Mission & Vision
The Babcock Foundation’s mission is to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice. We recognize poverty is complicated and multi-faceted. We believe in the need for significant changes in the systems and structures—laws, behaviors, attitudes, policies and institutions—that make a difference to people and their communities. To overcome tough barriers, people often need concrete assistance, like access to employment, workforce training or affordable housing, that results in direct improvements and supports them in achieving their full potential. We also believe people who develop skills and believe in themselves can successfully improve their own lives and act collectively to increase opportunity for their communities.
Our vision for the South is anchored in a belief in people, organizations and the power of partnerships.
Our vision for the South is anchored in a belief in people, organizations and the power of partnerships. We believe more people must directly influence the institutions and leaders that shape their economic and civic lives. Better policy and more collaborative institutions, public and private, should provide supportive and equitable ladders of economic opportunity. More people and communities need to access, control and build assets essential for economic mobility and stability. Progress along all three pathways—civic engagement, supportive policy and institutions, and economic opportunity—is critical to moving people and places out of poverty.
We recognize there are serious challenges to this vision in the South and beyond: Structural racism and other forms of discrimination are major barriers. Political control remains too concentrated. Disinvestment in public goods like education and the safety net has eroded the foundation people need to get ahead. The economy too often rewards short-term market behavior that hurts low-wealth people, communities and natural systems.
Overcoming these challenges and advancing this vision is not easy work. It takes long-term, patient investment. It takes collaboration among unusual partners. It takes effective, well-resourced organizations, enterprises and networks working in new ways across race, geography, strategy and issues. It requires low-wealth and directly affected people to be central to the solutions in their communities and across the region. It takes a commitment to democracy, equity and inclusion.
While these solutions are not simple, we believe they are not only possible but essential to promoting economic opportunity and reducing poverty and inequality in the South.
Our Commitment to Racial Equity
Potential is universal. Opportunity is not, particularly in the South.
In a more equitable South, a person’s wellbeing would not be determined by race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, physical ability or class. All people would live in healthy, safe communities, participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and share in the region’s prosperity. Communities, guided by a rich diversity of experience and wisdom, would be strong and resilient.
Racism, however, continues to present barriers to fulfilling potential. Slavery, segregation and a host of laws, policies and practices have entrenched white supremacy, delivering enormous advantages to whites and pervasive disadvantages to people of color. While some of those systems have changed, the vast inequities they created persist in modern-day vestiges: school and housing segregation, sentencing disparities, lending and hiring discrimination, and wealth and homeownership gaps. Structural racism remains a monumental barrier to our mission; it must be dismantled for everyone to realize America’s promises.
In a more equitable South, communities, guided by a rich diversity of experience and wisdom, would be strong and resilient.
We would all benefit from greater equity. A report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found closing the racial wealth gap would boost America’s GDP by $8 trillion by 2050, generating more resources to invest in public goods like infrastructure, health care and education. To maximize the contributions and opportunities of people of color, the South’s institutions and systems must be recalibrated. That requires an honest examination of policies and practices to determine who is excluded or disadvantaged, and empowering them to redesign the systems. It demands resources and solutions tailored to specific needs and the elimination of barriers that limit individual opportunity and collective potential. It requires people who look and think differently to listen and learn and seek common cause.
For our part, the Babcock Foundation is committed to infusing equity into our work while continuing some core approaches: centering communities in solutions, helping organizations build their capacity to do more, cultivating innovative partnerships and advancing systems change with long-term resources. We will explore new ways to amplify a broad range of voices and strengthen leaders who reflect the full diversity of the South’s demographics.
We acknowledge philanthropy itself is often a product of systemic social and economic inequalities, and our mission compels us to use all our resources to reduce those disparities. Doing so could mean shifting our internal policies, grantmaking procedures, investment strategies, organizational culture and the small decisions we make every day. We will confront our own personal biases, meet people where they are and hold each other accountable. We will learn by doing.
We will also lean on our peers and partners and hope they’ll lean on us, too. We are fortunate to be part of a vibrant network of organizations and coalitions striving for racial equity. As we learn from and with them, we aim to be transparent by communicating our processes, any changes we make and lessons we learn along the way, recognizing we are a work in progress.
We invite you to join us on this journey and share your wisdom as we all strive for a more equitable South.
