11 States in 11 Months: Southern Philanthropy in... Louisiana

Note: This post is the sixth 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: Louisiana.

Louisiana Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Member: The Rosa Mary Foundation (joined 1973)
Newest SECF Member: Methodist Health System Foundation (joined 2018)
Number of SECF Members: 13

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

Voices from Louisiana

Kristi Gustavson
Community Foundation of North Louisiana

Tell us about the state of philanthropy in Louisiana today – what are the biggest opportunities, trends and challenges you see as you assess your state and the work of its philanthropic community?

Louisiana often makes national news. Sadly, the news is frequently negative. Recently Louisiana ranked 49th in child welfare according to Annie E. Casey’s 2019 Kids Count Report; it tied with New Mexico for the state with the highest poverty rates and ranks 50th in overall health due to high numbers of children in poverty, smoking, obesity and low birth weights. As Louisiana has some steep mountains to climb, effective use of philanthropic dollars is more important than ever.

I joined Community Foundation of North Louisiana (CFNLA) as its CEO in January of 2018. As a former commercial attorney, most of my first year was spent studying the issues faced by my community and the entities working tirelessly to solve them. While I do not expect this steep learning curve to taper off anytime soon, I have come to two definite conclusions.

It is clear to me that no matter the problem, treatment is no substitute for prevention. For example, relative to our health we know lifelong maintenance is both more effective and less costly than treatment. A healthy diet and moderate exercise can prevent any number of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Yet diabetes costs America a staggering $327 billion dollars annually (a 25 percent increase in five years) through both direct patient care and costs and indirect costs to employers like increased absenteeism and reduced productivity. Louisiana must evolve and take proactive measure rather than reactive ones.

Only 46.3 percent of children in the Shreveport-Bossier area enter public school “kindergarten ready,” meaning catching them up to grade level is infinitely more difficult. As a result, CFNLA funds and supports early intervention measures like parent education on the importance of early brain development for children ages 0-3 and nurse-family partnerships. In addition, as there is an absence of adequate child care and preschool in our area, CFNLA is helping to facilitate the first-ever Northwest Louisiana Early Childhood Policy Summit in the fall of 2019. City, parish and state officials, legislators, business owners and child welfare experts will be invited to determine how to deploy available resources to ensure all children are given an equal chance on the first day of kindergarten.

Prevention and early intervention of mental health issues is also a high priority in Louisiana. Toxic stress, which is the excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationship, can result from abuse, neglect, or family alcoholism or drug addiction. As it is both a barrier to educational success and can ultimately result in higher incidences of adult alcoholism, drug addiction, heart disease, and diabetes, early screening and treatment of children is vital. CFNLA convened a group of pediatricians who have devised a screening process for all North Louisiana pediatricians.

In my first year it is also become clear to me that no one foundation, funder, municipality or donor can effect change alone. Real change happens only when we collaborate and pool resources. As Louisiana will move forward only if it does so together, Community Foundation of North Louisiana will continue to encourage and facilitate collaboration.

Renee Joyal, Ph.D.
Vice President of Research and Trustee
Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation

What do you expect to be the biggest issues facing your organization and/or Louisiana philanthropy in the next 10 years?

Like our sister states, Louisiana continues to struggle with a litany of problems and challenges -- generational poverty, access to quality education and health care, a lack of affordable housing and livable wages, the urban and rural divide, the widening class divide -- the list unfortunately goes on. However, the philanthropic sector is in a unique position compared to our public and private sector colleagues in that we have the latitude to explore and implement novel approaches and solutions to these ongoing problems. Simply put, philanthropy can often say and do things that others just can’t.

As a foundation that has been supporting Louisiana’s nonprofit community for 20 years, the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation continues to learn and grow. Directly tied to our obligation as stewards of the foundation’s assets, the foundation’s trustees and staff recognize the important roles the organization can -- and should -- play beyond that of simply funder. The foundation has the influence to be a facilitator, a convener and a community coordinator at times, among various parties, including nonprofits, other funders, government entities, the private sector and community leaders. In adopting these roles, we have learned the value of listening to our community. Listening and learning has propelled us into a more proactive community actor.

The financial support the Wilson Foundation provides the community is undoubtedly valuable and appreciated, but the foundation has come to understand and embrace that we, and the larger philanthropic community, can do more. Thus, one of the greatest issues facing the philanthropic sector in Louisiana, and beyond, over the next decade is how we continue to develop and leverage this greater capacity. How do we, as the philanthropic sector, continue to foster partnerships, while holding ourselves accountable as we do our grantees, all the while ensuring that we are being impactful and making wise investments?

Some examples of how the Wilson Foundation is trying to leverage this capacity include encouraging movement within our local community around collective problems by making introductions among key players on an ongoing basis. We also coordinate and host a quarterly roundtable of local funders that is action-oriented around the common interest of local education reform. We recently spearheaded a multi-year, multi-million-dollar initiative around improving prison re-entry efforts and helped bring attention to criminal justice reform within the state at a time when few others would even acknowledge such a topic. Finally, we partnered with our community foundation to fund a comprehensive needs assessment study and resource guide around autism spectrum disorder to help address the needs and minimize the gaps in services for individuals and families in the Capital Region.

Our engagement in these activities, and others, highlight that the Wilson Foundation is more than a funding mechanism to our local community partners. Over the past two decades, the Wilson Foundation has grown alongside the larger field of philanthropy, but much work is left to do. We eagerly look forward to the foundation’s continued growth and impact into the next decade and hope to encourage our partner philanthropic institutions within the state to do the same.

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!

In 1892 Homer A. Plessy, a black New Orleans shoemaker, legally challenged the ordinance that racially segregated passengers on streetcars in that city. It let to the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case. The judge, John Howard Ferguson, ruled that the “separate but equal” concept was constitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his decision – one that stood for nearly 60 years until struck down by Brown v. Board of Education and other decisions. Today, the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation, established by descendants of both men, erects historical markers in New Orleans to celebrate singular African-American achievements.


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