Philanthropy Southeast's Blog

Engage, Philanthropy Southeast's blog, is a space for 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 Philanthropy Southeast events and programs.

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


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Staff Highlight: Utoia Wooten

Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Utoia Wooten, Philanthropy Southeast’s new Senior Programs Associate, comes to the organization with a clear commitment to courageous leadership.

“Courageous leadership requires a vision,” said Utoia, who joined the staff earlier in March. “It means you are willing to ask and answer difficult questions. It means you have the humility to admit what you don’t know and the openness and willingness to listen and learn from the people you are leading.”

Philanthropy Southeast’s own Courageous Leadership strategy was one of several factors that drew Utoia to her new role. Another was a familiarity that grew during her time at the Foundation Center, now known as Candid. At the Foundation Center’s Atlanta office, Utoia served as a community outreach manager and training manager.

“During my time at Foundation Center, I developed issue-specific programming for nonprofit leaders and served as a connector among grantmakers, nonprofit leaders, and other community stakeholders,” she said. “Philanthropy Southeast was a significant resource when I was new to issue-specific programming.”

Programming will be a critical part of Utoia’s work at Philanthropy Southeast, especially with the return of in-person events like next month’s CEO Forum and the upcoming Hull Fellows spring retreat. Utoia will also support Philanthropy Southeast’s resource development work, something she has plenty of familiarity with as a resource development consultant for the Georgia Family Connection Partnership.

“As I support core programming efforts and partnerships initiatives, creating a space for listening, learning, and collaboration is always at the forefront,” she said. “I view my role as setting the stage and providing the resources. Our members are doing the work that will keep me inspired.”

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Member Highlight: Upendo Shabazz

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


For foundations today, grants are only one item in a rapidly expanding toolbox – one that includes creative investment strategies, convening power, public policy advocacy and more.

It can be a lot to take in for those new to the field. Thankfully, attendees at Philanthropy Southeast’s upcoming Philanthropy Essentials training will learn about these tools and their importance from an experienced voice – Upendo Shabazz, regional vice president for Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

“I enjoy teaching Philanthropy Essentials,” said Upendo, who taught the same module at last year’s offering. “The content is ‘real time’ and inspiring as each teacher brings their experience/expertise. I also enjoy teaching to listen and understand from the attendees their desire and drive to be of service.”

Upendo plans on making sure this year’s attendees fully understand the SMIRF framework of philanthropic capital – social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial – and why all are essential to addressing deeply rooted challenges and their causes.

“Addressing root causes and systemic issues are complex and often imbedded in racism,” she said. “I hope attendees understand thinking creatively out of the box utilizing SMIRF capital is the best strategy to addressing these issues.”

Leveraging multiple forms of capital is also a way for smaller foundations – at least when measured by assets and giving – to punch far above their weight.

“We are a small grant-maker and building relationships with and for our grant partners is one of the values we bring,” Upendo said. “SMIRF capital is critical to our success in working in community.”

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Member Highlight: Mary Thomas

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Every offering of Philanthropy Essentials kicks off with a module dedicated to a broad review of philanthropy and the Southeastern region – its history, its demographics, the challenges it faces and how it is changing.

There are not many people better equipped to lead this session than Mary Thomas. The chief operating officer of The Spartanburg County Foundation, Mary has nearly three decades of experience in the field and has helped lead some of its most innovative work.

Mary says she hopes Philanthropy Essentials participants understand that projects like the Racial Equity Collaborative are critical to the future of the field and the region’s communities.

“I hope they see the significant impact that philanthropy has in communities when applying Passing Gear principals and all forms of capital that allow change to happen in communities across the South,” she said. “My goal is to share a philanthropic ecosystem that is wide and varied with multiple ways to engage, inspire, champion and support causes that matter.”

Mary will also bring with her a sense of historical perspective – she has worked throughout a time of incredible change for both the field and the region.

“The biggest change is the talk and work around racial equity,” she said. “This work is messy but necessary. It is encouraging to see this region using its voice for change – although daunting, we must persist.”

Philanthropy Essentials participants, Mary said, will hopefully come away from next month’s training knowing the value of understanding the communities in which they work – and the people they ultimately work to support.

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Member Highlight: Andrea Dobson

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Evaluating a potential grantee’s finances is not the kind of work that shows up in news articles on effective philanthropy – but effective philanthropy would also be impossible without it.

That’s why Philanthropy Southeast’s upcoming Philanthropy Essentials workshop devotes an entire module to nonprofit finances and due diligence, skills that are necessary for any grants manager, program officer, or trustee being asked to make funding recommendations and decisions.

