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: 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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Download the SECF Mobile App Today!

Tags: Mobile App 
Category: Member Benefits, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations



Beginning today, all members have access to the new SECF Mobile App, the latest way to stay informed, engage with our events and programs and connect with peers across the region!

The Mobile App is available now for iOS and Android devices. You can access the app here:



The SECF Mobile App makes the best benefits of membership available anytime, anywhere, right on your mobile device. Download the Mobile App today and you’ll be able to:

  • Receive the latest news and updates from SECF via the Mobile App News Feed
  • Register for all SECF events and programs
  • Send and receive direct, 1-to-1 messages with SECF Members from across the region
  • Connect with multiple colleagues at once through group chats
  • Use the Member Directory for easy outreach
  • Engage in discussions through Member Forums – post new topics and reply to others
  • Participate in polls and surveys
  • Access members-only resources on public policy and best practices
  • Read the latest issues of Inspiration magazine
  • Receive notifications so you don’t miss out on any of the above!

The Mobile App will be updated constantly with new content and features, but it also serves as an event app! During this year’s Annual Meeting, the Mobile App will be home to session materials, surveys and more. In 2021, it will also provide similar support for other SECF programs, including the CEO Forum, Philanthropy Essentials and more!

To use the mobile app, just download it from your device’s app store and sign in once using your login and password – if you need help logging in, please email Stephen Sherman, director of research and data, at

If you have other questions about the mobile app, or would like to request other features, please contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at

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51st Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Walter Katz

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Since registration for SECF’s 51st Annual Meeting opened earlier this year, several new speakers have been added to the lineup – many of them marking their first time on the agenda.

One of them, Walter Katz, is a vice president at Arnold Ventures, a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States, including health, education, public finance and, Walter’s specialty, criminal justice.

​Walter will bring this expertise into Race, Place & Systemic Inequities, a breakout session taking place at 1:00pm on the meeting’s first day – Wednesday, November 11. 

Walter’s career has put him in direct contact with both law enforcement agencies and accused criminals. For 17 years, he served as a public defender – experience that came when “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies dominated public discourse.

“My work as a public defender in California starting in the 1990s started just as the tough-on-crime era was getting up to full speed – the three strikes laws, truth in sentencing, everything was very tough on crime,” he said in an interview on the Arnold Ventures website. “I was a baby public defender doing misdemeanor cases and I found myself having a great deal of interest in cases involving resisting arrest. I immediately saw that those cases often had a really sharp divergence of what the story was. It really got me sensitive to use of power and to abuse of power, and what the role of systems is to keep that in check.”

Walter says a truly fair and just judicial system would protect the rights of the accused and keep the innocent out of prison, but also ensure public safety.

“Things get a little bit more ambiguous in those cases where you have real victims who have been through real trauma. You also may be representing people who themselves have gone through real trauma and been victims of something in their lives,” he said. “We have to recognize that fair and just process not only includes the person who’s being charged with the crime but also the person who is the victim of the crime.”

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Fall 2020 Research Update: Highlights from Recent Reports from the Field

Category: Research & Data, 
Author: Stephen Sherman


SECF’s online Research Library is regularly updated with the latest reports relevant to Southern philanthropy. SECF members can browse over 300 research reports, websites, case studies, and other resources that we’ve cultivated to help funders stay abreast of trends in the field and learn about emerging best practices in philanthropy. 

Below are some of the key findings and highlights of the newest additions to the Research Library. If you would like to suggest a resource or have other feedback, contact Stephen Sherman, SECF’s Director of Research and Data, at or (404) 524-0911.


Healing Work: An Action Guide to Equitable Grantmaking Supporting Youth of Color
Forward Promise (2020)

Research shows that young people of color exposed to discrimination have poorer sleep habits, higher levels of stress hormones, and higher levels of obesity. The effects of racism follow them throughout their lives and may lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and hypertension in adulthood. Despite this evident need, there exists a significant disparity in the proportion of funding awarded to organizations led by and serving people of color. To rectify systemic inequities and disparities in funding, philanthropy must be intentional about implementing an effective set of equitable practices which allows them to hold space for, learn from, and better support the communities they wish to serve. 

This report from Forward Promise identifies opportunities for more equitable practice in six stages of the grantmaking process: the call for proposals, communicating funding opportunities, the reviewer pool, review process, data analysis, and site visits. The report includes worksheets to help funders assess and redesign their own grantmaking procedures.


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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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Public Policy Update - October 2020

Category: Public Policy, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Each month, SECF provides members with monthly updates on the latest public policy developments in Washington and state capitols around the region, analyzing their possible impact on the charitable sector. If you would like to see an issue featured in a future Public Policy Update, contact Jaci Bertrand, SECF's vice president of member engagement, at


Post-Election Briefing for SECF Members on November 16

Mark your calendars: SECF will hold a special post-election member webinar on Monday, November 16, at 2:00pm Eastern! We will review the results of races for the White House and Congress and what they could mean for the charitable sector and its priorities in 2021.

Registration for this event will open soon – keep an eye on your email and for details!


