Foundations in the United States should step up their support for innovative and effective social change networks in the South, which offers fertile soil for developing solutions to national problems, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Southern Progress finds.
The fifth in a series, the report, As the South Grows: So Grows the Nation (32 pages, PDF), found that, between 2011 and 2015, U.S. foundations invested 56 cents per capita in Southern states for every dollar per capita invested nationally, while grantmaking in support of structural change work only amounted to 11 cents per capita in the region. The report further notes that the typical grantmaking process tends to put Southern social change organizations at a disadvantage. Because the South has often been the proving ground for the nation's most regressive public policies and rhetoric, the report suggests that by not investing in structural change work in the region, the philanthropic sector is putting marginalized people across the country in harm's way.
Funded by the Educational Foundation of America, the Kresge Foundation, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the report argues that funders must fundamentally shift how they decide whom to support in the region and for what activities by reckoning with shared history; assessing the risk of inaction; and recognizing the capacity of Southern grassroots organizations and leaders. According to the report, foundation staff and trustees tend to underestimate the ability of grassroots leaders in the region — especially women, African-American women, people of color, poor people, LGBTQ people, and immigrants — to make a significant difference in addressing stubborn social challenges, while Southern grassroots leaders themselves tend not to count on philanthropy.
"Some have been burned by foundation staff who promise the world and do not deliver; some have been frustrated for too long by foundation staff's inability to work effectively in the region," the report's authors note. "Broken relationships and mistrust are left in the wake of decades of philanthropic misadventures."
To address this lack of trust, the report outlines steps that foundations can take to jump-start high-impact grantmaking in the South, including reevaluating their processes and requirements to include different definitions of capacity, success, and risk in a Southern grassroots context; reaching out to foundations that are already funding structural change efforts in the South; and integrating a racial- and gender-equity lens into their grantmaking.
"The South is home to inspiring, effective examples of strategies that have been pushing back against stark inequities for generations," the report concludes. "If the philanthropic sector does invest in the work of these networks of high-capacity organizations to strive toward greater equity in the region, then the nation will reap the results."