SECF's Blog

Engage, SECF’s blog, is a space for SECF members, staff and partners to share their thoughts on the latest trends and best practices in philanthropy. Engage is also used for important announcements about upcoming SECF events and programs.

Do you have a story or insight you’d like to share with our members on Engage? Contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at or at (404) 524-0911 to discuss your idea.

Hull Fellows Highlight: Kendra Jones

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Over the past year, Richmond, Virginia, has been a hub of philanthropic activity and innovation thanks largely to the work and partnership of three SECF members: the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, the Robins Foundation and the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RMHF).

In Richmond and elsewhere, the impact COVID-19 pandemic has not landed evenly. Communities of color have disproportionately paid the health and economic costs of the crisis – an issue of chief concern to Kendra Jones, RMHF’s director for health equity, arts and culture.

“We know that the people we serve have incredible power, lived experiences that we can learn from and they persevere despite the system that was created to oppress them,” Kendra said. “However, they need resources – and we share our resources with them by the means of financial, intellectual and social capital.”

As director of the foundation’s Health Equity and Arts (HEArts) program, Kendra has helped offer community members opportunities for creative expression that help people be heard, bridge divides and collaborate on solutions to inequity.

“Communities have been able to advocate for criminal justice reform, neighborhood and pedestrian safety, to destigmatize mental illness, and so many other issues that affect their ability to achieve health equity,” she said.

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SECF Member Highlight: Kristen Keely-Dinger

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


This is the last in a series profiling the new members of SECF's Board of Trustees announced at the 51st Annual Meeting following a vote by SECF members.

Kristen Keely-Dinger was already intimately familiar with SECF and its staff by time she was approached to serve on the Board of Trustees – she was months into her service as chair of last year’s Annual Meeting.

In the midst of that experience, the decision to accept a nomination to the Board was an easy one, she said.

“After having the opportunity to work with the staff and the planning team at SECF for this year’s annual meeting and watching the flexibility and the adaptability of the staff, I felt confident that I could learn from and contribute to the organization in meaningful ways,” Kristen said. “I am also a big supporter of the Equity Framework that SECF has adopted and am excited to learn from my peers and the team at SECF as we continue to implement the framework throughout the organization.”

Equity has been on Kristen’s mind frequently in the past year. As the president and CEO of The Healing Trust, based in Nashville, she has helped lead a transformation in the foundation’s work – a transformation that accelerated in the wake of this summer’s racial justice protests.

“Almost all our grants now and going forward will be unrestricted. Our partners need to know we trust them, and we understand that they also need the same flexibility to respond to their changing environment,” she said. “The pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated the needs of historically uninvested in and marginalized communities and has underscored the urgency of our work on equity.”

Kristen says her experience as a foundation CEO will also affect her work on the SECF Board.

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SECF Member Highlight: Deanna James

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Every member of the SECF Board of Trustees brings a unique perspective to the table – as the saying goes, “if you’ve seen one foundation, you’ve seen one foundation.”

Still, it would be hard to argue that Deanna James brings a point of view all her own to the SECF Board, which she joined in December following approval by the SECF membership. After all, James leads a foundation that serves an island, St. Croix, that is part of the larger U.S. Virgin Islands territory.

“Territory” is how James politely describes the U.S. Virgin Islands. She prefers another word that better represents the amount of political power, or lack thereof, she and other St. Croix residents have.

“Hailing from a U.S. colony, my community's political status has relegated American citizens residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands to 'other' or 'less than', by law. I think that reality has uniquely heightened my awareness and sensibilities relative to systemic inequity everywhere,” she said. “I live inequity and exclusion.”

Of course, inequity and exclusion are conditions seen throughout the Southeastern region. That commonality is what drew James to SECF membership and, now, to agreeing to serve on the Board of Trustees.

“The opportunity to connect with and build capacity for philanthropic organizations serving underserved, under-resourced communities, particularly in the rural South, was irresistible,” she said.

Serving on the Board will allow James more opportunities than ever to connect with fellow SECF members, particularly fellow Trustees.

“My overarching goal is to learn from and to share with fellow directors and members,” she said. “I'm also intent on identifying and connecting with small place-based philanthropies that are possibly building innovative practice around how to do philanthropy differently – more intrinsically rooted in community.”

This year – not just the pandemic,  but also and extremely active Atlantic hurricane season – have emphasized for James the value of place-based philanthropy.

