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March 2020 Public Policy Update


Each month, SECF provides members with monthly updates on the latest public policy developments in Washington and state capitols around the region, analyzing their possible impact on the charitable sector. If you would like to see an issue featured in a future Public Policy Update, contact Jaci Bertrand, SECF's vice president of member engagement, at jaci@secf.org.


Last Chance to Register for Foundations on the Hill!

Time is running out to register for the public policy advocacy event of the year! Next week, dozens of SECF members will head to Washington to educate policymakers on the need for laws and regulations that promote charitable giving and a strong philanthropic sector – and we want you to be one of them!

Foundations on the Hill aims to inform and educate Congress about philanthropy, create visibility for philanthropy on Capitol Hill, advocate on issues affecting foundations and communities, and encourage Congress to view foundations as a resource and partner on key public policy issues.

By joining your colleagues at FOTH, you will help elected officials understand the value of philanthropy to the social and economic fabric of our country, and to stress the importance of philanthropy and government working as equal partners to ensure the continued health of our sector.

No matter your level of public policy experience, you’ll receive all the support you need – both the SECF staff and State Captains will provide guidance before and during our time in Washington.

You can be a part of the voice of Southern philanthropy – visit SECF.org now to register for Foundations on the Hill!

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Tomorrow: FOTH & Legislative Update Webinar

Join us tomorrow at 1:00pm Eastern/12:00pm Central for a special SECF Member Webinar on FOTH 2020 and the message we’ll bring to lawmakers in Washington!

Sandra Swirski, partner at the nonprofit advocacy firm Urban Swirski & Associates, will outline priorities and key talking points for those participating in Foundations on the Hill 2020 and provide an update on the latest federal legislative activities relevant to foundations and philanthropy.

You'll also learn what to expect during your meetings on the Hill and get tips on communicating effectively with members of Congress and their staff.

Click here to register!

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SECF’s 2020 Policy Agenda

Heading into Foundations on the Hill, the SECF Public Policy Committee formulated our 2020 policy agenda – the issues that will be the focus of our advocacy throughout this year. The SECF Board of Trustees approved the agenda last week. Here are the highlights:

  • Encouraging Charitable Giving: Public policy should encourage and recognize charitable giving by all Americans at all levels. We support efforts to maximize incentives for charitable giving and make them available for all Americans in order to allow greater support of critical community needs.
  • Community-driven Philanthropy: Community foundations and other place-based funders share a common mission – building permanent legacies for their communities. Donor-advised funds and other tools are among the many ways these foundations help diverse sets of donors support the communities in which they live. We oppose placing limitations on individuals and families that want to work with a place-based or community foundation, including undue or burdensome regulations that would reduce the significant philanthropic investment these individuals and families make.
  • Endowed Philanthropy: We support laws and regulations that allow public and private philanthropy to operate in perpetuity, thereby permitting charitable organizations the ability to use endowments to generate long-term responses and support to communities.
  • IRA Rollover to Donor-Advised Funds: Donor-advised funds provide an excellent vehicle for giving by individuals who want to make a sustained, long-term impact but may not have the wealth or time necessary to establish a foundation of their own. We support allowing people to rollover funds from individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to donor-advised funds as an effective way to encourage more individual charitable giving.
  • Regulatory Activity: Government agencies, including the Department of Treasury, often issue guidance and regulations that affect the day-to- day operations of foundations. We are fully engaged with relevant executive agencies, informing their decisions that impact the sector and advocating for positive regulatory mechanisms.
  • Political Activity and Philanthropy: We oppose any effort to weaken provisions of current federal tax law, including the so-called Johnson Amendment, that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing, opposing or contributing to political candidates.

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Introducing SECF’s Public Policy Framework

Last year, SECF staff and the Public Policy Committee began formulating a framework that would root our policy agenda in philanthropy’s efforts to address troubling disparities in poverty, economic mobility, health and other outcomes, as well as SECF’s work to bring greater philanthropic investment into the region.

