FFL, Southeastern Council of Foundations consider 'Navigating the Currents of Change' at 47th annual meeting


The annual meeting was a chance for foundations to network, organize and think about what future will hold for philanthropy and for the country.

In early November, four Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) staff members traveled to Amelia Island, Fla. to take part in the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) 47th Annual Meeting. With a theme of “Navigating the Currents of Change” and taking place during and after the presidential election, the annual meeting was a chance for foundations to network, organize and think about what future will hold for philanthropy and for the country.

The meeting kicked off with a keynote from Karl Zinsmeister from the Philanthropy Roundtable, which helps organizations become more effective in their giving. Zinsmeister shared highlights from his book The Almanac of American Philanthropy, which attempts to give context to the $373 billion distributed annually by philanthropists — individuals, foundations and businesses — across the U.S. Described as “the definitive reference on private giving and its importance to U.S. society,” one of the case studies (in the book and highlighted at the conference) was that of Louisiana philanthropist Edward “Ned” McIlhenny, son of Edmund, who founded the Tabasco sauce company located on Avery Island. Turns out that in addition to selling Tabasco, Ned spearheaded two major philanthropic endeavors back in the early 1900s. He created bird sanctuaries and helped save the snowy egret from extinction, as well as protecting other migratory waterfowl. In the mid-1930s, McIlhenny also is credited with hiring musicologists to capture 125 spirituals that had passed down orally for generations. Only a handful were recorded anywhere else and these would have been lost forever without his intervention. Great things happen in Louisiana and have been for a long time!

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, Associate Director of Programs and Planning, explains that one of the most interesting presentations for her was that of the keynote from Larry Sabato of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Until this election, the Crystal Ball team, based at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, had a 99 percent accuracy rating in ‘predicting all races for House, Senate, Governor and each state’s Electoral College outcome.” But they got this got one wrong.

“Sabato discussed what went wrong in their predictions and how the voting demographic has shifted,” Gulliver-Garcia said. “It was interesting to see how lack of higher education — a key point in a previous discussion by Robert Putnam — influenced the results of the election.”

Alfredo A. Cruz, Vice-President of Programs and Special Initiatives also serves on the Board of Trustees for the SECF and observed that now more than before the presence of philanthropy in Washington during Foundations on the Hill (March 20-22, 2017) will be important to better understand opportunities and threats to the field of philanthropy. “SECF Board stands committed to increasing our members’ participation at Foundations on the Hill in 2017 and FFL will also commit to ensure Louisiana is well represented by encouraging and supporting our local foundation partners’ participation,” he said.

During the annual meeting, Alfredo co-chaired the first convening of the Out in the South Advisory Council comprised of a dozen philanthropic leaders from throughout the South. The meeting focused on providing a summary of the latest trends in LGBT demographics and funding in the South, as well as the work of the Out in the South initiative to date. Council members then made recommendations for the next phase of the work, including programming ideas for the 2017 SECF annual meeting scheduled for Orlando, Fla.

After his introduction of Dr. Sabato, Cruz acknowledged the need to invest more time and resources in having a presence in those rural communities in Louisiana whose needs have gone unmet and which we now know have spoken with their votes in the 2016 Presidential elections. “We cannot continue to ignore the need to connect with those rural communities and pay attention to their community needs.”

Matt Nunez, FFL’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, says that he learned “that the foundation community needs to continue and strengthen efforts to be an advocate for their local communities and to be even better at understanding the concerns of their local constituents.” Nunez added, “Also, that foundations need to not get to overly concerned with market fluctuations and stay the course for the long-term concerning their investments.”

Liz Williams, Coastal Communities Resiliency Programs Officer, says that for her, “The SECF conference provided a unique opportunity to discuss the shifting demographics of the southeast region and the specific challenges currently being addressed by many of our philanthropic allies. Some of the most interesting sessions for me focused on means to support our local community partners to build their capacity around these shifting environments. With the understanding that environmental stressors exacerbate existing socioeconomic challenges, conference attendees were able to focus on the results of the recent election and look toward enhanced challenges while speculating where new moments of potential may arise.”

The conference wrapped up with a special event hosted by SECF, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, CHANGE Philanthropy, Grantmakers for Southern Progress and the Association of Black Foundation Executives, titled “Understanding and Addressing Violence
Against Marginalized Communities in the South: A call to re-evaluate, rethink and reframe relationships among funders and Southern communities.” The event featured Cruz, and offered a chance for like-minded participants to discuss the impact of events like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the Alton Sterling killing in Baton Rouge. It also brought a sense of healing for many participants who were able to share their own concerns for their work going forward in a new political climate.