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11 States in 11 Months: Southern Philanthropy in... Alabama



Note: This post is the first of a series that will run throughout our 50th Anniversary year. Each month, we’ll focus on philanthropy in one of the 11 states in the SECF footprint, using both current and historical data while highlighting a variety of voices. Up first: Alabama.


Alabama Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Member: M.W. Smith, Jr. Foundation (joined in 1973)
Newest SECF Member: Community Foundation of East Alabama
Current SECF Members: 24



Learn more about Alabama foundations from SECF’s Southern Trends Report!


Voices From Alabama

Sue McInnish
Former Executive Director
Alabama Civil Justice Foundation

Sue McInnish recently retired after 25 years at the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation. Throughout her career, Sue not only led her foundation, but has also played a key role in the work of Alabama Giving, the statewide philanthropic network that helped lead the way in the development of the Alabama School Readiness Project, highlighted in 2017’s Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise.

SECF: Over the course of your career, how did philanthropy change in Alabama?

Sue: Over my grantmaking years, I witnessed enormous growth in philanthropy in Alabama. Part of this growth came from the increased number of foundations. Alabama gained several new community foundations as well as an increase in corporate, family and even a public foundation. ACJF is a good example of that growth as it was started by the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association (now the Alabama Association of Justice), an unusual founder drawn to philanthropy through focused giving by the member attorneys.

Most importantly, I saw philanthropy grow in its value to the state and many local communities which I see as a direct link to an increase in the quality of leadership at grantmaking entities. Philanthropy’s impact was enhanced by outstanding nonprofit advocates who highlighted our state’s many needs and expanded their work on potential solutions. We were all assisted by the increasing research in many social justice areas that were issues in our state.

SECF: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Sue: I will forever be thankful to have been a part of Alabama Giving’s advocacy for expanding quality Pre-K in our state. Many know Alabama is not at the top of many rankings (except, of course, for football), but we are now at the top of another ranking and Alabama’s philanthropic community is a large part of Alabama being on top. In 2006, only 4 percent of Alabama four-year-olds attended state funded pre-k. Alabama Giving established the Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA) and invited three other state organizations and hundreds of advocates to build a movement around full funding for pre-k. Together, we insisted it grow in numbers without sacrificing quality. Today, 33 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend one of the best pre-k classrooms in the nation and we are on track for reaching full funding in the next few years.

I am also thankful for being able to support the work of the Alabama Network of Family Resource Centers (ANFRC) from the very first FRC in Alabama through the maturity of the Network. ANFRC represents one of the nation’s most successful social service models available to families and communities. Each local FRC addressed its own community’s needs while serving families through case management, prevention services, and focusing on the family’s strengths. The Network was created by the centers to expand their capacity through joint training, research and networking and was open to all that met required standards. The Network existed through primarily volunteer support until 2012 when ACJF provided a multi-year grant to allow the Network to hire its first full-time executive director. The expanded capacity of the network has benefited the centers as well as family services through ANFRC’s many state partnerships.

Gillian Puffer
Grants Coordinator
Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation

Gillian works as grants coordinator for the Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation, a family foundation that seeks to create sustainable communities and improve the quality of life in the Birmingham metropolitan area, the Black Belt, and the State of Alabama. She joined the foundation in 2016 and is an alumna of the 2017-18 class of Hull Fellows.

SECF: What do you think is the future of philanthropy in Alabama?

Gillian: I believe that the future of philanthropy in Alabama exists in leveraging our relationships to build partnerships. For example, we know from multiple recent studies that the per capita dollars from philanthropy in this region are low compared to national averages, but we have some of the most philanthropic citizens. A lot of this individual giving is through churches and other faith-based organizations, so being able to work across these aisles is a way we can better leverage dollars for impact in our communities.

SECF: What changes do you most want to see?

Gillian: The change I would most like to see would be an increase in the dialog between government entities and private philanthropy. A false dichotomy has been created and built up that government and philanthropy are opposed to one another. I do not believe this has to be the case. Philanthropy can do things that government cannot, but the opposite is also true. Philanthropy has the ability to be more agile, but government has more power, for lack of a better word, behind it. These two advantages could be complementary if a common goal can be agreed upon. Short term goals would help develop the trust necessary for more long-term projects and could be a great way to initiate these relationships, if they are mutually beneficial to the community, the philanthropic entity and the governmental institutions involved.


Philanthropic Phactoid

Thank you to former SECF President & CEO Martin Lehfeldt for providing this and other “phactoids” about the history of philanthropy in the region!

The Black Belt region of the South was a fertile plain of rich, dark soil, some 30 miles wide, stretching for 300 miles across central Alabama and northeastern Mississippi on which pre-Civil War plantations flourished and enriched their owners. Because the plantations were worked by African-American slaves, the area’s name in post-Civil War years came to be associated with a predominantly black population dominated by daunting white racism and deeply entrenched poverty and deprivation. Against all sorts of odds a decade ago, Carol and John Zippert, activists and newspaper publishers in Greene County, Alabama, and David Wilson, an administrator of Auburn University, set in motion two initiatives that became linked and led to the formation of the Black Belt Community Foundation. It now annually raises and disburses more than $1.5 million and is active in 12 Alabama counties.

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