SECF's Blog

Engage, SECF’s blog, is a space for SECF 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 SECF events and programs.

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

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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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Our New Website Debuts Next Week – Here’s What You Need to Know

Category: Announcements, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Since last year’s Annual Meeting, the Philanthropy Southeast team has been working to roll out our new name, along with a new look and feel that captures the inclusive, courageous community we are today.

Next week, the most visible step in this change will take place as we switch to a new website,!

Our new site will go online the morning of Monday, January 31. Any bookmarks you have to the homepage should automatically redirect to However, if you have bookmarks to other pages on our site, you will need to change those to reflect the new URL. Your login and password will not change.

Along with a new website, our team will also begin using new email addresses on Monday. These will have the same format as before but will end in If you send an email to an address, it should automatically forward, but please update your contacts!

While we have made every effort to ensure this transition is seamless, it is still possible there will be some downtime or reduced access on Monday. Beyond our website, this change may also temporarily affect the functionality of our Member Listservs and Mobile App. However, we will work to keep any disruptions to a minimum. You will also be able to reach our team anytime by calling (404) 524-9011. We will also post updates on our Twitter account as needed.

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we make these changes – thank you for your support of Philanthropy Southeast!

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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.

“Effectiveness in philanthropy is all about trust and relationships,” she said. “Having knowledge of the key issues in the region, as well as opportunities, can propel one’s ability to affect transformative change.”

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Philanthropy Southeast Calls for Passage of John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Author: Philanthropy Southeast


This week, Philanthropy Southeast joined with dozens of other philanthropic and charitable organizations to urge the U.S. Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, legislation that would help protect the right to vote and strengthen the country’s democracy.

With the endorsement of a rapid-response group of members, Philanthropy Southeast signed on to a letter from the United Philanthropy Forum calling for the Senate to approve the bill, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives.

“A strong democracy thrives when all can participate in this sacred act, unencumbered. And while participation in voting has increased, we have also seen systemic inequities in electoral processes and in laws passed making it more difficult for some Americans, specifically voters of color, to vote,” the letter reads. “All of us working in the charitable sector know that the well-being of all Americans, and all communities, is inextricably linked to their ability to exercise their right to vote.”

The bill is named after Rep. John Lewis, who represented the Atlanta area in Congress for over 30 years and was a tireless advocate for voting rights throughout his life.

Philanthropy Southeast’s support for the legislation stems from its Advocacy Agenda adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2021. It expresses the organization’s support for efforts to strengthen democracy and protect voting rights as a necessary step in promoting equity in the region.

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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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Public Policy Update - January 2022

Category: Public Policy, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Each month, Philanthropy Southeast provides members with monthly updates on the latest public policy developments in Washington and state capitols around the region, analyzing their possible impact on the charitable sector. If you would like to see an issue featured in a future Public Policy Update, contact Jaci Bertrand, Philanthropy Southeast's vice president of member engagement, at


Virtual Foundations on the Hill Returns in April

The year’s most important philanthropic advocacy event, Foundations on the Hill, will once again be held virtually this year – it will also be held a bit later than normal, with this year’s event taking place April 5-7, a change from the March dates announced last year.

Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, many Capitol Hill offices are not allowing visitors and the Capitol itself remains closed to the public. Virtual Foundations on the Hill, however, will allow philanthropic leaders to connect with lawmakers and key staff without the need for travel or a hotel, making it an ideal opportunity for anyone interested in advocating for policies that support philanthropy and the vital work it supports in communities across the region.

Registration for Foundations on the Hill 2022 will open later this month – keep an eye on your email for further updates!


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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: Kim Davis

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.

Place is important to Kim Davis, one of the newest members of the Philanthropy Southeast Board of Trustees.

While he works for a foundation with a broad, national presence – the Walton Family Foundation – Kim’s work is focused on the foundation’s home region, specifically the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta. From football to food, he identifies strongly with his hometown of New Orleans. He is also a proponent of the idea that effective philanthropy must be rooted in the places it seeks to support.

