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

Note: This post is the seventh in 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: Mississippi.

Mississippi Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Member: The Phil Hardin Foundation (joined 1973)
Newest SECF Member: Woodward Hines Education Foundation (joined 2017)
Number of SECF Members: 16

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

Voices from Mississippi

Marcie Skelton
The Walker Foundation

What are the most significant ways the philanthropic landscape in Mississippi and the Southeast has changed during your time in philanthropy?

It’s been quite exciting watching the Mississippi philanthropic landscape change and grow during the past 25 years. Most recently the philanthropic community and the nonprofit community joined forces to create the Mississippi Alliance for Nonprofits and Philanthropy. Designed to maximize our strengths and resources, The Alliance was formed with the merger of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers and The Mississippi Center for Non-Profits and we are expecting that the new whole will indeed be greater than the sum of the parts. Even at its young age this new platform is loaded with educational, networking and capacity-building opportunities. Partnerships with GuideStar and Network for Good along with the web-based Innovation Lab are ramping up the conversations and energizing new approaches to what can be often overwhelming challenges. For years, the traditional philanthropy and nonprofit spheres orbited around the same problems but never really intersected. When they “got close” it was transactional with limited transparency and often fraught with mistrust. We needed a makeover – not just a structural one, but a relational and transformational one. I think we got it!

The innovation and search for relevant themes ride rampant throughout the philanthropy world across the Southeast. It’s evident through the voices from the previous six states in this series and no doubt will get only stronger as the other states bring their messages. I’ve seen such an increase in truth-telling with patience and civil discourse. It may not always be comfortable, but there is always a seat at the table. 

There is one great common link between us all – SECF! It is here that we share and learn, are challenged and inspired. It is here that we gain confidence to take deeper dives into problems with the assurance that it’s not a solo trip. Happy Birthday, SECF! Thank you for being the great connector! Here’s to 50 more!!

Ivye Allen
Foundation for the Mid South

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

Mississippi’s philanthropic community continues to be a significant contributor and leading voice to improve outcomes throughout our state. Our work is not about money only, nor do we believe that one entity can solve our varied problems. Most importantly, not working alone or in silos enables us to engage in partnerships and collaboratives representing a cross-section of voices and perspectives. This includes individuals, communities, municipalities, as well as public and private sector entities. Engagement is sometimes local and other times statewide. We also include national partners when appropriate. Regardless of our geographic areas, we recognize that dollars alone will not solve or fully address some of our challenges.

Our primary focus is improved targeted outcomes for residents and communities. We believe local engagement and ownership is one of the key pillars to sustainability. We found that including the voices and perspectives of local residents and identification of solutions leads to longer-term ownership and more sustainable engagement. Many of us are addressing education, health and wellness – physical and mental – and workforce development including areas such as work readiness and job training. We know that a well-designed workforce program meets the education, training, and employment needs of a targeted group of learners. Therefore, ensuring that families have the resources for better quality of life outcomes is essential. 

The challenge for all of us is the limited amount of resources to address myriad needs. However, we all find ways to find those partners, be it individuals, organization or corporations that have the same goals as us. The Foundation for the Mid South’s continuous message is: We will get better when we all contribute and work together instead of alone. We did not get here overnight, and we will not change years of neglect and limited resources overnight. 

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 first grantmaking foundation to be established in the South by Southerners may have been the Feild Co-Operative Association. Though started in Tennessee, it was organized on November 12, 1912, by the sons of the late Dr. and Mrs. Montfort Jones of Kosciusko, Mississippi, to honor their mother, Sallie Thomas Feild. Still in operation, the foundation is now based in Jackson, Mississippi.


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