Member Highlight: Chynna Phillips

Foundations on the Hill is a can’t-miss event for Chynna Phillips, research and policy director of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina and a self-described policy nerd.

Like other veterans of Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), Chynna is disappointed she won’t be able to travel to Washington, D.C., for this year’s event, which kicks off March 16. But she sees some advantages to virtual advocacy.

“We have the opportunity to show our commitment,” she said during February’s Public Policy 101 webinar. “We’re not saying, ‘OK, because of COVID we’ll just see you next year.’”

Instead, Chynna and the rest of the South Carolina will be connecting with lawmakers and key staff members, letting them know about the vital work of philanthropy in the Palmetto State over the past year, reminding them of the sector’s priorities and building relationships that can pay dividends in the years ahead.

During the February webinar, Chynna noted that a meeting with Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a member of the Democratic House leadership, convened by the foundation, the SC Grantmakers Network and Together SC, helped ensure the charitable sector was on the minds of lawmakers when shaping COVID relief legislation in the early days of the pandemic.

“We had 400 nonprofits on a call with congressman Clyburn and he was able to say, ‘I remember when you came up,’” Chynna recalled. “Later on, he was on the floor, and he talked about that meeting. If it wasn't for FOTH making us comfortable in those spaces, I'm not sure how that would have went.”

During this year’s FOTH, Chynna has one particular project she’s eager to share with lawmakers: the recent Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina study on poverty in South Carolina.

“Our recent statewide poverty study illustrates that a person’s racial or ethnic identity, gender and where they are born can present significant barriers to economic self-sufficiency in South Carolina,” she said. “This study is the culmination of years of effort, to illuminate the truth of poverty in this state.”

The study is more than facts, figures and statistics, Chynna said. It’s also focused on the people behind those numbers.

“This study is meant to honor the lived experiences of those in poverty, by highlighting the many barriers that currently stifles their ability to truly thrive,” she said. “This document that not only validates their stories, but also equips communities with the tools needed to make informed decisions, provides clear data for individuals to advocate for changes to the many systems and policies that affect their lives, and addresses the historical nature of some of these issues.”

Chynna said FOTH can be a revealing experience – even amid today’s polarized political environment, directly interacting with lawmakers can create surprising opportunities for cooperation. During the webinar, she shared her story of one meeting with a lawmaker that went far better than expected.

“It was a beautiful reminder of the hearts that exists within some of these legislators, even when we think otherwise,” she said. “Come with the facts and figures and allow people to show up how they choose to show up.”


Southeastern Council of Foundations
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Mission: SECF strengthens Southern philanthropy, welcoming our members to listen, learn and collaborate on ideas and actions to help build an equitable, prosperous South.