Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise

The groundbreaking report produced in partnership with MDC

Passing Gear philanthropy seeks to engage society’s inventiveness and focus its capabilities on situations where current performance is missing the mark. It cultivates the will, imagination, and know- how to enable caring and concerned people to address contradictions between the ideals we hold and the disappointing realities we confront daily.” — Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise

Ten years ago, MDC’s report The State of the South 2007: Philanthropy as the South’s “Passing Gear,” asked a key question of the field: How can philanthropy accelerate progress toward a South that is both equitable for all its residents and competitive with other regions of the country?


To download Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise, visit StateoftheSouth.org.


The original “Passing Gear” report leaned heavily on data about the current state of the South and the trends that were then shaping its future. That data – and the recommendations made to both respond to and shape it moving forward – sparked years of conversation, deeper research and ongoing questions about philanthropy’s role throughout our region. Since then, several foundations have intentionally applied Passing Gear principles to their work, reshaping their roles and significantly transforming systems, attitudes, and outcomes.

Now, a decade later, this second iteration of the MDC “Passing Gear” report, commissioned by the Southeastern Council of Foundations and released at SECF’s 48th Annual Meeting, explores what has changed in terms of data, landscape, and philanthropic capacity and activity in our region.

Passing Gear Case Studies

Passing gear practitioners discuss their work at SECF’s 48th Annual Meeting (from left to right): Jera Stribling of the Joseph S. Bruno Charitable Foundation, Mary Thomas of The Spartanburg County Foundation, Gladys Washington of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and MDC President David Dodson.

Since the publication of MDC’s State of the South report “Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear” in 2007, foundations across the South have embraced many elements of strategic philanthropy and focused their work “upstream,” at the root causes of systemic inequities. Several SECF members and partners are among these organizations and are highlighted in this report. They include: 

  • Alabama Giving – The Alabama School Readiness Alliance
  • The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation – ForwARd Arkansas
  • The Rapides Foundation – Strategic Grantmaking Framework
  • The Spartanburg County Foundation – Spartanburg Academic Movement
  • The Duke Endowment – The Nurse-Family Partnership
  • Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation – Support for Community Development Financial Institutions 

What’s Next?

The Annual Meeting was only the beginning of the conversation around Passing Gear philanthropy. Stay tuned for details on a series of convenings to be held around the region that will offer the opportunity to learn even more about this innovative approach to giving and how funders can embrace it in their own work.

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Philanthropy as the South’s ‘Passing Gear’— Fulfilling the Promise

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