Laughing Gull Foundation envisions a more equitable, just, and sustainable world. As a supportive partner, we are committed and intentional, and never take our eyes off the horizon.
Founded in 2012 as a progressive family foundation rooted in the South and committed to justice, Laughing Gull Foundation ensures frontline leaders have the funding, resources, and support needed to build power and make change. Based in Durham, NC, with a team of dedicated, diverse, and caring people, we advance our mission through grantmaking, funder organizing, and financial investing practices.
To redistribute our resources to repair, rehumanize, and transform relationships, institutions, and systems.
We envision a world of sustainable communities, liberated from the inter-generational harm of structural racism and economic inequality, living in balance with the earth. We envision both human rights and human rites of passage including everyone equally and fully, especially those who have been pushed to the margins of our human family.
Our Spend Down Commitment
Our decision to spend out Laughing Gull Foundation’s assets is both personal and political. Through the foundation, we are intentionally redistributing wealth out of our family and into the community, acknowledging the unjust economic system and racist history that made this wealth accumulation possible. In 2016, we established a twenty-year timeline for the spend out plan because of the urgency of the injustices LGF addresses, the moral imperative to move assets out of the family’s control, and the founders’ desire to witness many of the impacts of the foundation’s work.
Our Commitment to Racial Equity
We recognize that structural racism is at the root of our society and all the systems in which we work. Thus, we use an explicit racial equity lens in all our decisions and actions, and we are on a continuous learning journey to do this better.
Our Values and Culture
COMMUNITY POWER BUILDING + HUMILITY
We recognize our privilege as a family foundation and offer our resources in service to our partners to transform people and the planet.
We respect and honor the expertise, insights, solutions, and leadership of our partners; first and foremost, directly-impacted people and communities.
We prioritize investments in people and communities working closest to the problems.
EQUALITY + JUSTICE
We recognize that those who sit at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities experience the greatest disparities.
We honor the dignity and worth of all people and believe in equal opportunity, regardless of where one may live, the color of their skin, or who they love.
We value informal and direct relationships and reject unnecessary hierarchies that create power imbalances.
ENVIRONMENT + SUSTAINABILITY
We are sincere and committed problem-solvers, recognizing that there is no greater problem to solve or threat to our future than climate change.
We invest in grantees who lead boldly to address the climate emergency.
We support projects and practices that contribute to a more sustainable planet, recognizing that the health and wellbeing of people across the South depends on a healthy environment.
INCLUSIVENESS + CONNECTION
We prioritize respectful communication, honesty, focused attention, and deep listening. We actively promote a spirit of openness and engagement among our family, peers, and future generations.
We embrace connection and relationships to others. We are ardent and empathetic collaborators and join together with others to further our mission and achieve a larger impact than what we could do alone.
We hold and express joy and love, even, and especially, during difficult times.
We founded the Laughing Gull Foundation in 2012, and want to tell you a little bit about how it came to be. The history of our extended family spans many generations of wealth and privilege in the South. Though our roots are in southern Virginia, from the ‘60s through the ‘80s, we spent weeks each summer at our family’s beach house on Laughing Gull Road on a sea island in South Carolina. Those hot, humid days under the Spanish Moss connected us to family and to the Low Country, in all of its beauty and complexity.
When we came together to start a foundation, the image of a Laughing Gull resonated with all of us. It points to that shared summer experience, and to our ancestor who both built the family beach house and amassed the wealth we inherited. It also references our decision to redistribute that wealth in ways that fly in the face of the historically conservative values of our extended family.
Midge (who serves as LGF’s Board Chair) was raised to be a typical southern belle. However, her parents didn’t count on Midge’s innate compassion and curiosity. She is a passionate life-long learner, always inviting insightful conversation from diverse perspectives. She raised her two daughters, Meg and Emily, instilling in them her innate values of humility, integrity, and gratitude. Over the years those values evolved for all three women in their own ways, resulting in shared commitments to equality, justice, and liberation.
In the 1970s, Midge’s father met Warren Buffet and began investing the family’s wealth in Berkshire Hathaway, resulting in a substantial increase in the family’s assets. When her parents passed in the early 2000s, Midge sought trusted advisors’ input as she thought about how to align her inherited resources with her values. Meg and Emily joined her in this project, along with Meg’s wife, Sarah. The prospect of making a radical shift in the family’s financial journey was daunting but also thrilling. The assets in our family had always been managed by the men of the family, with the women being told “not to worry their pretty little heads.” We all felt it was time to change that narrative and to redistribute these resources.
After considering our options, we decided to launch a family foundation based in our now shared hometown of Durham, North Carolina. In order to maximize the impact of our resources, we wanted to not only fund movements for equality and justice in the South, we wanted to support efforts to increase the resources available to those movements across the South, and we felt that a foundation would give us the platform to do that. We decided on the name Laughing Gull Foundation and became the founding board.