In March of 2003, Fort Lauderdale community leaders and hundreds of churches joined forces during Spring Break to host BeachFest, led by the late Evangelist Luis Palau, which attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees and resulted in more than 5,000 decisions for Christ. As this unprecedented event reached its crescendo after years of planning, Stephan Tchividjian, CEO and Co-Founder of the National Christian Foundation, said, “We began to ask, what has this started and how could we carry this momentum on?” That conversation led to the founding of what is now the National Christian Foundation of South Florida (NCFSF), a nonprofit organization that encourages whole-life generosity through donor advised funds. Collectively, NCFSF givers have donated more than $363.4 million to primarily Christian charities through individual donor advised funds since its inception 20 years ago. It’s the donor that advises NCFSF where and when to send the funds. Perhaps its biggest contribution, however, has been the building of relationships and collaboration among Christians within all sectors of our community that has allowed it to meet overwhelming needs and cultivate creative solutions together.
The idea was prompted by Brett Stepelton, NCFSF Co-Founder and a Stacy Foundation trustee, who was impressed by how a local community foundation had been able to rally top business leaders around secular causes and thought it would be great if there was a Christian community foundation that could do the same. “If you can bring together the churches and donors, cast vision and create unity, you can accomplish a lot and become a change agent or catalyst in the community,” said Stepelton. The Stacy Foundation brought in Bill High, from one of the largest and most successful NCF affiliates in Kansas City, as a consultant, and he helped build the original steering committee for the Community Christian Foundation of South Florida, which is now NCF South Florida.
Tchividjian said some of the people who helped shape NCF South Florida in the early years include Scott Barrett, Mark Davis, Collins Forman, Wayne Huizenga Jr., Dr. Daniel Kanell, Chip Lafferty, Mark Mansour, John Offerdahl, Gita Santangelo, Tom Shelton, Steve Shelton, Mike Pappas, Luis Chiappy and Wayne Cotton, to name a few.
The NCF Model
From this original vision, NCF South Florida has developed into an ecosystem designed to unleash whole-life generosity based on three interconnected pillars they call Invest, Equip, Unite.
Through Invest, NCF South Florida builds relationships with generous givers who invest their assets into vetted nonprofit organizations through a donor advised fund that utilizes a variety of strategic giving solutions designed to maximize the dollars given to charity while reducing personal tax burdens. And 2021 was their largest grant year ever, with over 10,000 grants sent out from the South Florida family of givers to 1,260 charities. On average, each charity received $33,500 with an average grant amount of $4,200.
Equip engages business leaders in personal and professional growth opportunities through Lifework Leadership and Convene to help them use their calling for God’s glory and the flourishing of our community. A 9-month class that inspires leaders to integrate their faith and work alongside other like-minded professionals, Lifework Leadership helps to bring greater meaning and purpose to their life’s work, and an abbreviated Lifework Journey meets one evening a month, making bite-sized versions of the content available to busy professionals. One of their newest programs, Convene offers a space for peer-to-peer and executive coaching from a Christian perspective to connect, equip and inspire Christian CEOs and business owners to grow exceptional businesses and become higher-impact leaders who honor God and enrich our community. Also soon to be launched, Amplify will be a business accelerator designed to help young businesses accelerate their growth aligned to biblical principals
Unite encourages collaboration through Church United and Mission Increase, inspiring church and nonprofit leaders to serve our community in creative ways together. Church United connects local churches together to foster evangelistic collaboration, provide for the soul care of pastors and change the perception of the Church in our communities to grow God’s Kingdom. Likewise, Mission Increase cultivates well-run nonprofits by providing professional content, coaching and consulting at no cost to ministries in an effort to strengthen local ministries and catalyze mutually beneficial relationships.
NCF South Florida has also grown to include offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach and Southwest Florida, spreading their impact in the state coast to coast.
H. Collins Forman, Jr., Esq. has served on the board of NCFSF since it was founded and feels one of the things it has brought to South Florida is a smarter giving community. “I think people are thinking more creatively about giving, and they’ve been exposed to some giving strategies that allow them to be more generous. For instance, giving out of appreciated assets as opposed to giving out of cash, which has tax advantages, puts more money to work, helps the donors and helps the charities,” said Forman. “Through Equip we’ve come alongside the local church to help disciple their people in generosity and develop leadership skills and with Unite, now all of a sudden we have pastors meeting together and they’re viewing each other as co laborers in the mission of the gospel as opposed to competitors.”
