Introducing the Rural Philanthropy Analysis Project

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Campbell University's website. We're sharing it here due to the strong interest among SECF members in rural philanthropy, as well as the author's strong ties to Southern grantmakers.

I am excited to welcome you to become part of Campbell University’s new Rural Philanthropy Analysis (RPA) project.* The RPA is taking a deep look at rural philanthropy – foundation behavior and practice – around the country that is helping rural communities move forward for the health and well-being of all their residents.

For nearly 20 years, I have been involved in the practice and study of rural philanthropy. At no time previously has the interest in rural philanthropy been as strong as now. Some of this interest is undoubtedly stimulated by the recent elections and the accompanying sense that the domain of rural America has been excluded from the public discourse. Philanthropy is no different. Within hours of the results of last year’s presidential election being finalized, I received a call from a national philanthropic publication and a separate call from a national foundation wanting to know more about how they could “learn about rural.”

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Bar Foundations: Partners in Philanthropy

Three years ago, the Georgia Bar Foundation (GBF) applied for and received a grant, funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, to expand our involvement in the local philanthropic community. The plan included partnering with SECF to raise awareness of bar foundations and their grantees, to promote greater understanding of the importance of civil indigent legal services, and to nurture relationships with other foundations. In essence, the grant supported a coming out party for the Georgia Bar Foundation among the many foundations that comprise Georgia’s philanthropic community.

SECF helped introduce us to its members so they would know who we are, who our grantees are and what we are trying to accomplish. SECF helped us create a webinar, “Funding Civil Legal Aid to Advance Your Grantmaking Goals” and an online tool kit, “Funding Civil Legal Aid,” that provides a way for state bar foundation members to spotlight their states statistically in great detail.

One of the outcomes of this initial grant was other foundations’ being more aware of the importance of access to justice in their states and the nation. Another important outcome was the realization of how sophisticated and knowledgeable our SECF membership is and how much I have learned, and still need to learn, from them. Perhaps the most important outcome, however, was the opportunity for bar foundations to discuss becoming partners with other foundations in attacking our mutual problems.

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Resolution & Transformation

Editor's Note: We wanted to share this item from one of our members, the Robins Foundation, a family foundation in Virginia. You can view the original item on the foundation's website.

Hate has no place in our work.

Many of us have been saddened, confused and angered by recent events highlighting the fractures in our society and community fabric. The fissures created by hate highlight the need for more dialogue and more engagement, not less. We value love, patience, inclusion and teamwork. We value diverse voices and diverse perspectives.

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Helping Caribbean Islands Recover from a Devastating Hurricane Season

As anyone who lives in the Southeast knows, hurricanes can cause massive devastation and disruption. Streets and homes flood, power disappears, cellular networks go down and basic necessities are suddenly in short supply.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma represented a 1-2 punch, hitting communities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In their wake, many foundations stepped up, creating or contributing to funds to fuel relief efforts that will last long after these storms fade from the headlines.

Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen in the past week, this hurricane season’s impact has spread beyond the Southeast. Many island nations and U.S. territories in the Caribbean, which were already hit hard by Harvey and Irma, were also dealt another blow by Hurricane Maria. Some places, like Barbuda, were rendered nearly uninhabitable. In other places, particularly Puerto Rico, residents are facing the possibility of weeks or even months without electricity.

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Reading Between the Lines: The GOP Tax Reform Plan

Editor’s Note: Sandra Swirski and Sara Barba of the Washington, D.C., advocacy firm Urban Swirski & Associates offer regular analysis of public policy developments of interest to Southern grantmakers – reading between the lines so you don’t have to.

As you may have seen, on Wednesday the White House, House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee released a new tax reform document that is intended to serve as the template for tax writers when drafting tax reform legislation. The short version? There wasn’t a lot of new information. But it was what wasn’t said that was truly revealing – and disappointing. This week, we’ll read between the lines of the framework to shed some light on what it might mean for the charitable sector.

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Reading Between the Lines: A Final Push on Health Care

Editor’s Note: Sandra Swirski and Sara Barba of the Washington, D.C., advocacy firm Urban Swirski & Associates offer regular analysis of public policy developments of interest to Southern grantmakers – reading between the lines so you don’t have to.