“I am a firm believer that community moves at the speed of trust, so proximity is critically important,” he said.

Kim says the high value that Philanthropy Southeast puts on place was a key factor in his decision to accept a nomination to serve on the Board.

“Philanthropy Southeast has a strong emphasis on ‘valuing place’ when thinking about the role of philanthropy,” he said. “By utilizing courageous leadership, Philanthropy Southeast is the best philanthropic organization to mobilize the people and resources to address critical issues in communities in the South.”

Though Kim is a strong supporter of Philanthropy Southeast’s work, he says he still has plenty to learn in his new positions as a Board member.

“During my first year of service, my goal is to listen, learn, and laugh,” he said. “I plan to get curious about Philanthropy Southeast’s strategies, our member services, measurements, and outcomes.  Because of vast amount of impact by Philanthropy Southeast, I will be there to learn from organization staff and other Board members.”

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Helping Western Kentucky and Other Areas Affected by Tornadoes

Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Communities across Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and other states are still reeling from last weekend’s catastrophic storms and tornadoes that resulted in at least 85 deaths and devastated many communities, particularly those in western Kentucky.

Among those who have survived the storms, hundreds of thousands now find themselves without power and many are without a home, clothing or other essentials in mid-December, only days away from Christmas.

In the wake of this disaster, many people and organizations have sprung into action to support affected communities and those who have been displaced. Here are a few ways you can support immediate relief efforts:

Philanthropic resources will be essential to recovery in the long-term, after this disaster has faded from the headlines. The Community Foundation of West Kentucky has already established a Tornado Relief Fund – donations to this fund will be used to support and sustain recovery work in the months ahead. The Felix E. Martin Jr. Foundation is also accepting donations to support recovery in Muhlenberg County.

Earlier this week, Philanthropy Southeast co-sponsored a Center for Disaster Philanthropy webinar on the storms and how philanthropy can respond. A recording of the webinar will be posted on this page soon.

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Public Policy Update - December 2021

Category: Public Policy, 
Author: Philanthropy Southeast


Each month, Philanthropy Southeast provides members with monthly updates on the latest public policy developments in Washington and state capitols around the region, analyzing their possible impact on the charitable sector. If you would like to see an issue featured in a future Public Policy Update, contact Jaci Bertrand, Philanthropy Southeast’s vice president of member engagement, at


Federal Aid Promised for Communities Affected by Tornadoes

In the wake of deadly storms and tornadoes that have devastated communities and caused dozens of deaths in Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and other states, the federal government has announced it will provide disaster assistance in counties as they begin what is expected to be a long recovery.

In Kentucky, the state that suffered the worst impacts of the tornadoes, President Biden announced that federal disaster funds will provide 100 percent coverage for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 30 days.

Philanthropy has also stepped up to provide support for communities. The Community Foundation of West Kentucky quickly established a recovery fund that is now accepting donations. The Felix E. Martin Jr. Foundation is also accepting donations to support relief in Muhlenberg County.

More details on how you can support recovery and relief in west Kentucky will be provided in this week’s Connect newsletter.


Senate Logjam Makes Year-End Extension of Universal Charitable Deduction Unlikely

The universal charitable deduction that has been in place since March 2020 is at risk of expiring, at least temporarily, while Senate Democrats and the White House continue to negotiate on their version of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

Typically, the end of the year sees Congress pass a package of so-called tax extenders, which extends expiring tax provisions into the coming year. However, that package has been delayed while the Senate has been occupied with a debt ceiling fix passed earlier this month and a push by Democratic leaders to pass “Build Back Better” legislation before the end of the year.

For 2021, taxpayers who do not itemize their return are able to deduct $300 ($600 for joint filers) of certain qualified charitable contributions – but Congress has yet to act to extend the deduction into 2022 and beyond.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) acknowledged last week that an extenders bill may be necessary to extend the enhanced child tax credit expiring at year’s end if passage of “Build Back Better” slips into 2022. There are several other expiring provisions, both from COVID relief legislation and the 2017 tax bill, that could be included as well.


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Southeastern Council of Foundations
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