before long, she was emceeing a greatest-hits list, including American Cancer Society’s Bucket List Bash, Everglades Foundation’s ForEverglades Gala (for which she interviewed legendary photographer Clyde Butcher on stage) and Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens’ Zoo Gala. “It’s nerve-wracking. You know the team spends a whole year with volunteered time, getting donations, getting speakers who share what can be devastating stories,” she says. “And, it’s your job to get the crowd involved and wanting to give.”

As her kids get older, she feels the pull to get more hands-on with her community. After the 2023 Kaleidoscope luncheon with Kids’ Minds Matter, where three teenagers spoke on their struggles with mental health, Lindsey sought to get involved. She started the “Mental Health Mondays” segment on WINK with the nonprofit in May and joined their advisory board in July.

In January, she’s co-chairing JDRF’s Hope Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples with her husband, Matthew Botsford, and Dena Rae Hancock and Robert Caito. She’s using her expertise to find stories to illuminate the issue for attendees. “We’re raising money to fund a cure. How do we get people to care about research? That’s hard—peeling back the onion in that small amount of time,” she says. But digging in and telling stories is what Lindsey does best, and she gives all she has.


John and Carrie Cooney
John wears a Tom Ford suit; Carrie wears a Karen Millen suit and Chanel earrings. (Photo by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

John and Carrie Cooney

If you don’t know that Carrie Cooney created the Trailblazer Academy, STARability Foundation’s centerpiece program that offers community-based vocational training for adults with developmental disabilities, it’s probably by design. Her husband John’s firm, Stofft Cooney Architects, graces signs on landmark buildings all over Naples and plenty of event sponsorship lineups. But, the couple does most of their personal giving without pomp. “It was never supposed to be Carrie and John Cooney or Brett Cooney,” John says.

When their son Brett was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, the couple didn’t know what the term meant. “I believe he was the second child in Collier County diagnosed with autism,” John says. By the time Brett was aging out of the school system, there still wasn’t much for kids, much less adults, with disabilities. Carrie designed Trailblazer Academy, drawing from The Eden School—a national leader in education for individuals with autism, which used to be in Naples and which Brett attended— and by envisioning what she hoped for her son’s day-to-day life as an adult. “As a mom, you know what your kid needs,” Carrie says. “And, I knew that’s what I wanted Brett’s future to be—to be working in the community.” The Cooneys took the project to STARability (then known as Foundation for the Developmentally Disabled), put out a call to friends, including John’s extensive network of high-powered clients, and within four months, they’d raised $600,000. “The community really answered the call,” Carrie says. John’s proud of the organization’s growth. “The first gala seven years ago raised $150,000,” John says of the event, which rebranded into STAR Gala in 2018. “The last two drew about $3 million each and about 600 people.” 

Today, Trailblazer serves 71 members, and there’s an 83-person waitlist. Six years ago, they launched Jr. Trailblazer Academy for youths ages 14 to 22, and now, there’s a 30,000-square-foot campus underway. John’s donating the architectural services, and he’s signed up to lead the capital campaign. With his firm, John has also worked on NCEF’s headquarters, The Shelter for Abused Women & Children homes and the new Baker Senior Center building.

For the Cooneys, giving has always been important. The scope of their charity has changed over the years, but the mission remains the same—give where, when and how you can. “From the early stages when building the business and  our family, we didn’t have a lot of money to donate, but we always gave time,” John says. “Now, we’re blessed to be able to do both.” 


Megan Rose
Megan wears a skirt by PINKO, Karen Millen shirt, Jimmy Choo shoes and Jennifer Behr earrings. (Photo by Omar Cruz / Styled by Anna Ruiz)

Megan Rose

A conversation with Megan Rose will jump from Silicone Valley start-ups to Ritz-Carlton hospitality to Teddy Roosevelt. The President’s famed “Man in the Arena” speech hangs prominently in her home office: “It is not the critic who counts … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who spends himself in a worthy cause,” the poster reads. 

Megan founded Better Together, the nonprofit that works to keep families united and kids out of the foster system, in Southwest Florida in 2015. She reflects on the President’s speech often. When she’s expanding Better Together from its current presence in 20 Florida counties to the entire state and then nationally. When doubters laughed as she proposed shifting people’s idea around volunteering from giving a few hours here and there to committing themselves for months or a year. Her tenets for Better Together are deceptively simple. One: People want to help each other. Two: Churches and volunteers are powerful but untapped forces. She combined these ideas to create the organization that asks everyday individuals like you and me to open our doors to children of families in acute times of need. “We’ve had college students and young unmarried people take kids in short term,” she says. Churches serve as hubs in new markets, and help with resources like hosting job fairs. Those who can’t host a child can help with Better Together’s many initiatives, like Better Jobs, which offers job fairs and coaching, and Be the Light, which started after Hurricane Ian to distribute solar-powered lights in hard-hit neighborhoods. “Philanthropy is shifting—people don’t want to just give, they want to immerse themselves in meaningful work. And, in Southwest Florida, there are so many helpers,” she says.

Megan looks to fast-scaling Silicone Valley groups like PayPal for lessons on being nimble. “I’ve often felt like an imposter because I’m doing things differently than other nonprofits,” she says. Her numbers prove otherwise—7,132 children served (most with no state intervention), more than 5,000 volunteers recruited. She appreciates Southwest Florida’s hive mind, with the wealth of business execs that retire to the area. “I’ve benefitted so much from people here offering their perspective, skills, advice, lessons learned,” she says.

And, giving extends from Megan in every form—hands-on through the nonprofit and the children she takes in, through advocacy, and financially through the groups she and her husband, Mason, support, like Fort Myers’ Community Cooperative, Fostering Success, and Gulfshore Playhouse. “Sometimes there’s a scarcity mindset,” she says. “But, I don’t think generosity is a fixed pie—and people are so generous here.”   


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