A "Big Tent" That Benefits All Members
This post is based off a message from Philanthropy Southeast President & CEO Janine Lee that will run in the next issue of our Inspiration magazine. The issue will be available in print and online next week!
By Janine Lee
When we adopted Philanthropy Southeast as our name, it came with the promise of transforming our membership into a “big tent” – a network that brought together not only traditional foundations, but also many other kinds of philanthropic organizations, so that we might learn from one another and work together toward our shared goals.
Two years later, that tent is starting to fill up. For proof, just look at the list of new members approved at our most recent Board meeting. At 11 organizations, it’s one of the largest groups of members we’ve ever welcomed within one quarter. But what’s even more impressive is the sheer diversity of that group, which includes family, community and health legacy foundations – the longtime core of our community – along with two supporting organizations, and two grantmaking public charities.
That’s only the beginning, however. We’re also welcoming our second giving circle and two philanthropy-serving organizations, focused on Mississippi and Greenville, South Carolina. Finally, there is the United Way of Greater Atlanta, which is joining Philanthropy Southeast as our first-ever federated fund member.
When I became president and CEO more than a decade ago, a slate of new members like this would have been considered impossible. Today, organizations like these are essential to achieving our vision of a just and equitable South.
What changed over the past 11 years? First, with the support of our members, in 2015 we adopted a strategic plan that expanded our mission – in addition to our longstanding support of our members through programming, services and public policy, we also emerged as a source of thought leadership within our region and our field.
That mandate to provide leadership led directly to 2017’s Passing Gear report, which laid bare the systemic inequities and disparities that were standing in the way of making real progress in the South. It also contributed to the realization that our efforts to spark transformative change were being held back by a narrow definition of philanthropy that made it more difficult to bring together all people and organizations invested in our region’s success.
Our Equity Framework, adopted in 2019, and our Courageous Leadership Strategy, which launched in 2021, were the final pieces of the puzzle. The Equity Framework brought with it a focus on meaningful, systemic change, while our commitment to Courageous Leadership pushed us to invite members beyond the world of endowed foundations.
All our members have reason to be excited about this growth. By diversifying our membership, we are also creating new opportunities for communication and collaboration. We are bringing in new ideas and perspectives that will benefit all of philanthropy – and the communities we support.
We are also approaching this growth in a thoughtful, deliberate way – whether you’ve been a member of Philanthropy Southeast for 50 years or 5 years, we are committed to providing you with top-tier programs, access to our dedicated staff, and the many other benefits and services that have formed the cornerstone of our work. Our public policy work, in particular, stands to gain as we bring in state and local networks with expertise and connections within their footprints – a welcome addition as we continue to serve more states than any other regional philanthropy-serving organization.
Finally, the success we have seen in attracting members of all kinds, including in our newest member categories, demonstrates that the path we are on is the right one. Philanthropy Southeast provides a place of belonging whether you’re a decades-old family foundation, a community foundation serving a population of millions, or – in the case of the United Way – a large organization supporting nonprofits in more than a dozen counties.
What brings these organizations together is a common cause – improving lives throughout the Southeast – but also a shared recognition that Philanthropy Southeast is the best source of, inspiration, information, insight and connections in the region. At one Annual Meeting, you can meet leaders representing the full spectrum of philanthropy in 11 states and beyond – no other organization can offer that much value in one place.
So, as we look ahead to this year’s Annual Meeting in Montgomery, I encourage all of you to take full advantage of the experience. If this is your first time joining us, be prepared to see more people in three days than you normally would in three months. If this is your tenth – or twentieth – Annual Meeting, take the time to catch up with familiar faces, but also seize the opportunity to form new bonds as well.
On behalf of our entire Board and staff, I want to thank all our members for bringing us to this point – and for building a community of leaders that reflects both the best of the past 50 years, and the promise of the years ahead.