BY OLIVIA MILTNER
Rebecca Byrne wants to make a difference. She’s spent the past year and a half developing a hyperlocal philanthropic network in southwest Alabama, leading the creation of a veterans initiative to fund mental health and substance abuse treatments, among other programs. She has also started an initiative called Closing the Opportunity Gap that targets financially fragile families in the eight-county area. Byrne is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of South Alabama, and she’s found that strengthening her relationships with local communities and letting them direct philanthropic efforts is the most effective way to pursue lasting change. “What we have done is what we would love to see national funders [do],” Byrne says.
But Byrne has struggled to secure grants from national philanthropies. Her foundation, which focuses on veterans, addiction and youth development, has received grants in the past — after the 2010 BP oil spill, for example, the foundation got a $4 million grant from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. But that has changed, and now, Byrne says, the foundation relies on individuals and local businesses for the lion’s share of its funding.
“I don’t know what the secret is to unlock that, to make a shift in that,” Byrne says. “But we have definitely seen that we … just don’t get the national funding.”