You may have noticed recently that health care has become the centerpiece of conversations in Washington… again. Earlier this year, in July, the Senate tried and failed to pass a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and most folks in Washington thought Republicans were done trying to gut the health care law. Then, last week, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) revived the effort (pun intended).

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Natural Disasters Prompt Difficult Questions for Funders

I am sitting here in my office in Nashville, Tennessee, surrounded by a steady rain that represents the remnants of Irma. No likelihood of flooding here, but definitely a reminder of the power of water – either via floods or hurricanes – and the devastation that it can bring.

SECF’s footprint covers the 11 states that are arguably hardest hit by hurricanes domestically. Last year, Florida and the Carolinas faced Hurricane Matthew, Louisiana saw vast parts of the state devastated by flooding, and Georgia has been hit by rare winter weather. Until just this past week, it had been years since Florida took a direct hurricane hit. That changed radically this past weekend.

While reports of destruction following Hurricane Irma are still coming in, we know a hurricane and subsequent flooding can cause protracted power outages, water quality concerns, infrastructure losses – roads, hospitals, public health systems – and massive damage to homes, roofs, and community structures.

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Hurricane Irma Update

Update (3:30pm, Monday, Sept. 11): The SECF offices will remain closed on Tuesday, September 12. Staff will be working remotely and remain available to respond to member requests. We hope everyone is safe and dry!

Original post

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Florida and elsewhere in the region who have been affected by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall over the weekend.

Due to the severe weather that Irma is expected to bring to the Atlanta area, the SECF offices will be closed on Monday, September 11. All staff remain available by e-mail to respond to member requests, including those seeking information on how to respond to the storm.

If you would like to help provide medium- and long-term support, please consider a donation to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy 's Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund.

We will provide further updates as needed. SECF is also working with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy on programming for members interested in helping with relief and recovery. Please watch, our social media accounts, and your e-mail for further details.

Responding to Hurricane Irma: Webinar and Relief Funds

Irma, now a tropical storm after making landfall as a hurricane, continues to hit Florida, Georgia and other parts of the Southeast with heavy rainfall and damaging winds. While it will be several days before the damage can be assessed, grantmakers are already preparing to respond to needs within their communities. Learn more by reading the Center for Disaster Philanthropy's (CDP) Hurricane Irma Disaster Profile.

SECF has partnered with CDP and the Council on Foundations to present a webinar on how funders can help with response and relief. The webinar is scheduled for 3:00pm (ET) on Thursday, September 14. You can register now at CDP’s website.

Several SECF members have established relief funds that are now accepting donations:

Impact Investing: Toward Impact Consensus

Editor's Note: The following post comes courtesy of Brian Cayce, vice president of investments at GrayGhost Ventures, an Atlanta-based impact investing firm. Brian is a member of the steering committee of the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative, which has partnered with SECF to present Impact Investing 101 for Foundation Executives and Trustees on Tuesday, September 19 – view details and register here!

A prevailing narrative has developed that impact investing offers investors pre-defined financial returns. This has many in the philanthropic community confused whether impact investing is about the needs of investors or the needs of the communities which their funding seeks to benefit. Indeed, the more recent debate has framed the discussion as one in which investors attain nothing less than market-rates of return for their impact investments.[1] However, impact investing was originally conceived to improve the lives of others; that impact investing could also deliver financial returns to investors was a means to an end.[2]

For decades, the financial instruments used to improve the lives of people living in poverty included making grants to nonprofit organizations, or possibly offering below-market-rate loans instead of grants to support low-income housing. The microfinance movement dramatically expanded access to credit for people living in poverty. Gradually, new financial instruments coupled with innovative business models could benefit marginalized communities.[3]

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Reading Between the Lines: POTUS Strikes Deal with Dems

Editor’s Note: Sandra Swirski and Sara Barba of the Washington, D.C., advocacy firm Urban Swirski & Associates offer regular analysis of public policy developments of interest to Southern grantmakers – reading between the lines so you don’t have to.

September was shaping up to be a busy month in Washington, with a to-do list including disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey, a bill to fund the government after September and raising the debt ceiling – all even before Hurricane Irma began bearing down on Florida. But it seems President Trump temporarily checked some of those items off Republicans’ list on Wednesday when he made a short-term deal with Democratic congressional leaders to take care of all of the above for three months.

