As the South Goes


There are a growing number of foundations that are committed to addressing the stark inequities prevalent in the South and still others who also view the region as a strategic location to build power to influence Southern state and national politics.  These foundations face at least two major challenges: the need to generate new resources for social justice work in the region, especially from donors based in the region; and the need to increase the strategic coordination among the progressive philanthropic actors who are currently investing in the region.

To address these challenges, GSP launched As the South Goes, focused on these goals: 

  1. To generate data that will facilitate the Southern Organizing Working Group’s and other funders’ efforts to attract new philanthropic support for social justice in the South; and
  2. To inform efforts to better coordinate existing resources and strategies.

OpenSource Leadership Strategies, Inc. carried out a survey of close to 200 social justice organizations in the region and interviews or focus groups with 75 funders.  The resulting analysis is summarized in a final report:  As the South Goes: Philanthropy and Social Justice in the US South.

Major conclusions from the research are these:

  • There is a great need to increase social justice work in the South to improve social, economic and political outcomes for impoverished and marginalized communities, regionally and nationally.
  • The barriers that limit funders’ support of social justice work in the South can be overcome.
  • The opportunities for strategic partnerships between and among Southern and national funders on social justice work are abundant, but require deeper listening and relationship building, as well as moving beyond comfort zones regarding strategy and capacity building. 

The research points GSP to the following recommendations for the field:

  • Deepen relationship building between national and Southern funders – so that funders explore common interests and avoid the traps of language.
  • Build on and more fully understand existing infrastructure in the region.
  • Develop a geographic focus in the South, given the stakes for the rest of the country/
  • Maintain openness to what social justice strategies look like.  In the South, they might take a different shape and incorporate and/or build on direct services and/or community development.
  • Increasing alignment and collaboration between Southern and national funders.

GSP hypothesized that the language of social justice created barriers to true dialogue about common interests and tested for other language that might allow for more open and still shared understanding.  Results, which make abundantly clear that there is no easy path to common language, are documented in a companion report to As the South Goes: Words Matter:  Language and Social Justice in the US South