The next gen of philanthropic leaders

Servant leadership is a concept that has followed Dallas native M’Kayl Lewis from her hometown to college at Birmingham-Southern and on into her life as one of Birmingham’s young professionals. “I think the only thing that we should really focus on is how to give back, and that’s been instilled in me over the years,” says Lewis. “It was a big focus throughout the course studies at Birmingham-Southern, and there were specific service requirements that we did, so finding something that I enjoyed while being able to give back was important. And that has grown into some of my other work with nonprofits like Rotaract Club of Birmingham and Girl Spring.”

Through Rotaract Lewis was introduced to the Community Foundation and was immediately impressed with how it gathered feedback from community leaders, evaluated opportunities, and how it connected the dots between donors and communities in need. “That’s what led me to want to be a part of the Community Foundation.”

But what really drove home her commitment to philanthropy was seeing her alma mater on the brink of closing. “Philanthropy means investing in the future of Birmingham and the community at large. I think one thing that hit closer to home was what happened recently with Birmingham-Southern,” she says. “Seeing something like that institution potentially be at risk was a wakeup call, definitely shocking. And so for me, philanthropy is investing in the future and making sure that people from these communities have access to great experiences like I had at Birmingham-Southern, because I would not change that experience for anything. It’s helped me set up for the future.”

And Lewis thinks about the future quite a bit. “A lot of my focus right now has been in groups that are created by women and women-led, but also groups that work with young girls. I’m a newer donor, and I’m just dipping a toe in, but I’m definitely excited to expand that effort,” she says. “And I’m excited to do some site visits with the Community Foundation to nonprofits that I am interested in. I haven’t had the opportunity to do one of those yet, but that is on my list to dig in a little bit more and experience some of the great work that the Foundation is doing.”

Lewis says that if she had to sum up the Community Foundation in one word, that word would be “intentional.” “It doesn’t feel like a one-and-done donation. Giving through the Community Foundations feels like you have a little bit more buy-in to the whole process. It’s really opened my eyes to the idea of how to evaluate where you’re putting your dollars.”

And the Community Foundation has connected her to opportunities that she wouldn’t have known were out there, Lewis says. “It’s helped me learn about the needs of the community more so than what I would be able to do on my own. So I would say those are two things that are really important – connection and intention.”

But for Lewis, the most important aspect of the Community Foundation is the depth of knowledge they have about the five-county region it serves. “The Community Foundation really understands the needs of the region because it is solely focused on the Greater Birmingham area. And I think that’s important because if you don’t understand the need then it’s hard to know the next step to take. So my big differentiator would definitely be not only their depth of reach here, but their depth of knowledge of the community.”