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We don't believe in a "silver bullet" approach to poverty alleviation. Investments in multiple organizations and coalitions over time, using complementary strategies and informed by their understanding of place, are most successful.
Engage with all Assets
We strategically deploy 100 percent of our financial assets (grants, program-related investments and market-rate investments), use our intellectual and reputational capital to influence and leverage investments from other sources, communicate strategically and look for opportunities to convene grantees and other partners for peer learning. We deploy staff as "network officers" to engage deeply in a place, learn the context and determine how best to support our partners.
We believe networks of people and organizations who bring together diverse strategies, capacities and perspectives have greater impact than those working alone. We support efforts to develop leaders who are directly affected and connect them to partners and opportunities that increase their influence.
We aim to strengthen every dimension (program, governance, management, administration, finance, culture, etc.) of healthy organizations and networks through patient, long-term general support and attention to organizational development.
Since its founding in 1953, the Babcock Foundation has been building on its experiences to hone its work and tell the story of the South. We reflect on and capture lessons and share them broadly with our grantee and philanthropic partners. We seek out important crosscutting topics, commission research as needed and share our findings with our colleagues in the field.
There are many Souths. Each state and region has its own context, history, challenges and opportunities. We believe an understanding of and focus on place are central to defining unique opportunities, challenges and partnerships to move people and places out of poverty.
Pathways of Change
People are better positioned to escape poverty when they have direct access to jobs and ways to turn income into durable assets. Some of these ladders of economic opportunity include work supports, job training and connections to employers seeking skilled, fair-wage labor. Others include access to non-predatory financial services, local control of community assets and tools to encourage entrepreneurship and new business models.
Democracy & civic engagement
We believe in the power of democracy and civic engagement to effect positive transformations. This happens when a broad range of people—including those who are low-wealth and directly affected by inequality—develop the knowledge, skills, networks and motivation to build democratic systems and challenge entrenched structures. Key strategies to support these outcomes include community organizing, leadership development, inclusive community planning, voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Supportive policies & institutions
For communities to thrive, for‐profit and nonprofit institutions and all levels of government must embrace cultures and policies that open doors to economic opportunity and democratic participation for low-wealth people. Supportive institutions can bring new resources to the table, effectively implement policy and leverage political will. Strategies toward these outcomes include research, strategic communications, advocacy and community organizing.
Why the South Matters
"As the South goes, so goes the nation."
Historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois maintained a strong South is critical to the health of the nation, and his words ring as true today as they did a century ago. The country relies heavily on the incredible assets found here: water, food, manufacturing, culture, human capital, energy and natural resources. The South also bears some of America’s greatest challenges, including racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Too often, Southern states are laboratories for regressive policies that are exported to other places; conversely, solutions that prove effective here have a better shot at working elsewhere and improving national policy. We believe a stronger economy and more inclusive politics would better integrate rural and urban communities to the clear benefit of both.
The South's population is booming, and with it, its influence on the rest of the country. A third of the Electoral College votes needed to take the White House are here, with five more likely after the 2020 Census. Immigration and a reversal of the Great Migration are rapidly diversifying the region and expanding its urban centers. More organizations are engaging people in voting and other forms of democratic engagement, offering opportunities for collaborative, multi-strategy investment.
"The question becomes not why should we fund social justice work in the South, but why aren't we funding social justice work in the South?"
The need is great: Southerners have lower household incomes, high school graduation rates and life expectancy, and higher income inequality and teen pregnancy rates. Data from the Foundation Center show philanthropy isn't stepping in to address those disparities; funding here falls far short of national averages.
In its report As the South Goes, Grantmakers for Southern Progress explored the ways funders think about social justice in the South and why they support or do not support it. GSP wrote: "Philanthropy can play a pivotal role in expanding the reach and benefit of [the South's] opportunities by making strategic investments toward dismantling the structural barriers to opportunity and fostering well-being by reducing persistent social and economic inequities. Investing in social justice in the South can improve conditions for the region and for the country as a whole. Consequently, the question becomes not why should we fund social justice work in the South, but why aren't we funding social justice in the South?"
In addition to grantmaking, our investments are an effective tool for achieving positive impact. They include market-rate investments and below-market program-related investments. Our PRIs directly support our mission in the South, while our market-rate investments align with our values and adhere to our Investment Policy, which includes environmental, social and governance factors. These criteria include labor rights, climate impact, natural resource use, corporate governance, supply chain management, community impact and other best practices. We believe this investment approach is consistent with fiduciary responsibility, and we expect our portfolio to generate competitive market performance returns.