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Essential Conversations

I consider private philanthropy to hold the greatest potential to creating and ensuring a just society. While philanthropy does not provide the greatest resource – recognizing the outsize investment the public sector does and should play to drive equity and outcomes – it has always possessed unparalleled opportunity to catalyze and advance the essential conversations, work and investments to change conditions that keep folks poor, powerless and silent.  

A few weeks ago, I posted the following blog on my Facebook page. I have worked at a foundation for more than 16 years, yet in this post I speak not as a philanthropic professional but rather as an African American in America. Sharing this post within the SECF family, I recognize that I have a unique advantage of speaking to an audience that many don’t get to speak to – colleagues, many of whom have become lifelong friends. I present it with an appeal to do the disciplined thinking that we have been trained to do… to hear… to ask not just “what” but “why”… to seek truth… to innovate… to right the scales.

All around us communities are exploding and imploding, creating and falling into breaches that threaten the whole. If philanthropy is, as I believe, the force that can be the change, we must be brave enough and humble enough to search for solutions within and without, that build our understanding and increase our impact.

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Reading Between the Lines: POTUS Leans in on Tax Reform

Editor’s Note: Beginning this week, Sandra Swirski and Sara Barba of the Washington, D.C., advocacy firm Urban Swirski & Associates will offer regular analysis of public policy developments of interest to Southern grantmakers – reading between the lines so you don’t have to.

On Wednesday, President Trump kicked off his administration’s full-throated support for tax reform, seeming to position it as a silver bullet to shake off sluggish growth and kick the country’s economy into a higher gear. As has been the case for several months, policy details were scarce – and there was no mention of changes to the charitable or standard deductions.

While his speech wasn’t long on specifics, there were hints at what is to come if you listened closely. Reading (and listening) between the lines, we heard three new, notable developments about where tax reform is heading.

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Investing in HOPE: The Blueprint for Reforming Child Welfare in Georgia

According to the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT assessment, Georgia ranked 42nd among all states in child well-being, pointing to a need for greater investment in child welfare. To help address this crisis, Georgia’s child welfare system is teaming up with nonprofits, the philanthropic sector, businesses and communities to create a place where people share a vision of safety and success for every child – a State of Hope.

Last week, in collaboration with the Georgia Grantmakers Alliance, Casey Family Programs and SECF, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services met with more than 30 local funders to share its vision for improving the lives of children and families in crisis. The meeting sought to support local philanthropic leaders who are seeking a better understanding of the state of children and families in Georgia and to cultivate opportunities for public-private partnership. This convening included a discussion with Division Director Bobby Cagle and other senior division leaders, as well as Stephanie Blank, the chair of the governor’s Child Welfare Reform Council. 

Because of the increasing challenges for families – including substance abuse, poverty and unemployment – and the demands on families, Georgia has experienced an increase in the number of children and youth who have come to the attention of the Division of Family and Children Services. Therefore, building and strengthening public-private partnerships at the state level and at the regional level is critical.

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Statement on This Weekend’s Events in Charlottesville

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." — Nelson Mandela

We are deeply troubled and saddened by this weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia. We mourn the loss of life – Heather Heyer, 32, the woman protesting against hatred and bigotry who was killed by a man driving a car into the crowd, and two Virginia State Police officers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40, who died in a tragic helicopter accident while on duty assisting in Charlottesville. At least 35 other people have been injured. We offer our deepest condolences, as well as our thoughts and prayers, to the families and loved ones of all of the victims.

We strongly condemn the hateful ideology that led to this weekend’s events. White supremacy, extremism of any kind, and domestic terrorism have no place in our society. We will continue to oppose it and will not give it cover, oxygen nor respectability. The Southeastern Council of Foundations supports efforts that unite people of all backgrounds, races, gender, and identity through dialogue, love of humankind, cooperation and understanding around shared values. SECF stands ready to support our members in the Commonwealth who, in the weeks and months ahead, may be called upon to help the community heal.