“Just as most rural communities have learned after every major natural disaster, the closer philanthropy is to the ground, the more effective and responsive it will be!” she said.

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Member Highlight: Darrin Goss, Sr.

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling the new members of SECF’s Board of Trustees announced at the 51st Annual Meeting following a vote by SECF members.

In less than five years under the leadership of Darrin Goss, Sr., the Coastal Community Foundation in Charleston, South Carolina, has emerged as one of Southern philanthropy’s leading advocates for advancing racial equity and for the adoption of Passing Gear principles focused on deploying multiple forms of capital to address the root causes of issues in the community.

The foundation’s work has earned national attention and praise – just this week, the foundation received a $1 million grant from Facebook to support Black communities and black-led organizations. At the 51stAnnual Meeting, the foundation’s Passing Gear work was recognized with the Truist Foundation Promise Award.

The SECF network stands to benefit even more from Goss’ leadership now that he has joined the Board of Trustees. But despite an impressive track record, Goss is beginning his new role ready to learn and listen.

“I want to learn as much as I can on how I can be effective in supporting the goals of SECF as an organization and how that can potentially shape the future of the Southeast,” he said. “I am relatively new to foundation philanthropy and so I have a lot to learn.”

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Hull Fellows Highlight: Alice Hall

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


The Betty and Davis Fitzgerald Foundation, a family foundation based in Atlanta, focuses part of its giving on education – a subject quite familiar to Alice Hall, one of the foundation’s newest trustees and a learning specialist at Atlanta’s Pace Academy.

For Alice, however, experience as an educator wasn’t enough. She wanted to expand her knowledge of philanthropy itself. For that, she turned to SECF’s Hull Fellows program.

“This program almost feels like getting a personalized degree in philanthropy, which was exactly what I needed to be a productive, impactful part of the Fitzgerald Foundation,” Alice said. “As a foundation board member who does not work professionally in the world of philanthropy, I wanted to be a part of the Hull Fellows program so that I could gain a deeper understanding of how philanthropy works.”

Alice says she’s gained exactly during her year in the program, which culminated earlier this week when she and a group of her Hull classmates gave a Capstone presentation on Inspiring the Next Generation of Philanthropy.

“Through the Hull Fellows program, I expanded my knowledge of philanthropy from only being familiar with a small family foundation in Atlanta to understanding how a wide variety of organizations function throughout the entire Southeast,” she said. “I was privileged to hear from speakers who are experts in the field, as well as have personal conversations with my fellow classmates, who are respected professionals at their foundations.”

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Hull Fellows Highlight: Nicole Eovino Diebold

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Earlier today, Nicole Eovino Diebold was slated to join her Hull Fellows classmates to present a Capstone Project on the next generation of philanthropy.

Nicole, however, wasn’t able to present live – but she was definitely focused on the next generation: A few days ago, she gave birth to a son. She didn’t let that small distraction get in the way of presenting, though: Thanks to the magic of pre-recorded video, Nicole was able to join the rest of her colleagues (so was her newborn, via a photo).

That dedication isn’t surprising – Nicole says the connections she’s made through the program are the type that will endure for years afterward.

“I have made valuable connections within this cohort of fellows with varied experiences across the Southeast, and I am confident that will continue to build into a network I will be able to call on for the entirety of my career in philanthropy,” she said. “It has also been interesting to learn about different perspectives and approaches to our work as a sector.”

For Nicole, this has been an eventful week coming toward the end of an eventful year. As a program associate at the C.E. & S. Foundation in Louisville, Kentucky, her work has been deeply affected by the news events that have reverberated throughout philanthropy in 2020.

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Hull Fellows Highlight: Anne Davis

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Since coming to the Christy-Houston Foundation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Anne Davis has absorbed all she can about philanthropic leadership through a number of SECF programs, including Philanthropy Essentials, the Annual Meeting and the CEO Forum.

All of those programs led her to where she is today: the 2019-20 Class of Hull Fellows.

“From the moment that I was chosen for the position of President of The Christy-Houston Foundation, I began to seek out opportunities to understand grantmaking,” Anne said. “The motivation included my desire to build a new network of grantmaking professionals with whom to compare notes, collaborate and learn.”

She’s doing all of that now, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Anne and her Hull classmates to meet exclusively online – meetings that include work toward a Capstone Project that will be presented later this year. In fact, Capstone presentations from a previous Hull class were a key reason Anne was interested in joining the program herself.