Teaching the module at this February’s program will be Andrea Dobson, chief operating and financial officer for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas. She considers this work her bread and butter – and wants newcomers to the field to not feel intimidated by it.

“Financial due diligence isn't scary – it is a tool to help you as a philanthropic professional to better understand the organizations you partner with, and it is an important part of everyone's role,” she said.

Due diligence also isn’t about passing judgments or gatekeeping, Dobson emphasized. In fact, it can be a tool for discovering opportunities for capacity-building.

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Member Highlight: Mijo Vodopic

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


This Member Highlight is part of a series profiling new members of the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees elected at the 2021 Annual Meeting.

National funders looking to become more involved in the South – and build connections to foundations based in the region – have long turned to Philanthropy Southeast as both a conduit and a source of information and research.

The key role of national foundations as partners in building an equitable South is one reason why Mijo Vodopic, a senior program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, based in Chicago, was nominated to serve on the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees.

Partnership was also a main reason why Mijo said yes when he was asked to serve.

“Philanthropy Southeast has been a helpful partner to the MacArthur Foundation’s grantmaking in the South and to me personally, as I work to be a reliable, helpful funding partner, albeit one from farther away,” he said. “Having an opportunity to serve on the Philanthropy Southeast Board is a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work more closely with colleagues dedicated to the region.”

While he may live and work far outside the Southeast, Mijo already has plenty in common with fellow trustees and others in the region. For example, he sees incredible potential in philanthropy’s convening power.

“From my experiences in the United States and internationally, the wealth and influence we help steward can bring together unusual, powerful, effective, etc. partnerships,” he said. “That ability to convene is something we can share and magnify as a philanthropic sector and where I believe we can learn much from each other.”

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Member Highlight: Christopher Cuevas

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


This Member Highlight is part of a series profiling new members of the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees elected at this year’s Annual Meeting.

Christopher Cuevas possesses a deeply-held belief in the power of philanthropy – a belief they say played a big part in accepting a nomination to serve on the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees.

“I believe that, together, Southern funders can move mountains, fuel change, and transform our communities and nation for the better,” they said. “I believe that Philanthropy Southeast can offer support to Southern funders in transforming our homes for the better, and it is an honor to be of service to this body of work.”

Christopher, one of four new Trustees approved by Philanthropy Southeast members at last month’s Annual Meeting, has been in their role at the Laughing Gull Foundation for just over a year – they manage a $2 million dollar grant portfolio to support LGBTQ+ organizations working at the intersections of racial, gender, and economic justice throughout the U.S. South.

Beyond this work in the sector, Christopher will also bring a rich mix of professional and life experiences into Board meetings. A child of undocumented immigrants and a queer person of color, Christopher previously founded and led QLatinx, a racial, social, and gender justice movement created in the wake of 2016’s Pulse Nightclub massacre. They’ve also spent time as an organizer working on issues impacting LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants, and communities living with HIV.

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Member Highlight: Velma Monteiro-Tribble

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


This Member Highlight is part of a series profiling new members of the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees elected at this year’s Annual Meeting.

Velma Monteiro-Tribble comes to the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees with a wealth of experience, ranging from the U.S. Department of Education to overseeing philanthropic leadership development initiatives in places like Austria, Latin America and South Africa.

She plans on bringing all she’s learned to the table as a Board member, but says that, despite a lengthy resume, she still sees her first year on the Board as an opportunity to “be quiet and listen, learn and offer my expertise when needed.”

“I appreciate the thought leadership, the people, Board, leadership, staff, convenings and engagement opportunities,” she said about what drew her to accept an invite to join the board. “It fits with my belief about how philanthropy needs to work.”

Velma joins the Board as another representative of corporate philanthropy – she works as senior director for foundation community investments at the Florida Blue Foundation, which is affiliated with Florida Blue, a health insurance provider.

At the foundation, Velma has recently focused more of her work on issues of equity and social justice – areas she was able to think about more intentionally when the pandemic gave her the space to think strategically.

“I have become much more introspective and deepened my passion, commitment and work around equity and social justice,” she said. “While these two issues have always been important to me, I really did not have much ‘alone’ time to think through the strategies to create and execute on long-term programs and initiatives. These past two years have allowed me to move the foundation’s work forward in these areas.”

Velma also draws inspiration for her work from the people she interacts with day-to-day – people who experience what she calls “the rawness of life.”

“I really enjoy being around folks that can see and feel the pain from what I call the ‘rawness of life,’ yet have the ability to rise up and actively work to make life better collectively for the common good of all people,” she said.

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Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Lexi Paza

Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


Nonprofits need a lot of things to run effectively, some of which are easy to take for granted – like space.

Even during a time when working from home has become far more common, nonprofits that are active in their communities still need a way to bring people – staff, board members, partners, the people they serve, and more – into a shared space.

