Potential for High-Impact Philanthropy Untapped in South, Study Finds

Communities in the Deep South receive less philanthropic support than those in other parts of the United States, and only a small fraction of those funds supports policy reform or community organizing, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Southern Progress finds.

The first in a series of reports about opportunities for philanthropy to improve the lives of underserved communities in the South, As the South Grows: On Fertile Soil (17 pages, PDF) found that, between 2010 and 2014, grantmaking by a thousand of the country's largest foundations averaged $41 per capita in the Alabama Black Belt and Mississippi Delta, compared with a national average of $451. And of the $55 million in total grantmaking to those two regions, only 16 percent was designated for community empowerment strategies. In the decades since the civil rights movement, national foundation interest in the rural South has waxed and waned, and foundations based in the region have focused on funding direct service work instead of systemic change strategies.

Funded by the Educational Foundation of America and the Kresge and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations, the report argues that the South is fertile ground for philanthropic investment and boasts both the skills and infrastructure necessary to empower marginalized people who live there. The report also profiles four community leaders working for the well-being of people of color, the poor, women, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations in the region, highlighting the untapped potential of local activists to make greater impact with additional support.

"These individuals and the organizations they lead are accomplishing so much without much support from foundations and wealthy donors," said Ryan Schlegel, senior associate of research at NCRP and a co-author of the report. "Imagine what they could do if they had more resources in their fight for a healthy place to live, for a just criminal justice system, and for economic self-determination for women. They're just a handful of many people and organizations in the Deep South doing the hard work of building collective power in their communities."

"Many philanthropists choose not to invest in Southern communities or choose short-term opportunities that undermine the long-term capacity of Southern nonprofits," wrote LaTosha Brown, project director of GSP, and Aaron Dorfman, president and CEO of NCRP, in the report's foreword. "Other funders invest in what they think is 'safer' direct service work. While aid to those in need is undoubtedly critical, only investments in systemic change can achieve widespread, deep impact in the region."

"Stories From the Deep South Illuminate Untapped Potential for Philanthropists." National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 04/05/2017.