Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise

“The region has arrived at a moment in its history that calls for homegrown philanthropy to be a strategic tool for building the South of the future.”

The State of the South 2007: Philanthropy as the South’s “Passing Gear”

 

How far down the road has philanthropy traveled as the South’s “Passing Gear” for equity and economic promise since those words were written 10 years ago? And what should the priorities be today? Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear—Fulfilling the Promise, which is being released today at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Council of Foundations, answers those questions, revising and updating MDC’s 2007 publication, The State of the South 2007: Philanthropy as the South’s ‘Passing Gear.’

What is Passing Gear philanthropy? It is philanthropy that seeks to engage society’s inventiveness and focus its capabilities on situations where current performance is missing the mark. It cultivates the will, imagination, and know-how to enable caring and concerned people to address contradictions between the ideals we hold and the disappointing realities we confront daily.

The original report was designed to start a fresh conversation about the importance of philanthropy to promoting health, improving education, and dismantling social barriers in the South. Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear—Fulfilling the Promise, a joint venture between MDC and the Southeastern Council of Foundations with the support of 20 regional and national funders, updates the ways Southern philanthropic capital has succeeded as one of the most important strategic tools in the South’s forward movement—and the opportunities it has to do much more. Here’s what you’ll find in the full report, which you can download here:

Chapter 1: The State of the South—Better Off, But Not Nearly Good Enough

The report begins with data and analysis of how far the South has come, not just since 2007, but in the last 50 years, since the ground-breaking and tumultuous years when MDC was founded, change was underway, and hope seemed on the horizon. Using timely, disaggregated data on population, demographics, health, in-migration, poverty, assets, K-12 education, postsecondary attainment, and more, it outlines the progress made, and the challenges—old and new—that have yet to be solved. Just one example: while black and white attainment of Bachelor’s degrees have both increased markedly from 1970 to the present (when states ranged from about 6% to 14% of college graduates for whites and 3 to 5% for blacks), white degree attainment has increased more rapidly, ranging from 19 to 40%, while the number of African Americans with BAs increased to 14 to 22% among 13 states.

Turning Up the Degrees: Educational Attainment by Race, 1970 and 2015
(Percentage of Population with Bachelor’s degree or more)

Source: 1970 Census and American Community Survey 5-year estimates

 

Chapter 2: Accelerating Change with Passing Gear Philanthropy

Chapter 2 presents a framework for action by Southern philanthropy: a description of what Passing Gear philanthropy is, how a foundation must think differently to find inventive solutions to address “wicked problems,” and what it looks like in practice. It puts Passing Gear into the context of the four traditions of American philanthropy (Relief, Improvement, Social Reform, and Civic Discourse/Engagement), and explains the importance of using all five forms of philanthropic capital (Social, Moral, Intellectual, Reputational, as well as Financial)—a process that includes examining history and data, recognizing a philanthropy’s core values, then moving from concerns and ideals to focused work. This chapter also includes an analysis of 28,000 grants to Southern organizations from 2004-2014 identified as Passing Gear grantmaking by MDC, sorted by source—regional and non-Southern funders—and by geography and fields of interest.

Southern counties receiving the largest cumulative Passing Gear investments
(2004 – 2014)

Source: MDC analysis of 2017 Foundation Center data

 

Chapter 3: Passing Gear Philanthropy in the South

Chapter 3 describes seven examples of Passing Gear philanthropy as undertaken by funders across the South of varying types and sizes, covering a range of issues. They are powerful examples of grantmaking that contain elements of Passing Gear philanthropy—a clear reading of reality, using data and reflecting on it, employing multiple forms of capital, and applying evaluative thinking to address stubborn, structural challenges. Profiles include:

  • Alabama School Readiness Alliance: Grantmakers and Advocacy
  • ForwARd Arkansas: Two Foundations (the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation) Take the Lead on Education Reform
  • The Rapides (La.) Foundation: Taking a Time-Out to Become Strategic on Health
  • The Spartanburg County (S.C.) Foundation: Spartanburg Academic Movement
  • The Duke Endowment: The Nurse/Family Partnership in the Carolinas
  • Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation: Using its Endowment for Program-Related Investments
  • U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities: Supporting African-American Farmers and Forest Assets

 

Chapter 4: Reflections from the Field

We conclude with reflections from five seasoned foundation professionals on the “how,” “why,” and “for whom” of what they do. Contributors are:

  • Gayle Williams: Reading Reality with Joy, Humility, and Passion
  • Sherry Magill: Putting Community at the Heart of What We Do
  • Gladys Washington: ‘We Have a Lot to Learn from Folk’
  • Karl Stauber: Challenging culture to change culture
  • Ambassador James A. Joseph: Making Hope and History Rhyme

In his reflection, Ambassador James A. Joseph, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under President Bill Clinton, President Emeritus of the Council on Foundations, Chairman Emeritus of MDC, and Emeritus Professor of the Practice of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, wrote, “The examples of imaginative philanthropy in this State of the South are encouraging, but too many of us find it easier to stand on the sidelines and simply lament the state of things. They are the ones who walk on the dark side of hope. Yet, while I worked in many difficult and dangerous places in the South, I still believe that the region has the potential to make hope and history rhyme. Philanthropy at its best provides not just help, but also hope. And as I like to say in every elevator speech, the gift of hope is as big a gift as the gift of life itself.”