Engage - The SECF Blog


SECF's Blog

Engage, SECF’s blog, is a space for SECF members, staff and partners to share their thoughts on the latest trends and best practices in philanthropy. Engage is also used for important announcements about upcoming SECF events and programs.

Do you have a story or insight you’d like to share with our members on Engage? Contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at david@secf.org or at (404) 524-0911 to discuss your idea.

Member Highlight: Martin Lehfeldt and Jamil Zainaldin

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Last week's 50th Annual Meeting also served as the release party for The Liberating Promise of Philanthropy: Stories of Grant-Makers in the South, the new book by former SECF President Martin Lehfeldt and Georgia Humanities President Emeritus Jamil Zainaldin that chronicles the history of philanthropy in the region, from the Civil War to the present day.

Ahead of the book's release, Martin and Jamil answered questions about their work in an interview with the book's publisher, The Storyline Group.

Q: What is The Liberating Promise of Philanthropy about?

Martin Lehfeldt: As the title suggests, it is about grant-makers (i.e., philanthropic foundations) that have been active in the South -- Northern-based ones and, later, those indigenous to the South.

Q: For your purposes, what constitutes the South?

Jamil Zainaldin: Eleven states that were formerly part of the old Confederacy: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Q: How many grantmaking foundations are there in the South today?

Lehfeldt: About 16,000, with combined assets of about $100 billion.

Q: What prompted you to write the book?

Lehfeldt: David Hammack, one of the foremost historians of philanthropy, was compiling a book about foundation activity in various regions of the United States. He asked us to contribute a chapter about the South, which did appear in his book American Philanthropic Foundations: Regional Difference and Change (Indiana University Press, 2018).

We felt there was enough material to merit a full-length book on the topic. When the SECF and the Georgia Humanities Council (a grant-making nonprofit affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities) expressed interest in sponsoring a history-oriented book about Southern philanthropy, we were off and running.

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An Artist's Interpretation of the 50th Annual Meeting

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


If you joined us last week in Atlanta for our 50th Annual Meeting, you probably noticed Ross Boone, either in the back of the main ballroom or in the outside foyer, sketching away, capturing key moments from our general sessions and thoughts from SECF members on how the organization has helped them and their hopes for the future.

These sketches, known as visual recordings, are the specialty of The SketchEffect, an Atlanta-based company we partnered with for this year's Annual Meeting. Today, we're excited to share the final versions of these recordings with you. We also want to give a special thank you to Northern Trust, whose sponsorship allowed us to capture this year's meeting in such a unique, fun way.

Want to see the real things? Come by our office sometime soon -- several of them will be mounted on our walls!

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50th Annual Meeting Session Materials Now Online

Category: Annual Meeting, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


All SECF members now have access to presentations and handouts from our 50th Annual Meeting held last week in Atlanta. Whether you were able to join us or not, you can benefit from the information shared by philanthropic leaders, experts and thought leaders in breakout sessions and from our plenary stage.

You can access these materials, as well as our recap of the meeting and a gallery of images, from our 50th Annual Meeting webpage. This page will also be updated soon to include videos of Opening Keynote Isabel Wilkerson, our Founders Circle Award ceremony, the debut of SECF's Equity Framework and plenary sessions featuring Andy Goodman, Philippe Cousteau, Jr., and a panel conversation on philanthropy's ability to support nonprofit local media.

Please note that you will need to login in order to access session materials. If you believe materials are missing, please contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at david@secf.org.

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SECF50 Celebrates the Past, Marks Turning Point in Journey Toward Equity in the South

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


After more than two years of planning by SECF staff and members, the 50th Annual Meeting did not disappoint, bringing more than 1,000 people together in Atlanta to mark five decades of philanthropic excellence in the South and begin writing a new chapter with equity as its foundation.

Inspiring opening and closing keynotes created an arc that grounded the 50th Annual Meeting in both the history of the region and the challenges and opportunities facing it today. Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, opened up the Annual Meeting by discussing the Great Migration of African-Americans from the region to escape Jim Crow and the terror of lynching, yet facing other forms for racism upon arriving in the North.

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Katharine Wilkinson

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Conversations around climate change typically revolve around reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels – a big idea requiring massive changes to the globe’s energy infrastructure.

While there’s no doubt that switching to renewable sources of energy is critical to stabilizing temperatures, it’s also not an area where philanthropy, especially small and medium-sized funders, is able to make much of an impact.

But what about bike paths? Or educating girls in developing countries? Or preserving coastal wetlands?

All of these ideas, and many others that are regularly the focus of philanthropic investment, are tools to help address climate change. They’re all among the 100 solutions put forward by Project Drawdown, a climate change mitigation project that shines a light on the many ways humanity can reduce its carbon footprint.

Katharine Wilkinson, vice president of communications and engagement at Project Drawdown, will highlight some of these strategies, and how foundations can help promote them, at this year’s Annual Meeting.

