The Outsized Impact Award honors an individual at an Exponent Philanthropy member organization whose style of philanthropy is achieving outsized (or greater than expected) impact. Read about the inspiring work of our 2023 finalists »
The Gifford Foundation (Syracuse, NY)
As Executive Director of The Gifford Foundation, Sheena Solomon envisions solutions to systemic problems, helping the foundation punch well above its weight despite a lean grantmaking budget.
Sheena’s programs and leadership reflect a deep commitment to inclusive philanthropy. She authentically brings community members into the fold as leaders, while simultaneously equipping them with the tools and resources they need to improve their neighborhoods and build their capacity as individuals.
In 2007, Sheena started in an entry level job at The Gifford Foundation and worked her way up over sixteen years to now lead the entire organization. She is also the foundation’s first executive director who is a woman of color.
During her years as a program officer, Sheena created many of the foundation’s most impactful initiatives. She was essential in the creation and implementation of Gifford’s city-wide initiative—the “What If…” Mini-Grants. These foster growth in Syracuse neighborhoods and strengthen the capacity of residents who seek to make positive changes in their neighborhood, while encouraging creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
She has also been instrumental in the design and planning of Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders, a leadership development training that focuses on increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of nonprofit boards, and has trained over 200 people for board service. To further this work, Sheena developed a lasting and copyable model of the program, which M&T Bank and the Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region in Albany, NY have since replicated.
Earl and Kathryn Congdon Family Foundation (High Point, NC)
As Executive Director of the Earl and Kathryn Congdon Family Foundation (and a third-generation member of the family), Megan Oglesby has transformed the nonprofit and economic landscape of High Point, North Carolina a city of 110,000 people.
In 2015, High Point ranked #1 for food insecurity in the nation. A group of citizens formed the Greater High Point Food Alliance to change how the city approached food hardship. Under Megan’s leadership, the Congdon Foundation stepped in to support this effort, making a catalytic gift that led to the largest food hardship drop of any US city—from 28% to 21% over two years—according to the Food Research & Action Center.
Megan also navigated the development of Congdon Yards, a cornerstone in High Point’s downtown revitalization effort. In 2018, Megan, the foundation board, and High Point Chamber of Commerce wanted to create a space where anyone could start, scale, or grow their business. The project required over $40 million of investment from the Congdon Foundation alongside state, local, and other private funds, all which Megan coordinated. She also met with the designers, architects, builders, and was vital each step of the way.
Congdon Yards is now home to 47 businesses and over 350 employees, and includes a free coworking space, an entrepreneurial makerspace for wood-based furniture, individual office space for small businesses and nonprofits, and conference and event space. What’s more, the area around Congdon Yards has experienced over $300 million in private investment since the project began.
Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation (Burbank, CA)
As Chief Executive Officer of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, Shawn Escoffery leads a small team and a family board that is committed to advancing equitable practices in philanthropy and social justice.
Shawn exemplifies what it means to be a lean funder. He listens to the needs and priorities of the communities the foundation seeks to serve. Now, the foundation’s funding priorities are criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and affordable housing preservation, centering a trust-based approach and emphasizing lasting partnerships as well as capacity building.
Since joining in 2018, Shawn transitioned the foundation from being a transactional grantmaker to providing high-touch support at every level. He led the organization through a strategy refinement process, created a fellowship for someone formerly incarcerated, and launched an impact investing portfolio with a 10% carve-out of the endowment. The impact investing portfolio uses a racial and gender equity lens, and it invests in first time fund managers, challenging “risk” perceptions.
Shawn has long established multiyear, general operating support at the foundation and grantee partners have minimal requirements for receiving funding. The policies Shawn established have broken power imbalances and encouraged relationship building throughout the foundation. He also strategized to cut administrative expenses internally and re-distributed resources among smaller, grassroots organizations. Shawn has a great sense of justice, and he approaches grantmaking with humility and respect. Shawn emphasizes that funders are not experts and solutions must come from those on the frontlines of the issues.
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