SECF's Values & Guiding Principles Seen Throughout Pandemic Response

Note: This letter from SECF President & CEO Janine Lee originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Inspiration. SECF members can view and download the latest issue of Inspiration here.

Dear Friends, 

As I write this, our country is in the grips of a public health emergency unlike anything we have ever seen. The COVID-19 coronavirus has brought public life in America to a halt – schools have been closed, church services canceled, and mass gatherings banned. By time you read this, our health care system could be completely overwhelmed, with nearly all Americans living under a state of lockdown. 

This virus has no cure, but we are not powerless in the face of it. Frontline health care workers – doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, hospital support staff – are putting their lives on the line and doing all they can to address the health consequences of the pandemic. We in philanthropy have assumed a different role: addressing the outbreak’s effects on our communities – particularly nonprofit organizations whose existence is threatened even as they work to support vulnerable populations and marginalized communities. 

Community foundations in every state in our region have launched rapid response funds designed to distribute resources quickly and effectively. Many of these funds have attracted significant support from private foundations. We have kept a running list of these funds – one that continues to grow – on our COVID-19 Resource Hub at

In several states, strong coalitions and coordinated efforts have emerged. In Kentucky, the One Louisville Fund reflects a partnership between local government, the Community Foundation of Louisville, the James Graham Brown Foundation and a corporate partner, Humana. In South Carolina, the One SC Fund is the product of a partnership between the South Carolina Grantmakers Network, the nonprofit community, the local United Way and the Central Carolina Community Foundation. 

Other foundations are leveraging their intellectual and reputational capital – the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has been a regular source of health information. The Southern Education Foundation is providing resources on the unique impact of this crisis on our students, who are not only missing weeks of in-person education but also, for many, access to a reliable source of nutrition and internet access. 

There are many, many more examples of Southern philanthropy rising to meet this occasion – far too many to list in this space. We have highlighted as many as we can find on and will continue to update this list as the crisis continues. 

Taken together, this massive philanthropic response demonstrates that SECF members are staying true to their missions in the midst of crisis. They are also a living example of the values and principles recently adopted by our Board. 

When the Board ratified a new statement of Values & Guiding Principles at its February 2020 meeting, there was no way to know how soon philanthropy would be tested. Values and principles are meaningless if they are cast aside in crisis. This moment in history, however, has only confirmed that the statement our Board approved is not a directive, but rather a reflection of Southern philanthropy as it exists today. 

Following in the footsteps of the Equity Framework released last year, our staff and Board wanted to make a new statement that reflected what we, as a philanthropic community, committed ourselves to in that document. Working with Dr. Edward Queen, a professor of ethics from Emory University, and soliciting member input multiple times along the way, we agreed on five core values: integrity, excellence, equity, respect and courage

The journey that led to the Equity Framework made it clear that equity needed to be one of our core values. This pandemic and its impact have exacerbated and exposed many problems caused by long-running inequities. SECF members across the region instinctively responded with investments aimed at strengthening a safety net that is being stretched to its limits. These heroic efforts will provide relief to children and families affected by school and government closures, job losses and other financial challenges. 

Even under enormous stress, Southern philanthropy has responded with integrity, consistently living out our values. We remain committed to excellence, recognizing the importance of open communication with partners and the communities and individuals they serve. We have been creative, seeking out deep, thoughtful, and innovative approaches to philanthropy. We have shown deep respect for communities, grantees and other partners. We are leveraging our power responsibly and thoughtfully while honoring the integrity of others. 

Finally, Southern philanthropy is acting with courage. In the face of an unprecedented crisis, we are acting honestly and fearlessly. We are making decisions based on evidence, data and the needs of our communities. We are embracing new partnerships, understanding that we are better, and stronger, when we work together. 

These values are essential if philanthropy is to truly support our region, not only during the health crisis we face today, but also through the many other ongoing, prolonged crises caused by years of inequity, exclusion and discrimination in our region. 

The weeks and months ahead promise to be challenging. But by living our values, we can provide the leadership and support our region and its people need to weather this storm, as well as the many that lie ahead. 



Southeastern Council of Foundations
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