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Shan Arora

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


The 50th Annual Meeting includes some new items on the agenda, including a series of intimate Salon Dinners on Thursday night that will allow small groups of attendees to explore key issues and converse with thought leaders at unique locations throughout Atlanta.

One of those venues, the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, is meant to inspire change across the entire Southeast. Built to the world’s most rigorous sustainable design and performance standard for buildings, it will harvest more energy than it uses on site through renewable sources and collect, treat and reuse more water than it needs on an annual basis.

The building, located on the Georgia Tech campus, opened in September, marking a significant achievement for Shan Arora, the building’s inaugural director. In a recent article reflecting on the building’s opening, Arora focused on how it can promote health and happiness.

“The first thing visitors typically notice is the amount of wood -- a natural material known to have a calming effect on humans. Or else it’s the daylight and the view of trees through the very windows that are letting the light in,” he wrote. “For most people, it’s only a matter of time before a relaxed smile spreads across their face.”

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Anne Wallestad

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Of all the relationships within a foundation, the one between trustees and the CEO may be the most critical. Funding decisions, operations, culture, mission and vision can all be affected by how a board and a top executive work together – or don’t.

BoardSource, the sector’s leading voice on nonprofit board leadership, focused on this relationship in last year’s report, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent. At this year’s Annual Meeting, BoardSource President & CEO Anne Wallestad will lead trustees in a conversation around the report’s findings and explore how they can build better relationships with foundation executives.

Developing a strong and effective board, Wallestad has argued, is about more than expertise in grantmaking or managing an endowment. Great board leadership, she has said, requires purpose, values, flexibility and – once those qualities are established – building power and influence.

“By defining your core purpose, you’re able to get very clear on what’s most important in terms of your work -- what’s absolutely central in terms of what you seek to accomplish, as well as what’s not,” Wallestad said at BoardSource’s 2017 Leadership Forum. “Defining your core purpose, and doing so with the full engagement and participation of your board, unlocks new clarity, meaning, and forward momentum, and is a critical first step in unleashing the full leadership potential of your organization.”

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: John Thornton

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Local news outlets have seen precipitous declines in audience and circulation since the emergence of the Internet – a downward spiral that accelerated significantly following the economic crash that began in 2008.

Yet in 2009, with the country still mired in the worst downturn since the Great Depression, venture capitalist John Thornton decided to make a big investment in local news by raising funds – including $1 million of his own – to launch the Texas Tribune.

Did Thornton see a business opportunity where others didn’t? Did he believe there was still money to be made in local news?

Not exactly.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a for-profit model out there,” Thornton told The Austin Chronicle in 2009. “It’s just not a good business, and it never will be again.”

What it could be, however, is an incredible opportunity for philanthropic investment, especially for funders interested in promoting civic engagement and a strong civil society.

“I really did become passionate about this idea that an informed society, a functioning democracy, requires public service journalism,” 

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Daranee Petsod

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Just as the treatment of immigrants, asylum-seekers and other refugees has emerged as a regular topic in the news, in the halls of Congress and in the race for president, it has also risen as an area of concern for philanthropy in the Southeast and beyond.

Fortunately, foundations seeking to support these populations, or deepen their existing work, have a go-to resource available to them: Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, led by Daranee Petsod, the organization’s president. 

At this year’s Annual Meeting, attendees will be able to hear from Petsod in person. “How Did We Get Here on Immigration?”, a session set for the meeting’s first day, will help participants understand the history of immigration in the United States and how it shapes and informs current-day practices.

In a recent letter addressing several recent news stories focused on immigrants – ICE raids in Mississippi, the ongoing detention crisis at the Southern border, and mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, that targeted Latinx people – Petsod urged foundations to make support for immigrant families an ongoing part of their regular grantmaking.

“Add funding for rapid response to your overall annual grantmaking budget,” she wrote. “Having readily available funds for this purpose will allow you to make grants quickly when these events occur, particularly outside of your geographic area, issue focus, or grantee pool.”

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50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Rhonda Broussard

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


While many foundations these days have made equity a greater priority, not all of them are starting from the same place. Some are still in a learning phase, others are ready to act, and others have already done equity-based work, but are looking to expand further.

At this year’s Annual Meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to hear about the equity journeys of their peers and, no matter where their organization is starting from, explore how to increase its “equity footprint.”

Helping lead this conversation will be Rhonda Broussard, the founder and CEO of Beloved Community in New Orleans. The organization, which focuses on policy advocacy and capacity-building, states plainly in its motto that “equity is our only hope.” Broussard leads the organization in its work to promote equity in schools, in workplaces and in the home.

“What will it take to make appreciable, sustainable change on the equity front? Beloved Community was born out of that question and the recognition that education alone can’t solve for society’s inequities,” Broussard said in a recent interview with LaPiana Consulting. “I believe that we can build our communities differently than we have been -- encompassing social justice, business/nonprofit, and government perspectives. These groups may have different reasons for being on the train, but if we design right we can get going in the same direction.”

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