At The Sapelo Foundation,
we leverage all capital to advance our mission and priorities.
In 2019, we celebrated our 70th anniversary as a foundation by approving a strategic plan, which included a new mission statement, a new approach to grantmaking, and a new mission investing journey to align 100% of our capital – grants (at least 5% of financial capital), endowment (95% of financial capital), human, partnership, advocacy, convening, strategy, and more – with our mission.
To learn more about our work, please review our Strategic Plan and our Strategic Direction Summary.
History & Founder
Richard J. Reynolds, Jr. first visited coastal Georgia in the early 1930s. This coastal region – rich in culture, beauty, history, and natural resources – captured his interest, imagination, and philanthropy. Over his lifetime, Mr. Reynolds developed a deep appreciation for the people and places of Sapelo Island, one of the many barrier islands along the Georgia coast. He was especially intrigued by the vast salt marsh ecosystem that separates Sapelo Island from the mainland. In 1949, he began his institutional philanthropy in Georgia, with what would become our private, family foundation: The Sapelo Foundation. In 1953, he created the world-renowned Sapelo Island Marine Institute, as a research affiliate of the University of Georgia. For 23 years, his philanthropy served as the vehicle for the development, operation, and advancement of the institute. Then, in 1976, when the University of Georgia took charge of this work, his philanthropic legacy broadened and stewarded in a new era.
As a result, our work at The Sapelo Foundation pivoted and expanded. We embraced a new role: grantmaking partner for nonprofit organizations and networks statewide. Over time, we added new roles: thought partner, convener, advocate, capacity builder, mission investor, and more.
With our grants, we supported grantee partners that pursued power-building strategies, such as policy advocacy, civic engagement, and grassroots community organizing. We also embraced grantmaking best practices, such as considering grants for general operating support, multi-year support, and organizational development. Connecting our grantmaking goals and governance goals, we welcomed dedicated trustees who were family members, as well as non-family community members with deep and diverse expertise about Georgia. Meanwhile, we remained dedicated to our namesake with grantmaking strategies focused on the people of Sapelo Island and McIntosh County.
We also committed to a mission investing journey, to align 100% our capital with our mission. This included an intentional breakdown of the traditional and unnecessary firewall between our grants (at least 5% of financial capital) and endowment (95% of financial capital). Our single decision unleashed 19 times more resources for us to advance our mission. After approving a new Investment Policy Statement and completing a search for a new investment advisor, we completely reorganized the investments in our endowment. Our goal was simple, but complex: ensure that the companies we own align with our mission and the missions of our grantee partners. We also initiated a process for Program Related Investments (PRIs) – low/no-percent interest loans – to small businesses, to complement our grantmaking and further our mission.
Today, we are dedicated to the entire state of Georgia, based in Savannah, led by an Executive Director, and governed by a 10 member Board of Trustees that is composed, in part, by members of the Reynolds family. We strive for our bold mission by constantly and creatively challenging ourselves to listen, learn, lead, and leverage alongside our incredible partners.
In 2021, our trustees approved two long-term priorities for each of our main grant portfolios. For grant portfolio I: Environmental Justice & Protection, they approved (1) water and (2) climate/energy. For grant portfolio II: Social Justice, they approved (1) voting rights and (2) criminal justice.
To learn more about our history, please read our history book: “A Part of this Earth, The Story of The Sapelo Foundation.”