Venny Torre – Q&A with the Foundation Chair

For the last 30 years, the Coral Gables Community Foundation has raised money for college scholarships and local charities through signature events such as the Tour of Kitchens and its annual Gala. For the past year, Venny Torre, the principal of Torre Companies, has served as the Foundation’s chair. With another year left in his two-year volunteer term, we asked him about his priorities as chair.

What surprised you as chair?

One of the things I began to understand was where we were in the life of the Foundation… We had gotten to a very successful place, but it became clear to me that not enough people understood who we are and what we do. I realized early on that we needed to be better recognized and better understood.

How did you deal with that challenge?

We needed to do a self-study – a look in the mirror – so that we understood what was important to us, why we matter, what we are good at, and how to keep growing. We needed to do a strategic study, with a professional and a survey of the community. That was done over three months [July-September], and we arrived at five goals for us to pursue for the next life of the Foundation.

What are those goals?

One of them is to become more well-known… That challenge needs to be addressed through a bunch of mass media marketing – all sorts of efforts [to reach] those folks that don’t know what we do.

What don’t they know?

One example is donor-advised funds. We manage 90 donor-advised funds [but] people don’t know that it’s one of our greatest strengths. You don’t need [to create] a foundation, you can do your charitable giving through us. We have this great office that does this great job, but people don’t know that.

Venny Torre
Illustration by Carlos Garcia-Barbon

What other goals were suggested?

That we need to grow and improve our board… In my view, the board needs to be where everyone strives to be, meaning that it’s a privilege to be there, an ambitious goal for someone to say, “I want to be on the board of the Foundation…” I want being on the board to be like wearing the green jacket when you’ve won the masters – an honor.

[Another goal is] doubling down on events… As a foundation, we do something that no other foundation does, which is run events. A lot of the foundations out there have no events. Zero. We have the Tour of Kitchens, extremely successful. We have the Gala, extremely successful. We just did the Wine Auction, extremely successful. Those take up a lot of time, [but they are] the largest source of income for us… so we are going to continue to do them, and we have more events coming.

What about the last two goals?

We need to enlarge the employee base in our office. We have been running this show for 30 years with two people, and you can’t run and grow an organization [like that]. We’ve now made it four, hiring two people during my tenure.

The fifth point is to grow the financial strength of the organization. Right now, we manage about $7 million in funds. We want to get to $50 million. There are foundations that manage $100 million, $200 million; we only want to get to $50 million in donor-advised funds.

What about the foundation’s charities?

This year we had $400,000 in giving, the best we have ever done. We gave about $100,000 to local charities and about $300,000 in scholarships [for college-bound students] …. This past year, every student that applied received a scholarship of some kind. The small- est scholarship was a $500 gift, the higher ones were $10,000 to go to colleges where they had been accepted.

And your message to the Gables?

I think the Foundation should be seen as the conscience of the community, in terms of charitable giving. And we would like to have the folks that want to continue to be philanthropic in Coral Gables to see us as the best vehicle to achieve their goals.