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An Interview With Our New Foundation President Donna L. Waites

Tell us more about your path that brought you to Sisters of Charity Foundation and what drew you to lead as president?

My path to this role almost feels “Providential” as Sister Judith Ann may say—the Sisters of Charity have been a part of my life for over 20 years! I began my nonprofit career with Healthy Learners, which is also a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, as their fund development coordinator in 2000. A few years later, I helped Providence Hospital, which was owned by the Sisters of Charity, to create and launch the Providence Hospitals Development Foundation. In 2015, my Sisters of Charity journey continued when an opening at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC became available in the Program department! I believed whole-heartedly that I was being called to this work, so I accepted this new challenge—moving from a fund development background into the grantmaking side of things really has helped me have a perspective on this work that allows me to connect more deeply with the nonprofits that our Foundation serves. Over the last nearly 8 years, I have worked very closely with our grantee partners and other stakeholders to improve the lives of people in South Carolina experiencing poverty. When the former president of the Foundation announced his retirement in 2021, I knew that I was ready to lead this organization into the future and I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to support the Sisters’ mission and vision this way.

 

What can we expect to see from the Foundation and its grantee partners through 2022?

The Foundation has a stellar team in place that has not only created grantmaking systems and processes that are equitable and user-friendly, but we also work hard to develop and maintain authentic relationships with our grantee partners. I believe this will only get stronger in the coming months and years! Our team also continues to connect with communities across the state and we’re grateful for these opportunities to share space with local leaders and other community members that know firsthand the assets of our state, as well as the challenges that South Carolinians are facing. Of course we hope to increase our ability to learn, share, and connect with folks in-person, so hopefully we can slowly and safely make our way back out on the road!  Regardless of the platform, I know that our staff, board, and committee members will continue to deepen our relationships with our grantee partners so that we can help drive positive change.

 

What goals do you hope to achieve in your first year as president and what is your vision for the Foundation’s next five years?

My vision for the next twelve months is three-fold. First, I want to fortify what I helped to build when I was Vice President of Programs, which is an environment that encourages a cohesive, highly-productive, and passionate staff. The assets, knowledge, and gifts that our staff bring to this work, I believe, increases the “value” of our grant dollars exponentially. And I can’t begin to brag enough about our wonderful Board of Trustees and committee members that have been incredibly loyal and steadfast alongside us—many of whom who have served here for decades! I want to be sure that they have the resources that they need to govern most effectively and be engaged at a level that they feel deeply connected to our mission.  And we know that a truly strong board is comprised of people who believe in this mission and bring diverse perspectives, skillsets, and lived experience to this work, so being purposeful in enhancing and growing this strength is also very important right now. Lastly, in this first year as president, I want to explore, learn, and strengthen partnerships as much as possible! We are only one Foundation with a finite amount of grant dollars to invest and a small—but mighty!—staff. We know that we can’t make change alone.  I want to use the momentum of my “newness” to meet with, strategize with, and roll up my sleeves with others in the state who want to reduce poverty as much as we do.

For the Foundation’s next five years, we are going to build on the progress that we have seen in meeting our current three main strategic intentions: 1. Raise and extend the profile of the Foundation to inspire and influence positive change for those experiencing in poverty in South Carolina. 2. Deepen and sharpen our grantmaking focus for greater impact on our mission. 3. Elevate and expand action and results in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space as a driver of reducing poverty. We have worked for three years with these three intentions as our guideposts, and we now are seeing major traction to the point where we can take each to a deeper and even more granular level.

 

What do you feel are the greatest challenges to reducing poverty in the lives of individuals and families in the Palmetto State?

I would like to see a lot more investment in coalitions and mobilization efforts at the grassroots level. Many of our local nonprofit organizations are vying for their share of a small pool of grant funds and donations. There are truly amazing, smart, passionate people leading organizations all across South Carolina that very simply need more funding to strengthen and grow their capacity. Our foundation hopes to lift up the great work happening in South Carolina so that hopefully more national funders take notice and make investments to tap into this tremendous potential.

 

Conversely, what are the greatest opportunities and wins you are seeing in advocacy, action and leadership in S.C.?

Coming out of so much that has happened in the last two and a half years, I really think that one of our greatest opportunities is to build on the momentum that many of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector found when we all “came together” for the greater good of the people in our state. People and organizations began to use their voices and their power for good and saw results. I think we are all eager to engage in the change that we want to see. I believe that more people are now inspired to increase their civic engagement, to participate in collective action, and to learn ways that they can be an active part of making their community a better place for all people. In every way that we are able, our Foundation wants to walk alongside all those that are ready to advocate, take action, and lead.

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