by Bob Morris, CFG President
I recently attended the New Year’s Eve performance of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts, the crowning jewel of Greenville’s cultural life. New residents cite it as a key attraction among many— supported by a generous philanthropic community—that make Greenville a great place to live. The evening was a fun way to close out the year at a time that coincided with my 20-year anniversary as president of the Community Foundation of Greenville.
When I moved here with my young family from Charlotte, we were frequent visitors to Greenville Zoo and Cleveland Park. At work, I helped cut the ribbon for the YWCA Child Development Center. The Community Foundation, School District of Greenville County and United Way made capital and program investments in this high-quality center, using a mixed-income model. Today, the Community Foundation provides financial support to many child-focused nonprofits, including the Institute for Child Success, Public Education Partners, A Child’s Haven and the Center for Developmental Services. The importance of investing in young children and supporting their families is timeless. As the Governor Richard Riley sculpture declares, “Education Really Matters.”
In those early years, philanthropy was generally understood to mean private family foundations and a small number of very generous individuals. Large projects like Falls Park reflected common interests but not a common agenda. The November-December 1999 issue of the Harvard Business Review had an article by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer entitled “Philanthropy’s New Agenda: Creating Value.” Their prescription for effective grant making was to select the best grantees, signal other funders, improve performance of grant recipients, and advance the state of knowledge and practice. When coupled with data-informed evaluation, this idea prompted the Community Foundation and others to think and act more strategically.
In 2015, the Foundation Strategy Group described collective impact as efforts by organizations to achieve outcomes in sustainable ways by working together. As an example, the United Way and other members of the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy created an initiative to support students at four high-poverty middle schools. Early results for the program, OnTrack Greenville, are encouraging. One component, an early warning and response system implemented by the School District of Greenville County, is paying immediate dividends. Families attending these schools can receive basic health care services, and students have access to summer enrichment programs and leadership development opportunities through this public-private partnership.
Another development in philanthropy is the growing interest in impact investing. Grounded in the expectation that systems-level change is not possible solely with charitable gifts, we need to make investments to generate a financial return in addition to positive, measurable social impact. Mutual Fund companies are well-versed in creating socially responsible portfolios. I recently met with a couple that makes an annual campaign gift to a land-conservation organization and also want their personal investment portfolio to have a carbon-free orientation.
Impact investing shares a common ancestry with public-private partnerships. Greenville leaders have been adept and innovative in creating flexible capital for civic projects, including the Peace Center. The Hyatt Hotel and Office Commons, which features a public park at the center of a 70-foot atrium, became the catalyst for downtown redevelopment when it opened in 1982. In a similar manner, collective-impact strategies and place-based impact investments can accelerate the creation of affordable housing to meet the thousands of additional units we need in Greenville County.
Much has changed in 20 years, from the look of downtown Greenville to the focus of philanthropic support. However, one thing remains the same—we all share the same hopes and dreams of equality and prosperity for our families, the young leaders in our community, and Greenville as a whole. With the collaborative and innovative spirit that exists here, I look forward to working together as Greenville continues to envision a community where everyone can reach their full potential, to the benefit of all.