MLK, Philanthropy and the South

January 21, 2013

MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C.July 2012

MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C.
July 2012

On Friday, I was fortunate to be part of a webinar in which Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, shared the history of Southern philanthropy.

In the South (yes, Florida is part of the South), we still haven’t caught up with the level of social justice funding that originates from other parts of the country, yet it is arguably the most needed in our region.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

Locally, we know that many nonprofits benefit from the incredible generosity of those who care deeply about seniors, children, families and other individuals who need our help.

But is the social sector in our community doing enough to educate donors about the root causes of disparities impacting these populations?

Admittedly, that’s a tough one. We don’t always fully understand these circumstances ourselves. When we do have insights into the tricky web of “what makes philanthropy necessary,” we know that it is bigger than what our organization alone can tackle.  It can be political. It’s hard to communicate to donors and stakeholders. We don’t want to overwhelm donors, and we want them to keep our own organization top of mind.

To MLK’s point, we each have a role in talking to philanthropists about the bigger picture, and in listening to them.  It’s part of our job as stewards of our missions.

I’ve had the honor of meeting some pretty powerful people in our community who are looking beyond the realm of one organization and one population, and through a lens of big change.

Creating an opportunity for deep conversations with donors is a good way to keep them giving and to benefit from their perspectives when we sometimes get caught up in the day-to-day activities we must carry out to keep services flowing.

A focus on the root causes of economic and social injustice, as well as the outcomes we are all hoping to achieve, is hard work. But it’s doable. We have the right tools–intelligence, experience, compassion and willingness–here in Southwest Florida.

Special thanks to the Southeastern Council on Foundations for offering this webinar as part of the Hull Fellows program.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


2 Responses to “MLK, Philanthropy and the South”

  1. Lesley Grady Says:

    You are one of those powerful people you speak of! Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Stans box Says:


    BIG congrats for addressing a very important topic.

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