Cooperation is also being cultivated among nonprofits. Lisa May, executive director of Live the Life South Florida, a ministry that strengthens marriages and families through relationship education, said her involvement in a Convene group for nonprofits has provided opportunities to work together with other ministries that serve children and families, such as First Priority and 4KIDS.
Boca Raton Community Church Pastor Bill Mitchell, who led a real estate business for 25 years and founded CityLead, facilitates separate Convene groups for CEOs and nonprofits. “It’s really an incredible cohort of peers that comes together,” he said. While there is a spiritual element of prayer and devotion, Mitchell said the real genius of Convene is the presentation of an opportunity or challenge. As leaders share with the group, the other participants act as a board of directors giving recommendations to help them make good decisions in a godly way. “We’re all working together with some of the common issues and learning from each other, and it’s going fantastic!” Mitchell added.
As a pastor, Mitchell has also been involved in Church United, and said he feels NCF South Florida has had the most impact as a connector. “I talk to my friends and colleagues in other parts of the country, and they don’t have this collegiality; everybody kind of stays in their own lane, but we’re saying, no, we’re here to change the entire community. Maybe I can only do this part and you’re doing that part, but let’s all lock arms and do it together. And I think NCF is the impetus to put some wind under our wings and make it happen.”
Susan Kassing, a current NCFSF Board Member, said she initially became involved after watching her husband John Kassing go through the Lifework Leadership class in 2014. “John would come home and tell me about the speakers and the motivation they left, how God was working in their lives and they were bold in their witness in the workplace and community, and sometimes he would be moved to tears, so I thought, I’ve just got to take this class. He was a living testimony to the power of Lifework.”
Since she became involved with NCFSF, Kassing said she has also seen a unity that has resulted in a cohesive response to disasters and financial needs, particularly after hurricanes and the recent 100-year flood.
Early on Stepelton said, NCFSF established an angel relief fund that was instrumental in helping with hurricane relief in New Orleans that remains ongoing.
For example, When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people were suffering from poor health, lost jobs, financial and emotional strain, the relationships developed with NCF givers, Church United, Lifework, and Mission Increase allowed them to hear of and respond to needs both within our community and abroad. In addition, three restaurant owners worked together to provide meals for those in need.
After the Surfside condo collapse in 2021, NCF’s Disaster Relief and Crisis Fund was activated and over $100,000 was quickly raised and deployed to relief and recovery efforts for the victims’ families and first responders. Ministry partnerships provided a chaplaincy hub, meals and hydration for first responders as well as on-going trauma counseling for the victims’ families.
NCF South Florida has also inspired individuals to begin new ministries. For example, Former Miami Dolphins All-Pro Linebacker John Offerdahl went through Lifework Leadership in 2004 and served on the board of NCFSF from 2009 -2014. His involvement helped plant the seed for development of the Gridiron Grill-Off Food, Wine and Music Festival that has raised funds to assist with foster care and family homelessness through the Offerdahl Handoff Foundation and its subsidiary Home Team Advantage Restorative Housing.
Lifework Leadership alum and former NCF relationship manager JoAnne Daudt, Esq. founded StrikeForce 421 with other women she met through Lifework Leadership. A community of pledge partners who pool their resources in order to have a greater impact, StrikeForce 421 is a giving circle whose partners believe in radical, life-changing generosity. Last year, StrikeForce 421 reached their God-sized goal of giving away their 1 Millionth Dollar to Christian ministries in South Florida, shining the light of Christ a little brighter in our region.
Laurie Farquhar, who is a StrikeForce 421 board member and NCFSF President, said StrikeForce 421 also has an impact on the women personally. “They are experiencing the joy of giving in a whole new way…In some cases they’re volunteering at the ministry, there’s a sense of community, and it’s transformed their lives as well as the ministries they’re benefitting.”
The impact of NCF South Florida is immeasurable. Their mission is mobilizing resources by inspiring biblical generosity so that ultimately every person is reached and restored through the love of Christ.
Tchividjian illustrated that well when he said, “The wise men of old, at the apex of their God-sized adventure, presented their precious gifts to our Lord Jesus as an act of worship. Generosity is more than making a grant. Generosity is a response to our understanding of God’s greatest gift to us, His Son.”
That’s the heart of NCF South Florida. For more information, visit ncfgiving.com/southflorida/
Read more articles by Shelly Pond at goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/