Our investment policy establishes a goal of spending 5.5 percent of a 12-quarter moving average of the market value of our endowment, allowing the fund to exceed the IRS-mandated 5-percent spending. In recent years, we have increased our grantmaking to help our partners respond to challenging shifts in their environments.
Here are some terms we frequently use to describe our approach to investing:
Community Development Financial Institution
Financial institution such as a community development bank, credit union, loan fund or venture capital fund with a mission to expand economic opportunity through credit, financial services and technical assistance in communities underserved by other financial institutions. The U.S. Treasury Department certifies CDFIs, enabling them to apply for federal grants and finance a broad range of activities.
Environmental, Social and Governance Factors
Guidelines to ensure investments promote sustainable, fair and effective practices and mitigate potential risks. Considerations include natural resource use, human and labor rights, community impact and corporate structure. The Babcock Foundation’s endowment is 100 percent invested according to these factors, a practice we refer to as values-aligned investing rather than mission investing, since our mission is focused specifically on poverty alleviation in the American South.
Capital intended to generate measurable social and environmental benefits as well as profit. These financial returns can be below-market as part of a foundation’s annual distribution strategy or market-rate as in the investment of its endowment.
A form of impact investing that advances an organization’s mission and programmatic goals.
An investment whose primary purpose is to advance a foundation's mission rather than generate profit, influence legislation or fund a political campaign. PRIs are an IRS designation, and these investments are counted toward a private foundation’s annual five percent minimum distribution requirement. Once repaid, PRI returns are recycled into new investments.
LaVeeda Battle, Birmingham, AL
LaVeeda Battle is an attorney and owner of Battle Law Firm, LLC.
Dr. Chad Berry, Berea, KY
Chad Berry is the Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies and Professor of History, former Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty, Berea College.
Ashleigh Gardere, New Orleans, LA
Ashleigh Gardere is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the New Orleans Business Alliance.
Dr. Micah Gilmer, Durham, NC
Micah Gilmer is a Senior Partner at Frontline Solutions.
Jerry Gonzalez, Atlanta, GA (Vice President)
Jerry Gonzalez is the Executive Director of GALEO.
Derrick Johnson, Jackson, MS
Derrick Johnson is President and CEO of the NAACP.
Zachary Lassiter, Washington, DC
Zachary Lassiter is a Foreign Policy Research Analyst with Wikistrat Consulting.
Dr. James Mitchell, Selma, AL
Dr. Mitchell is the President of Wallace Community College Selma.
Holt Mountcastle, Washignton, DC
Holt Mountcastle is a consultant at RE Tech Advisors.
Kara Mountcastle, Durham, NC
Kara Mountcastle is an Operations Analyst for Modern Energy.
Ken Mountcastle, Washington, DC (Treasurer)
Ken Mountcastle is former Corporate Relations Officer at the American Humane Association.
Laura Mountcastle, Ann Arbor, MI (President)
Laura Mountcastle is former Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer at CMS Energy.
Dr. Karama Neal, Little Rock, AR (Secretary)
Karama Neal is President of Southern Bancorp Community Partners.
Stephanie Tyree, Fayette Co., WV
Stephanie Tyree is Executive Director of the West Virginia Community Development Hub.
Dr. Otis Johnson, Savannah, GA
Dr. Otis Johnson served as Mayor of Savannah from 2004 to 2012.
Barbara Millhouse, New York, NY
Barbara Millhouse is founder of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.
Katie Mountcastle, New Canaan, CT
Katie Mountcastle is retired from the boards of two family foundations and a community foundation.
Jennifer BarksdaleSenior Finance Officer
Toshawia BrunerOperations Assistant
Taylor ChapmanProgram Associate
Elena ConleySenior Network Officer
Sherrie FainOperations Associate
Jennifer "Fitzy" FitzgeraldExecutive Assistant
Ethan HamblinNetwork Officer
Susanna HegnerCommunications Officer
Justin MaxsonExecutive Director
Christine MayersGrants Manager
Katie Sonnen-LeeProgram Associate
Gladys WashingtonDeputy Director
Reggie WeaverAssociate Network Officer