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

Note: This post is the second 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. This month's state: Arkansas.

Arkansas Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Member: The Ross Foundation (joined 1977)
Newest SECF Member: Walton Family Foundation (joined 2017)
Number of SECF Members: 6

Learn more about Arkansas foundations from SECF's Southern Trends Report!

Voices From Arkansas

Dr. Sherece West-Scantlebury
President and CEO
Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

SECF: What are the most significant ways the philanthropic landscape in Arkansas and the Southeast has changed during your career?

West-Scantlebury: A new generation of leaders are leading philanthropy in our state, and I love it. SECF members Regan Gruber Moffitt of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) and Sarah Kinser from the Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF), along with others, founded Arkansas Impact Philanthropy (AIP). In 2016, the Clinton Foundation, WRF, and ARCF hosted the Bold Ideas Gathering at the Clinton Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Fifty leaders from 26 philanthropic organizations gathered to share experiences and brainstorm solutions for some of Arkansas's largest challenges. From that meeting, AIP emerged. It is a funder collaborative that envisions a strong philanthropic sector that collaborates to create a more prosperous Arkansas for all Arkansans. The Walton Family, Ross, Mary Reynolds Babcock, Carl B. and Florence E. King, Walmart, and Tyson Foundations are among the funders in the collaborative.

Today, AIP is building the capacity of Arkansas-based philanthropy to invest in equity-centered strategies. AIP has committed in 2019 to support a complete count in the 2020 Census in all hard-to-reach communities. One of AIP's first collaborations was the creation of the Market Study of Arkansas Nonprofit Organizations. The Market Study is an overview of the size, mission, leadership, operational practices, and biggest needs of the state's roughly 14,000 nonprofit groups. It gives us insight into what nonprofit leaders think about fundraising, volunteer recruitment, competition with other nonprofits and the daily challenges of the job so philanthropy can be more responsive to the needs of nonprofits in our state.

What I love is that this new generation of changemakers is leading philanthropy, breaking rules and pushing boundaries. They are asking the root cause questions such as what are the greatest opportunities to dramatically increase health outcomes, educational achievement, and economic mobility in Arkansas communities? AIP will identify what philanthropy can do to fund in areas that dramatically transform lives and communities in our state.

This is a significant change in our landscape because we were not collaborating. We know we work better together. AIP's leadership may have a multiplier effect that a new generation will lead philanthropy in the Southeast. This is what I love most.

Sarah Kinser
Chief Program Officer
Arkansas Community Foundation

SECF: Tell us about the state of philanthropy in Arkansas today – what are the biggest opportunities, trends and challenges you see as you assess your state and the work of its philanthropic community?

Kinser: Philanthropy in Arkansas today is collaborative and data-driven! There's a growing realization that the challenges facing our state are too large for any one funder, organization or sector to solve alone. If we want a more prosperous Arkansas where everyone thrives, we've got to work together, and we've got to ground our work in data.

This spirit of collaboration is evident in the work of two emerging funder networks: Arkansas Impact Philanthropy (AIP) and the Asset Funders Network (AFN) – Arkansas Chapter.

Last year, Arkansas Impact Philanthropy, a group of Arkansas-based funders and those who make philanthropic investments here, produced a report showing that about 80 percent of upstream philanthropic investments are awarded in just four of our 75 counties. Together, AIP members are working to address the critical capacity issues that are preventing philanthropic investment in areas of persistent poverty. When we learned that Arkansas is predicted to have a significant undercount in the 2020 Census, with more than 1 and 5 Arkansans living in hard-to-count areas and 1 in 4 with limited or no internet access, AIP took quick action to begin convening a Complete Count Committee to ensure that Arkansas has a fair and accurate count.

The Arkansas Asset Funders Network, a coalition of foundations, banks, nonprofits, CDFIs and corporations, has been calling attention to the fact that 32.3 percent of Arkansans are unbanked or underbanked. Together, AFN has just launched BankOn Arkansas+, a program to make banking and financial services more readily available to low- to moderate-income Arkansans. With that project up and running, AFN is now turning its attention to safe, affordable housing and the connection between health and wealth.

There's a proverb that says "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." I think of these words often as I'm crisscrossing the state to attend a million meetings and convenings. The work is slow, but Arkansas is going far, and we're doing it together.

Clark Tennyson
The Ross Foundation

SECF: What do you expect to be the biggest issues facing both your foundation and Arkansas philanthropy in the next 10 years?

Tennyson: I think the biggest issues facing my foundation and Arkansas over the next ten years are not new ones. Arkansas has a great need for improvements in both education and economic growth. In an attempt to address these areas my foundation, The Ross Foundation, has joined with Southern Bancorp to form the Arkadelphia Promise. This is an 18- year grant program which provides college tuition for four years to all graduating seniors from Arkadelphia High School who qualify for the State Lottery Scholarship. This is an experiment which we hope will significantly impact both education and our community.

This grant comprises more than half of our grant budget. As it ends, a challenge facing our foundation in the next decade will be deciding whether we want to continue this program or refocus our efforts in another direction. Though this is some years away we are beginning to plan now.

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 Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF) is the only state-wide community foundation in the South. Established in 1976, primarily by a lead grant of $258,000 from the Winthop Rockefeller Foundation, the services of its central office staff of 15 in Little Rock are supplemented by 28 staffed affiliate offices whose coverage extends to all 75 counties in the state. The foundation now manages some $335,000,000 in assets.


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