In the spring of 2013, several dozen community leaders from business, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, government, education, and philanthropy gathered to consider the successes of Greenville county’s past and discuss what was needed to continue and expand that success for all residents. It was clear that philanthropy had played a significant role in points of pride, such as the Peace Center, Falls Park, the Governor’s School, and the conservation of lands on the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
But participants also felt that traditional philanthropy would not be enough to address the challenges of the future. With South Carolina consistently falling at the bottom of the United States in philanthropic assets per capita and with few dollars coming into our community from national funders, the leaders present acknowledged the importance of collaboration of philanthropists with each other and with people from different sectors to solve our thorniest problems and seize on our greatest potential.
One-on-one follow up meetings with 18 funders, representing family foundations, corporate funders, community giving programs, and independent foundations revealed three potential goals of a new partnership in philanthropy.
Networking. Most funders pointed out that philanthropy in Greenville County has been somewhat solitary work. Trustees of family foundations typically thought about philanthropy just a few times a year. Most foundations in the area had no or few staff members, so they didn’t have colleagues with whom to interact. Corporate funder staff members often handled philanthropy as one of several roles and were often the only people in their organizations to do so. Just getting together with other people to share ideas and information would be beneficial.
Education. Because of the lean human resource structure in Greenville County philanthropy, funders had little opportunity to learn about community issues and organizations or about cutting edge grantmaking practice. As one family foundation trustee said, “I would love to spend most of my time visiting the great nonprofits here, but I have my own job outside of philanthropy to do.” Another trustee said he knew there were national conferences on philanthropy to attend, but he couldn’t justify taking the time and money to go – especially if he couldn’t be sure the content would be helpful. All desired an easier way for funders to learn about community issues and organizations and best practices in philanthropy.
Collaboration. All funders supported the idea of collaboration, but firmly declared their desire to preserve autonomy in funding guidelines and processes. A few mentioned collaborations from other communities, such as a funder directory, a capital campaign directory, and efforts to pool funding to help with local emergencies. One funder captured the spirit with the statement, “If we don’t start at least getting together, we will never be able to collaborate.”
So with those three goals, the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy held its first meeting in July 2014.
Networking. Over the last four years, GPP has hosted forty meetings for those in philanthropy as well as for nonprofit executives and trustees, governmental leaders, and leaders of faith communities. We’ve served more than a thousand lunches to members and guests interested in getting to know each other and learning about our community and philanthropy. One hundred representatives from local funders have attended.
The landscape of relationships in philanthropy has changed as a result of GPP. Now, funders and nonprofits know each other and can pick up the phone to discuss an applicant, issue, or opportunity. These relationships have led to collaborations both within and outside of GPP.
In 2017, GPP participants defined eligible members as any organization providing $50,000 or more per year to two or more nonprofit organizations located in Greenville County, SC and who are committed to working with other members to improve the quality of life in our community.
Education. GPP’s meetings aim to inform funders on issues in the community, best practices in grantmaking, and more timely, specific topics. Each year, funders may attend six regular membership meetings as well as special meetings and events. Click for a full list of meeting topics and summaries. Topics have included:
- Community issues: affordable housing, homelessness, transportation, art, veterans, seniors, the environment, and education
- Funding practice: nonprofit capacity building, public policy and philanthropy with the Council of Foundations, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ smarter grantmaking playbook, and community engagement
- Special meeting topics: community data, poverty simulation, philanthropy field trip, middle grades success and collaborative funding, and family foundations with the National Center for Family Philanthropy.
Collaboration. GPP has catalyzed, led, or been a partner in many collaborative efforts over the last four years.
A funder directory is now available on the GPP website allowing nonprofits to go to learn more about funding opportunities and orgnaizations.
A day-long capital campaign training with a national expert equipped 95 nonprofit and philanthropic leaders in successfully executing (or wisely choosing to delay or scrap plans for) capital campaigns.
The capital campaign directory on GPP’s website aims to capture large scale, time limited, project oriented fundraising that is planned or underway.
Partnerships with nonprofits have included work on capacity building, meeting with County Council members, and a happy hour following the national movement launched by blogger Vu Le.
Advocacy and public policy are spaces in which funders are much more comfortable. Funders served on committees for the City of Greenivlle’s housing study and will serve on the City’s comprehensive planning advisory committee. Funders have attended City and County Council meetings on topics of transit and housing, demonstrating expanded interest in these topics. On behalf of GPP, Katy Smith penned an op-ed in the Greenville News on the Johnson Amendment being at risk.
Collaborative funding efforts have indeed occurred; in fact, local funders have contributed over $6 million to the OnTrack Greenville middle grade success initiative, and they’ve also responded quickly to provide funding for issues like the closure of the Economy Inn.
Because of the networking and relationships that have developed, the learning that has taken place, and the formal collaborations of funders, GPP members are now finding ways to collaborate on their own, working with other funders who have similar funding areas or interests to work together. As an example, The Graham Foundation and the Jolley Foundation have partnered this year to offer “booster sessions” related to Shine the Light training topics. And the Jolley Foundation worked with GPP to develop a “philanthropy field trip” for its trustees, which a few dozen other funders and nonprofits have now experienced.
GPP will continue with the formula that works – networking, education, and collaboration – and will work to bring more funders into the fold. But we’ll go deeper and work to expand our impact.
Later this year, we will feature topics on civic resiliency and equity, and we plan to have an in-depth session for funders to learn more about the Greenville Housing Fund and how to support the development of more affordable housing.
We will host a special session on the ROI of Social Investment just for corporate funders in partnership with IO Sustainability and the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals, and we’ll invite peers in corporate social responsibility and community engagement from businesses in the region.
Questions we’ll be exploring:
How can we expand our philanthropic tools, not just through using our social, moral, intellectual, and reputational capital, but also through the use of our financial assets in Program Related Investments and Socially Responsible Investing?
How can we bring more financial support and attention to the work of nonprofits in Greenville by attracting national funders to invest in Greenville County and South Carolina?
How can we broaden our partnerships across sectors – including nonprofits, elected, appointed, and staff governmental officials, the private sector, and more?
What impact do we want to have and how can we measure it?
If you’re a funder and would like to participate in GPP sessions or just learn more, visit our website to register. Or if you’re a nonprofit and would like to be added to our newsletter list, complete the form below.