Inspiring Success in the Non-Profit Sector

Donna Guzzo

With art programs for youth and adults, exhibitions, classes, events and more, First Coast Cultural Center is a cultural hub for northeast Florida.

Established in 1996, the center moved in December 2023 into a new two-story, 6,000-square-foot home with a $2.2 million purchase price.

Operating a non-profit like First Coast Cultural Center is not for the faint of heart. It, like many other non-profits, takes leadership.

“You have to have a vision, and you have to try to stay ahead of the vision,” says Donna Guzzo, the center’s president and CEO.

She began her experience in non-profits more than three decades ago in her hometown of Miami and has been at First Coast Cultural Center for seven.

“I did a lot of volunteer work when I was young, and when I was in college, it just stuck with me. While I was doing it for the community, I thought why not get paid for it? So I was able to move into a paid position with the experience I had,” says Guzzo.

Still, it took more to move into a leadership role.

“Even if it’s a non-profit, whether it’s the arts, or a church, or whatever it is, you really have to have a business mindset. After everything, at the end of the day, it’s a business,” Guzzo says.

“You have to keep it alive, and you have to keep it funded so that you can continue, in our case, in bringing the arts into the life of the community.”

Guzzo adds that having a business experience and mindset helps with the bottom line: the numbers.

“You have to know how to make those numbers, how to meet or exceed your budget. A lot of folks don’t think of that when they think of non-profits.”

Fundraising is part of the equation, too. Guzzo is constantly looking for funding for the center and its programming.

“We rely on individual donors, for sure, but the second piece is government grants from the state,” she says.

“We are writing grants for the state and for the county and also asking corporations and private foundations.”

In addition to looking after finances, Guzzo, who has garnered many accolades, including being a graduate of The Jim Moran Institute Global for Entrepreneurship and Leadership, guides a small dedicated staff and many volunteers at the center.

That includes office workers, teachers and people who help at exhibitions and events.

“They’re always busy,” she says. “We cannot do what we do without them.”

Guzzo fosters teamwork by keeping staff and volunteers involved through brainstorming sessions, coffee and tea chats and surveys to gauge interest and involvement.

That’s vital in an organization where there are many moving parts.

Scores of programs are offered, as well as exhibitions and special events.

Youth art programs include music sessions, sculpture classes and art camps. An upcoming summer art camp showcases exploring galleries at the center, outdoor play and high-quality art-making techniques.

Also offered is Kick StART, an after-school art enrichment program. Here, students are exposed to master artists and practice their own art through multiple mediums.

There is also Sound Connections Music Therapy Outreach Program for children with disabilities.

Adult classes highlight oil and watercolor painting, wreath making, embroidery, guided meditation and more.

Galleries showcase ever-changing works that include paper and fabric art, paintings, textile art and others. Special events occur during the holidays and throughout the year.

“You think you are serving the community, but really, you are the one being blessed,” says Guzzo.

First Coast Cultural Center is at 6000B Sawgrass Village Circle, Ponte Vedra. Call 904-280-0614 or visit”