“Attending the Hull Fellows final presentation during the Annual Meeting in Louisville, I sensed a real interconnectedness in the room,” she said. “Hull Fellows Alumni attended the session in full support of current class members, as the Capstone Project groups made their way to the front of the room to share their findings on particular topics.”

As she and a group of her Hull classmates continue to meet, Anne has developed a sense of class pride that would be familiar to most Hull alumni.

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Hull Fellows Highlight: Susan Aspinwall

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Susan Aspinwall’s email signature says she’s the executive director of The Sara Giles Moore Foundation – what it doesn’t mention is that she’s also a program officer, grants manager and office manager.

Like many family foundations in SECF, The Sara Giles Moore Foundation employs a staff of one. Susan, however, doesn’t feel alone in her work. Being a member of the 2019-20 Hull Fellows Class, she says, has opened her up to the broader world of philanthropy.

“It can be challenging to be the only staff person – it can feel like there is no one to bounce ideas off of and you miss having a trusted colleague to go to for advice,” she said. “Being a part of the Hull Fellows program allows me to, in a way, expand my ‘office’ to include a diverse group of professionals that are committed to supporting one another.”

The connections Susan has made are all the more helpful, since she was new to philanthropy when she applied to the Hull program last year.

“After many years working on the nonprofit side, I hoped the Hull Fellows program would support my success in this new role through learning opportunities as well as help me create a close network of colleagues that I could turn to for advice and guidance in the future,” she said. “Being a part of the Hull Fellows program helped me make connections that resulted in deep conversations and offered learning opportunities that connected me to experts in the field with different perspectives.”

Susan’s network includes her Hull Mentor, Pat Lummus of The Sartain Lanier Family Foundation – another Atlanta-based family foundation with only one person on staff.

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51st Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Margo Miller

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Last month in Connect, we featured coverage of the Black Girls Dream Fund, a 10-year, $100 million campaign to financially empower the goals of Black girls and women in Southern communities – from big cities like Jacksonville to Appalachian communities in East Tennessee.

One of the leaders of the campaign, Appalachian Community Fund Executive Director Margo Miller, said the Dream Fund had, as its name would suggest, ambitious goals.

“During a time when the mainstream narrative of being Black and a woman in America can feel overwhelmingly negative, we’re proud to shift these racist and sexist ideals," she said. "We will enable Black girls and women to bring more of their magic into the world and fundamentally change the way the world views them.”

Others who want to bring more “magic” into their philanthropy will want to hear Miller and other speakers at “Giving Community Voice to Grantmaking,” a breakout session at SECF’s 51st Annual Meeting taking place at 1:00pm on Thursday, November 12.

Miller is a leader of the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium, a collective of funders, activists and community leaders working to advance the movements for Black girls and women in the Southeast. The consortium is creating an infrastructure for regional grantmaking and movement-building by providing resources to locally-based organizations that work directly with Black girls, including those outside of traditional nonprofit organizations.

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Miller heads the Appalachian Community Fund, a grantmaking resource for grassroots organizations working to change systemic economic, racial, environmental and social inequity in Central Appalachia including Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee and all of West Virginia. 

In an interview with the Appalachian Funders Network, Miller said she draws inspiration from the next generation.

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Hull Fellows Highlight: Meredith Sullivan Benton

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Meredith Sullivan Benton has been everywhere, setting foot on all seven continents before she was 30. She’s worked for many well-known figures, including two governors, a U.S. senator and a former President of the United States.

Yet in order to take her career in philanthropy to the next level, she had to do one more thing: become an SECF Hull Fellow. Meredith, the vice president of programs and advocacy at The Healing Trust in Nashville, said she joined the leadership development program to further not only her work, but that of the foundation.

“My two co-workers at The Trust, CEO Kristen Keely-Dinger and Communications Director Jennifer Oldham, are both alumni. They encouraged me to apply to delve deeper into Southern philanthropy and build friendships in the sector,” Meredith said. “They both maintain the relationships they made almost a decade ago and I wanted to have a network to call on in building and advancing the work of The Trust.”

Moving her work forward has become even more important in 2020 – along with the pandemic and community calls for racial justice, Nashville has also had to rebuild and recover from devastating tornadoes that hit only days before COVID-19 forced much of the city to shut down.

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Mission: The Southeastern Council of Foundations serves, connects, strengthens and champions philanthropy and philanthropic infrastructure in the South.