Often, however, that can be in short supply. Small towns don’t have enough, and in big cities, it’s too expensive to rent or own. That’s where nonprofit centers come into play.

These spaces provide a place multiple nonprofits in a community can use when needed. Several already exist throughout the Southeast – examples include The Spartanburg County Foundation’s Robert Hett Chapman III Center for Philanthropy and the PATH Foundation’s Resource Center.

Foundations, however, aren’t usually in the real estate business. Thankfully, The Nonprofit Centers Network, based in Denver, has established itself as a thought leader in what it calls “social purpose real estate.”

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SECF Staff Highlight: Carlos Peralta

Tags: SECF Staff 
Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


SECF has a long history of bringing on a summer intern from Emory University’s Ethics and Servant Leadership program – a history interrupted last year by the COVID pandemic.

This summer, however, the program resumed with Carlos Peralta, a recent Emory graduate who has supported the SECF staff throughout the summer. While there have been no in-person programs to attend, Carlos has worked closely with SECF’s membership team on recruitment and retention efforts, along with research projects. He’s also been able to interact with the entire SECF team by attending virtual staff meetings throughout his internship.

Carlos said his experience with SECF has brought him much closer to the world of philanthropy than he would have expected a few years ago.

“Growing up, philanthropy seemed like an end goal, an aspiration, something unattainable, something reserved for the wealthy,” he said. “I have always wanted to contribute back to my community, as I have been fortunate to have people and organizations that have helped me in my journey so far. I find the feeling of helping others very rewarding. Whether directly or indirectly, I believed I could find this opportunity at SECF.”

As part of his internship, Carlos has had the opportunity to meet virtually with SECF members, including staff at the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and the Community Foundation of South Georgia – he said learning about the inner workings of community foundations was one of the most surprising things about his time at SECF.

“One of the most exciting and interesting things that I learned is the various types of gifts that community foundations can accept,” Carlos said. “Community foundations often get offered pretty bizarre gifts such as lands, copyrights, arts, patent payments, and other assets!”

Along with learning about some of the quirks of the field, Carlos said he’s also gained an appreciation for the hard work of community foundations in some of the region’s more rural areas.

“Unlike large urban areas like Atlanta, most nonprofits in the Southeast are not as well known or established,” he said. “Community foundations have to look for the right organizations where the funds would have the most impact.”

Like many people fresh out of college, Carlos, who studied economics and Italian, hasn’t yet made up his mind on what he’ll do now that he’s out of school. Still, he feels very fortunate as a first-generation college graduate from a family of immigrants.

“I began working when I was 10 years old. While plenty of kids my age were on vacation somewhere, my summers ranged from planting and picking vegetables in fields, working under hazardous conditions in the construction industry, and working as a housekeeper staff in a hotel,” he said. “I am actually grateful for my upbringing as it has shown me the things that really matter, such as family.”

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Member Highlight: Mari Kuraishi

Category: Member Highlight, 
Author: Southeastern Council of Foundations


This week's Member Highlight will also run in the upcoming issue of our Inspiration magazine, arriving at member offices and on later this month!

Just over two years ago, Mari Kuraishi moved from leading philanthropy on a global scale to taking the reins at one of the region’s most prominent place-based funders, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Jacksonville, Florida. As Mari prepares to take the stage during SECF’s 52nd Annual Meeting, we checked in with her to discuss how she’s brought her own vision to the Fund during an incredibly eventful, unpredictable time.


You joined the Jessie Ball duPont Fund as president in early 2019. After more than two years with the Fund, what are you most proud of?

Shortly after joining the Fund, the City of Jacksonville asked me to get engaged in the work they were doing to design and build a park commemorating native sons James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson and their “Negro National Anthem” Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, specifically to ensure that the process would engage key community stakeholders. Fast forward to today: We have designed the park, shared the design with the public to great positive response, and plan to complete it by the Jacksonville Bicentennial in 2022. The thing I am most proud of is a letter I got last month from one of the key advocates for the park. I had written him a letter after a ceremonial groundbreaking we hosted at the site, thanking him for his tireless efforts. He wrote back to say, “I worked on the Johnson Brothers project for 12 years and so many people told me I was wasting my time and efforts. When I met you, you told me it would be done.” I can’t tell you how gratifying that was.


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Philanthropy Southeast
100 Peachtree Street NW, Suite 2080
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Visiting Philanthropy Southeast:
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)
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Phone: (404) 524-0911
Fax: (404) 523-5116

Mission: Philanthropy Southeast strengthens Southern philanthropy, welcoming our members to listen, learn and collaborate on ideas and actions to help build an equitable, prosperous South.