The Mary Black Foundation Is Another Funder Thinking More About Equity, in South Carolina

The Mary Black Foundation maintains commitments to healthy eating, active living, early childhood development, and community health. Its assets currently stand at over $80 million, and it is another one of the health legacy foundations that are so prominent in the Southeast these days.

Related: What's Going On With Philanthropy in the American Southeast? Here's a Quick Look

Based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this is a locally focused funder dedicated to the health and success of Spartanburg County residents. It’s given over $43 million to local causes here. So to learn a bit more about this funder and gain an insider’s perspective, I recently touched base with Molly Talbot-Metz, the foundation’s vice president of programs.

One particularly interesting thing I learned is that the Mary Black Foundation is exploring its role in advancing equity. With racial tensions running high all over the country, this has been on the forefront of so many funders’ minds lately.


“An equity lens can sharpen a Foundation’s focus on outcomes and can target limited resources to populations or areas with the greatest disparities,” Talbot-Metz said. “In fact, a focus on equity can increase organizational effectiveness at every stage in the grantmaking process.”

But shifting a foundation’s grantmaking to address disparities based on race and socioeconomic status doesn’t happen overnight.

Talbot-Metz explained, “As funders interested in advancing equity, we need to begin to model inclusivity and equity by examining our own organizations and internal practices and encouraging grantees to do the same.  Only then can we begin to truly move from conversation to action.”

Fortunately for Spartanburg area grantseekers, Mary Black is looking for new grantees. It accepts applications twice per year in the areas of health and wellness. And the staff is always interested in talking with new potential partners about how common goals can be achieved.

Grantmaking is all about relationships for this funder, so make a plan to meet with the program staff to build a relationship first before going right for the grant. Your first step is to schedule a grant consultation with the staff at least 30 days before the application deadline. The next deadlines are January 15 and August 15, 2017.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what Mary Black Foundation grantees look like:

  • Collaborative approach
  • Systemic in approaching community change
  • Mindful of policy and environment changes
  • Thought leaders in their field
  • Aligned with the foundation’s commitment to local health and wellness

“Measuring progress of individual grantees and, more importantly, progress toward broader community-level outcomes is an important value of the Mary Black Foundation,” said Talbot-Metz. “The ability to measure progress not only demonstrates our collective contribution toward improved health and wellness, it allows the Foundation’s staff and Board of Trustees to reflect on and improve upon our grantmaking and the impact of our investments."

Aside from the foundation’s heightened focus on racial and socioeconomic equity, it has also moved away from the traditionally distant role involved in purely transactional grantmaking.

Talbot-Metz explained:

Instead, we see ourselves now as a changemaker. The Foundation finds itself playing a more active and engaged role in leading community efforts and facilitating change. This new role can impact the way the Foundation and its staff interact with grantees. We view it as a partnership versus a funder-grantee relationship. This shift in our role in the community requires a greater degree of trust and transparency for all parties involved.

To keep up with what this funder cares about at any given time, sign up to receive its weekly email with a link to its blog. Recent topics of interest include safely disposing of prescription drugs, breastfeeding friendly communities, early literacy, and school lunches.