Franciscan Sisters of Mary

Friday, April 17, 2020
Group on people standing in with a banner that reads Franciscan Sisters of Mary
Franciscan Sisters of Mary at the St. Louis Climate Strike in September 2019

Member Spotlight

The Franciscan Sisters of Mary (FSM) is a St. Louis-based public charity whose impact investing and philanthropy focuses on the climate crisis, environmental justice, and equitable food systems. As a part of our new Member Spotlight series, FSM staff Ryan Strode & Katie Balfany shared with us what the organization is most excited about and how other funders can best collaborate with them.

What do other funders need to know about your foundation?

The Franciscan Sisters of Mary are a Roman Catholic congregation of women religious who have been based in St. Louis since 1872. As the founders of SSM Health, our sisters have a long legacy in compassionate care and being present to marginalized communities. FSM continues this legacy today through impact investing and giving focused on the care of creation in collaboration with others. Our work is guided by a commitment to presence, relationship, and systemic change. Our primary philanthropic focus areas include (1) partnering with Catholics responding to the climate crisis nationally and globally, (2) promoting environmental justice – the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all in the management of their environment – in the Midwest, and (3) growing an equitable, sustainable food system locally. In addition to our philanthropy, we use our impact investments and voice to promote compassionate care for creation.

What project or organization are you funding that is most exciting to you right now?

We’re particularly excited to be promoting what we call “Just Culture” among our collaborator organizations. To us, a Just Culture is a safe, healthy and welcoming environment where the nonprofit workers have access to fair compensation and benefits, pathways for shared decision making, and opportunities to grow professionally. We believe that Just Culture is an essential element of healthy organizations doing sustainable and effective work, but it’s an often-undervalued funding objective. We’ve learned that supporting the health and wellbeing of leaders is not only highly effective but also a just way to approach impact. We’re exploring how to elevate that objective in all our funding relationships, and we’re planning to release a report in the coming months to share more on the subject.

What funding areas would you like to for some partnerships around?

In the St. Louis region, we are particularly focused on growing a local, sustainable and equitable food system as well as promoting environmental justice in our local communities. We are always looking for local partners who are passionate about supporting community leaders who are strengthening the local food supply chain and/or are strengthening the environmental health of their own neighborhoods. We seek to elevate local leadership, particularly from within historically marginalized communities, to not only resist environmental threats but also to create and own the innovative solutions which will benefit the health of their own neighborhoods.

How big is your team? How do you make funding decisions?

A team of our sisters began their creation-focused grantmaking in 2014, and then brought on the help of philanthropic consultants for the next several years. We brought our philanthropy management in-house late in 2018 by hiring our own program staff. Now a three-person team, the FSM program team works to build relationships, listen to community leaders, identify need, and collaborate with our sister leadership team to make funding decisions. As a small organization, we focus on a small set of deep relationships rather than having a wide breadth of collaborations.

What’s next on your work agenda?

At the moment, we’re launching a pilot Just Culture Fund that will distribute small grants focused on promoting the health and wellbeing of nonprofit workers. Especially in this time of crisis, we know there is a need to have some flexible dollars on hand to address unexpected or even ongoing internal challenges related to individual and organizational health, so we moved to quickly make the fund available to an initial subset of our grantees. We’re eager to learn from this process and hope to make more of this kind of funding available in the future.


Want to connect learn more about the Franciscan Sisters of Mary grantmaking or connect further? Contact their team using our Member Directory.

GCG's Member Spotlight Series 

Gateway Center for Giving Member Spotlights series aims to amplify innovative grantmaking strategies, connect peers doing similar work, and promote opportunities for collaboration. If you're interested in being featured, contact Deb Dubin.