A Region at the Crossroads: Why Grantmakers Need to Prioritize Investments for Structural Change in the South

Lavastian Glenn

MRBF Network Officer Lavastian Glenn has an article in the most recent publication from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) on the opportunities for increased strategic investment in the South. Below is an excerpt. You can find her full article on NCRP's website

Since 2009, communities across the South have endured the fallout of the Great Recession along with a new wave of regressive policy actions that directly affect the civil rights and quality of life of people in the region. Extreme policy shifts, coupled with an organized effort to reduce spending on programs that help low- to moderate-income families, threaten to erode much of the progress achieved in southern states over the last 25 years.

During this time period, frontline social justice organizations leading change within the region were reporting a loss of national funding, along with an inability to make the case for supporting advocacy and organizing to local funders. Long-term supporters of these key infrastructure organizations began convening and asking why foundations are divesting in social justice work in the South at this crucial time.

This group of concerned supporters would become Grantmakers for Southern Progress in 2011. Led by staff from Hill–Snowdon Foundation, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Needmor Fund, Foundation for Louisiana, Southern Partners Fund, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the working group hopes to inspire national, regional and local funders to engage and collaborate in effective ways to build regional infrastructure for the advancement of democracy and structural change in the South and our nation.

The group released its first report, As the South Goes: Philanthropy and Social Justice in the U.S. South, in an attempt to understand funder rationale for investing in structural change work in the South.

This research and subsequent report set out to explore the following questions about social justice work in the region:

  • How do local, regional and national foundations think and talk about social justice work?
  • Why do they choose to support or not support social justice work?
  • What are the major barriers and facilitating factors for foundation support?
  • What are some strategies to increase support?

What we’ve learned has been much richer than anticipated and has implications for adjustments in funder behavior and investment strategy.

The following are key findings from As the South Goes:

  • Southern and national funders use different languages and employ different strategies. How a funder talks about social justice, or whether the term is used at all, is critical to funder identity, approach and potential for funder partnering. See our companion report on funder language, Words Matter: Language and Social Justice Funding in the U.S. South.
  • More Southern funders support social justice work than is typically understood, whether they call it that or not, employing a range of strategies that include community economic development, youth leadership development, organizing and direct services.
  • Many funders who support social justice work in the South do so based on a belief that the region drives national trends and that supporting efforts to challenge regressive policies slows the advancement of such policy trends across the country. In addition, the persistence of historic and severe structural inequities serves as an incentive for funder investment.
  • Funders that don’t support social justice work in the South cited a lack of infrastructure, capacity and available funding partners. Other reasons included a perception of a dearth of social justice organizations and an overall perception of the region as a “lost cause.”
  • This study found evidence of a larger pool of Southern funders and organizations that pursue a social justice agenda than previously assumed.
Read the rest of this article on NCRP's website.




This is a great article that sets the stage so clearly for future work.

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