Recap of SECF’s 50th Annual Meeting

In mid-November, the entire foundation team attended the 50th annual meeting for the Southeastern Council of Foundations (“SECF”). The foundation has been a member of this organization since 2016, and we find the annual meeting especially thought provoking. Below are highlights from the two conference sessions I enjoyed most:

Failing Forward: Learning from Failure as a Regular Discipline

In this breakout session, three foundations shared unsuccessful philanthropic initiatives resulting in lessons learned, which educated the over capacity audience. A common overarching theme across the three foundations’ failed experiences was the underinvestment in research at the onset. For instance, one foundation created a program to solve a problem that did not actually exist. If the foundation had communicated with individuals at the front end, rather than being disengaged and working top down, it would have avoided the pitfall of attempting to solve a nonexistent problem. 

One of the speakers, Rev. Cory Anderson with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, shared the following quote, which I believe nicely encapsulated this session on learning forward:

“You do not know the words to your favorite song the first time you hear it.” 

Change the Story, Change the World 

Andy Goodman with The Goodman Center led a keynote session on storytelling as the most powerful form of communication provided stories help us remember. For instance, NUMBers make us numb, whereas STORies help us store information. Goodman advises that any good story must answer the following six questions:

  1. Who is it about? People identify with people.
  2. What does she want? In other words, what is the main character’s goal?
  3. What stands in her way? (e.g. an obstacle or barrier)
  4. How does she respond? With regards to a foundation telling a story, this step would inform the listener about the organization.
  5. What happens? (e.g. success or failure)
  6. What does it mean? (i.e. What is the larger lesson?)

Goodman closed his presentation with the following quote, which captures the significance of storytelling.

“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Theresa  

Stiletto Swagger

On May 11th I had the pleasure, or pain as I would come to find out, of donning some pink high heels and walking down a runway in front of hundreds of people, including Charlotte’s own, Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst.  It was for a great cause and was to raise money for Dress for Success which aims to promote the economic independence of women by providing a network of support, professional attire, and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. The Gambrell Foundation has been a long-time supporter of Dress For Success, and Sarah Belk Gambrell was honored with the 2014 Paradigm award.

I was able to raise almost $3k and the swagger in total raised almost $36k for the cause.  While my performance was less than stellar, I was able to stay upright, which could not be said for everyone on the runway.  Some guys brought their dogs, others brought their children, but everyone brought a sense of awkwardness.  The experience was a great time, not only for the participants, but for the crowd as well and we were able to raise some money which made it all worthwhile.

Matt Potter

Matt Potter