Meet the 2017-18 Class of Hull Fellows

Developing the next generation of leaders in Southern Philanthropy is central to SECF’s mission. At the heart of this work is our Hull Fellows Program, which has graduated more than 300 people – many of whom are now CEOs, senior executives and engaged trustees at their organizations.

Today, we’re excited to announce the next group of men and women who will enter into this transformative program. The 2017-18 class of Hull Fellows represents the full diversity of SECF’s membership. The 24 fellows shown below will soon begin a year-long program that will explore the latest trends and best practices in the field, the history of the South and its philanthropic development and the major issues facing foundations today.

As with any SECF program, connections are central to the Hull Fellows experience. Each Fellow will be paired with an experienced mentor that will serve as a source of knowledge and wisdom, offering their own insights on how to lead in the world of philanthropy. The class will also develop long-lasting relationships among themselves, resulting in a peer network that will benefit them for the rest of their careers. 

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Foundation Leaders Offer Ideas for Charitable Expansion – and Washington is Listening

Last week, several foundation leaders were not dissuaded by nearly 100 degree temperatures and high humidity as they set out to meet with key legislators and tax staffers to make the case for expanding the charitable deduction for all Americans.

Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY), Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), and tax staff from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office listened intently, encouraged open discussion and welcomed our input and advice.

In fact, we were so buoyed by the reception to our ideas and their willingness to engage that we were perfectly primed for a highly-anticipated session with Vice President Pence, the final meeting of the day. Even if we had scripted it ourselves, it wouldn’t have been as significant or momentous as it was.

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Help Put Southern Philanthropy – and Your Foundation – On the Map

In 2016, SECF teamed up with Foundation Center to release the Southern Trends Report – a comprehensive look at giving in our region. This year, we’re working to update the Southern Trends Report with new data on giving by Southeastern foundations.

Like any report, it’s only as good as the data that goes into it – and that’s why we’re encouraging all SECF members to Get on the Map by joining the eReporting program with Foundation Center. Grants data that is submitted through eReporting is fed into the Foundation Maps platform, which is the driving force behind such interactive sites as,, and our very own Southern Trends Report. 

The more foundations we have participating in eReporting, the more reliable our sample becomes and the more confident we can be in drawing conclusions or predicting trends from the data.

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Three Lessons Learned at Community Foundation Boot Camp

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Community Foundation Boot Camp presented by SECF and the Florida Philanthropic Network. As a practitioner transitioning from the world of private philanthropy to the world of community foundations, nothing could’ve been more timely. A training that summarizes the history of the field, gets me acquainted with the “art” of grantmaking, and expands my network to 40 new colleagues in the span of two days – sign me up, please! The training was also made worthwhile by a faculty that represented some of the most respected and experienced professionals in the field.

I’ll share three quick things I learned during my experience at Boot Camp:

Lesson 1 – Boot Camp really means Boot Camp

Like any good survey course you might take in college, this training really took our cohort through a substantial amount of content while emphasizing only the key things we needed to know. From a syllabus perspective, our units spanned governance, investments and everything in between. The fast-paced nature of the training kept us engaged and on our toes and truly maximized our two days together.

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Endowments and Foundations in a Low Interest Rate Environment

In December 2016 and January 2017, Associated Grant Makers (the regional association of foundations and grantmaking organizations in Massachusetts) partnered with Fiduciary Trust on a survey to research how foundations, endowments and other nonprofits have been affected by the low interest rate environment.

The results of this survey are now out. On June 19, my colleagues from Fiduciary Trust – Joel Mittelman (Vice President, Endowments and Foundations) and Stacy Mullaney (Vice President & Chief Fiduciary Officer) – joined me in presenting findings from the survey which received 236 responses from nonprofit organizations including corporate, family, public and private foundations as well as other nonprofits from across the U.S. From the results, we shared insights on recommended best practices covering areas of fundraising, investing, grantmaking, spending and board governance. 

Looking back over the last 50 years, we have been in an unprecedented extended period of low interest rates. Given that we cannot change the circumstances, there are smart, informed ways to move forward – finding strategic approaches to operating in this environment. Particularly for trustees and others reliant on volunteers, sharing best practices and providing informed, professional perspectives can help you be more strategic in your work. Also in this particularly challenging time of low interest rates, there is an even smaller margin for error.

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