This work resulted in the Public Policy Framework, a statement approved by the Board of Trustees last week. The framework is the rationale for all the activity outlined in our Public Policy Blueprint released last year. 

Here is the full text of the Framework as approved by the Board:


As a membership association representing more than 350 foundations in the American South, the Southeastern Council of Foundations is acutely aware of troubling disparities faced by the people and communities in this region. The South, due to numerous historical and cultural factors, lags behind the rest of the nation on economic mobility, poverty rates and health and educational outcomes, among other metrics.
Many foundations in the Southeast work hard to address these issues through sustained, long-term investment. They provide trusted leadership and guidance in their communities. They encourage efficiency and effectiveness among the organizations they support. While this work has undoubtedly helped people, it also has not moved the needle more broadly – troubling trends in poverty and economic mobility continue to threaten our region.

According to Raj Chetty’s groundbreaking research at the Equality of Opportunity Project, children born into economically disadvantaged households in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh and other Southern cities are significantly less likely to rise into the top fifth of income than children in almost any other part of the country. The overall poverty rate in the South remains higher than the national average; USDA data shows that of the 353 counties with persistently high poverty rates, 84 percent are in the South.

Unfortunately, the same factors that fuel disparities in our region also mean the philanthropic sector in the South operates at a disadvantage – we simply do not have the same level of legacy wealth as other areas of the country. We have more problems to address, yet fewer resources at our disposal. According to a study based on 2015 data, the 11 states in the SECF footprint were home to 18 percent of all private foundations, but those foundations held only 11 percent of all assets and represented around 12 percent of total giving.

While a majority of grants awarded by Southeast foundations stay within the region, more philanthropic investment is needed in the region to overcome long-lasting disparities in outcomes for the South’s people and communities.  The starkest example of this can be found in the Black Belt region of Alabama and the Mississippi Delta – home of some of the nation’s most persistent poverty. Those living there benefitted from just $41 in foundation funding per person between 2010 and 2014, compared to those in New York benefitting from $995 per person. The national average is $451 of foundation funding per person. (NCRP, As the South Grows: On Fertile Soil, 2017)

Lifting Southern Philanthropy

SECF’s public policy agenda is rooted in a desire to address both the relative lack of philanthropic assets in the region and the pressing needs of its people and communities.

Our Policy Framework will address the funding disparity in the South by:

  • Educating our sector, lawmakers at the state and national levels, and the general public about this unique disparity and its consequences.
  • Identifying allies that SECF can convene to build a strategy for overcoming this disparity by, for example, advocating for enhanced giving incentives at the state and federal levels.
  • Amplifying the voice and presence of Southern Philanthropy in policy conversations. 

This policy framework will allow lawmakers to see our agenda through a unique, Southern lens, increasing its appeal to urban and rural lawmakers in both parties. It will also further establish SECF as the leading voice on philanthropy in the South.

Our priorities, if enacted into law, would give foundations more resources to direct toward our region’s most pressing disparities. For example:

  • Continuing to call for a universal charitable deduction to incentivize giving for all Americans at all income levels, adding further support to investments already made by foundations in the region.
  • Backing efforts by community foundations to operate free of undue or burdensome regulations. As such, they provide a vehicle for charitable giving by those who want to give but may not have the wealth necessary to sustain a foundation of their own.
  • Backing legislative efforts to allow individuals to roll over funds from IRAs to donor-advised funds. That could add more to the region’s philanthropic assets, allowing for even more giving to communities and organizations that support them.

These are only a few of the ways our agenda promotes a stronger philanthropic sector in the Southeast – one that is able to do more to ensure our people and communities receive the philanthropic support they deserve and need.




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Southeastern Council of Foundations
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Mission: The Southeastern Council of Foundations serves, connects, strengthens and champions philanthropy and philanthropic infrastructure in the South.