11 States in 11 Months: Southern Philanthropy in... South Carolina

Note: This post is the ninth 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: South Carolina.

South Carolina Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Members: The Self Family Foundation, The Springs Close Foundation (Founding Members – joined 1970)
Newest SECF Member: Jolley Foundation (joined February 2019)
Number of SECF Members: 34

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

Voices from South Carolina

Tom Keith
Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina

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

Through my quarter of a century working in philanthropy in the southeast and South Carolina, I have learned a great deal. In the mid 1990’s technology was limited, grantmaking was process-driven and the landscape was changing with the influx of health legacy foundations, of which we are one. Both boards and staff of new foundations were learning on the job and paving a way to understand and positively impact communities in the region. Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina was no exception. Our first three years of grantmaking served as a laboratory to help us all gather helpful information through funding organizations across the state. With a mission of alleviating poverty in a rural state, the reach is far and the need is tremendous.

Here are some lessons that I personally have learned over the past 25 years that I will pass along:

  • What you read on paper in a grant application and what is actually happening at that organization can be very different. It helps funders better understand their potential grantees by seeing them in person.
  • Process is necessary but we cannot let it consume our work. Our role should get stronger after we award the grant by supporting and coaching grantees throughout the grant period.
  • Our role beyond grantmaker has grown exponentially over the years. We earn a seat at the table by investing dollars into our local communities. We should never ignore the fact that we can impact change in ways that are not grant driven. Our work in public policy, convening leaders on a particular issue and simply advocating for those being treated unjustly makes a huge difference.
  • If possible, be light on your feet and flexible. Sometimes the best opportunities come in between grant cycles. We have worked hard to find ways to participate even when it does not fit our normal grant schedule. Don’t miss a chance to make an impact no matter what the calendar says.
  • Build trust and openness with your grantees. We have always felt that the relationship with grantees needs to be a partnership and not just a funder/grantee dynamic. When grantees trust us, they are more willing to share their problems and roadblocks with their work and that gives you a chance to truly help them through it.
  • Have fun. Do not take yourself so seriously that you don’t enjoy the experience. Each day brings us a new friend, colleague, community leader or change agent. I try and embrace it with enthusiasm and an open heart. Everyone has a better day when we do that.

The Southeastern Council of Foundations has helped me so much during my time in philanthropy. Some of my closest friends and colleagues are people I met through SECF. We all have the privilege of working in a spectacular sector. Let’s hope that the next half century brings us as much success as the first one did. If so, we should be happy, healthy and impactful grantmakers and the Southeast will be better off because of it.

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 Smithsonian Institution exists because of a $500,000 bequest from a British citizen who admired but never visited the United States. The 1829 contribution from James Smithson was made in the form of gold bullion that was transported by ship to Washington. It required lengthy debate in Congress, led by John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts (pro) and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (con), before the decision was made to accept the donation.


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