House Democrats Pass Scaled-Back HEROES Act, But Compromise Remains Elusive

Last week, House Democrats released a $2.2 trillion scaled-back relief package in a last-ditch effort to provide additional COVID relief before lawmakers leave town to campaign. Notably, the bill does not include an expansion of the universal charitable deduction but does include a few provisions helpful to nonprofits. A summary released by the National Council of Nonprofits has more details. 

Even with the bill’s reduced price tag, half a trillion dollars still stands between Democrats and the White House. As of today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were negotiating with the hopes of reaching an agreement, but a compromise before the election appears unlikely. 

Looking ahead, the next opportunity for lawmakers to advance a COVID relief package is likely during the “lame duck” session – the time between the election and the end of the year. Current government spending levels expire on December 11, so that will present another opportunity to advance a relief measure that could include nonprofit policies like an expanded universal charitable deduction and additional PPP relief. 


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SECF Member Highlight: Kristen Keely-Dinger

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


This profile includes excerpts from the upcoming Fall 2020 issue of SECF’s Inspiration magazine, coming out later this month!

At the outset of 2020, Kristen Keely-Dinger was excited to be on the planning team for this year’s Annual Meeting, which was returning to Music City for the first time since 1990.

It is an understatement to say much has changed since then. The Annual Meeting has pivoted to an online event in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the conference isn’t coming to her hometown in Nashville, Kristen is still deeply involved in the planning – in fact, she’s now Annual Meeting Chair.

“It has been a lesson in letting go of expectations and learning how to be more adaptable,” Kristen said. “I am certain that many of us are experiencing that as we surrender knowing what the future holds and strive to make the best decisions that we can to protect the health and safety of our colleagues and partners.”

Kristen took over as Annual Meeting Chair a few months ago when the prior chair, Cabot Pyle, stepped down from his role at another Nashville foundation to move outside the region. Thankfully, her earlier experience on the planning committee allowed her to hit the ground running. Plus, this year’s vice chair, Dr. Laura Gerald, is a physician and former public health official, in addition to her current role leading the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

“It has been so important to have Dr. Gerald with her background in medicine and public health as part of the leadership team for this year’s meeting,” Kristen said. “We had no way of knowing last year that having a public health degree would be important for planning the Annual Meeting.”


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Hull Fellows Highlight: Cari Campbell

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Throughout the 20-plus years of SECF’s Hull Fellows program, SunTrust’s Foundations & Endowments Specialty Practice, along with the SunTrust Foundation, have sent numerous staff into the leadership development program.

SunTrust is now Truist, but the name change hasn’t affected the strong relationship between the bank’s philanthropic support arm and the Hull Fellows – Cari Campbell, a first vice president at Truist’s Foundations & Endowments Specialty Practice, is keeping the tradition going strong.

“I had heard the Hull Fellows program was an outstanding leadership development program through several colleagues who had participated in the program,” Cari said. “I was encouraged to apply by my then-manager, [SunTrust Foundation President] Stan Little, who thought it would be an outstanding growth opportunity.”

Cari’s Hull experience has been a little different from those of her colleagues – the in-person retreat was delayed to next year due to the pandemic, for example – but she’s still gaining the insights and connections that have made the program a success for so long.

“We have heard from great philanthropic leaders via our monthly webinars which has provided me great additional knowledge and insight,” she said. “I’m so happy to make new friends in the Hull Fellows program and look forward to deepening these relationships at our newly added May 2021 retreat and throughout the coming years.”

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5 Reasons Your Whole Team Should Attend the 51st Annual Meeting

Category: Annual Meeting, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations



In less than two months, we’ll gather online for SECF’s 51st Annual Meeting – and we hope you and all your colleagues will be there!

Your entire staff – and even your board – at the Annual Meeting? This year, it’s not only easy to do, but also the smart thing to do. Here’s why:


1. It’s an incredible value!
No airfare, no hotel rooms, but plenty of fantastic content, all at a greatly reduced rate. Plus, if you miss a session or have to step away, you can access archived recordings and materials whenever your schedule allows!


2. There’s something for everyone!
No matter your interests, role or experience level, you’ll get something out the Annual Meeting. Our sessions address a diverse set of topics – including evaluation, mentorship, work-life balance, storytelling, investment and risk-taking – while keeping a focus on the issues that have dominated this eventful year.


3. It’s easy to fit into your day!
We’ve designed our agenda to work with your team’s schedule – the bulk of our content is concentrated into a couple of hours each day. You’ll learn plenty while being plenty productive!


4. It’s a shared experience!
When was the last time your entire team was in the same place at once? SECF’s Annual Meeting provides an experience everyone can share, both during and long afterward!


5. Your entire foundation – and the community you serve – will benefit!
When your entire team attends the Annual Meeting, each of them will end the experience with new insights, information and inspiration – all of which will quickly be reflected in the work you do on behalf of the organizations you support and the people you serve. 


Visit the Annual Meeting website now and you’ll probably discover many more reasons you and your colleagues should join us in November. Register yourself – and your colleagues – today!

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Southeastern Council of Foundations
100 Peachtree Street NW, Suite 2080
Atlanta, GA 30303

Visiting SECF:
All staff are working remotely at this time but can still be reached via email and by calling (404) 524-0911.

Monday-Thursday from 9:00am–6:00pm (ET)
Friday from 9:00am–12:00pm (ET)

Phone: (404) 524-0911
Fax: (404) 523-5116

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