Celebrating Black History-Makers: Interview with Darrin Goss, Sr.

Interview by Brenda Asare, President & CEO and Thandi Cai, Marketing Associate

Black History-Makers illuminate a path toward inclusivity, unity and a shared human experience, shaping a future that reflects the best of who we are as humans. Darrin Goss, Sr., President and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation, exemplifies exactly that. In this interview, we discuss his leadership of the organization in addressing systemic issues, showcasing the vital role foundations play in communities nationwide.

Image of a man wearing a suit and tie smiling.

About Black History-Makers

In a world where history is continually shaped, we celebrate Black History-Makers: leaders transcending boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on their fields. These visionaries redefine possibilities, not solely for the Black community but for all. Their narratives unfold a shared journey toward a future that reflects the best of who we are as humans. Through resilience, innovation, and unwavering dedication, these trailblazers illuminate a path toward inclusivity, unity, and a world that mirrors the richness of our shared human experience. Join us as we spotlight the contributions of these leaders, whose endeavors inspire and redefine history in real time.

In this interview, we shine a light on Darrin Goss, Sr., President and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation, the largest Community Foundation in South Carolina. Through his leadership, the Foundation has crafted a variety of initiatives to communicate the systemic issues burdening the region. The organization has become a community leader in areas such as housing, education and economic development, and an example of the pivotal role that foundations play in communities across the country.

In your role as CEO, you’ve been instrumental in the transformation and engagement of inclusive voices and donors. How do you envision this approach contributing to a more equitable and resilient future for the communities that you serve?

One of our core values at the foundation is Inclusion with Equity. We are committed to empowering and bringing diverse perspectives to our table. And our table is not just the boardroom — it’s the standing committees of our Board of Directors as well. Having community members on these committees allows us to stay abreast of both the challenges and opportunities in our region. This type of intentional engagement requires us to maintain relevancy and value in the communities we serve.

We like to be invited to community tables, too. We’re very open to – and seek – opportunities with communities in their spaces at their community centers or church classrooms. We believe in shared power so that we have a chance to put our feet on the ground and apply local contexts to our strategy, our investment, and our grant making strategies. It does take a lot of discipline, intentionality and courage, because sometimes you hear things that you don’t necessarily want to hear, and I think our communities respect that.

What do those strategies look like based on the conversations that you have?

We make a concerted effort to ensure diversity and inclusion on our board, among our staff and our standing committees, by actively managing and recruiting a mosaic of board, staff and community leadership. We have the most diverse staff and board that we’ve ever had. Those decisions have led to big commitments in our Place-Based Impact Investing Fund.
Donors and community members express that grants alone will not solve some of the challenges and issues faced in our communities. They helped us to appreciate that a lot of what they face is related to public policy across all levels of government. That insight helped us to realize that we needed to have a policy agenda that complimented our grantmaking portfolio.
Lastly, I’ll reference a recently formed giving circle called the Lowcountry African American Giving Circle, where folks can come together to fund initiatives and to have dialogue about issues and challenges unique to the Black community that can be solved by the Black community. And that work can be leveraged through philanthropic investment — not just financial capital, but social, reputational, moral and intellectual capital.

Why is it so important for the Coastal Community Foundation to incorporate a policy agenda in the work you all do for your community?

If we’re talking about Black History Month and Black communities (and any minority community, really), we must think about the role that policy plays in maintaining structures and systems of inequity. If you think about the role that public policy has played in disadvantaging communities of color throughout the history of our country, then it just makes sense for philanthropy and for a community foundation like ours to understand the role that contemporary policy may be playing in perpetuating some of the problems that we’re trying to solve.

We can’t grant-fund our way to solving the structural problems we are facing today. We hear that directly from conversations with our community members. Our relationship with grantees is important, but that’s only a part of the process.

What do you see as the key opportunities and challenges for Black philanthropy? And how can organizations like yours lead the way?

The biggest existential challenge or threat right now for philanthropy is the SCOTUS decision on race-based criteria which is causing some foundations to pull back or withdraw their support of initiatives that center Black communities or Black-led organizations. Many funders are preemptively pausing their grantmaking before knowing what will ultimately happen as several cases make their way through the courts.

I encourage my colleagues around the country not to fall backward, but to lean into the values of the communities they serve. That’s what the Coastal Community Foundation will be doing. We must also uplift the results we get from investing in Black and minority-led organizations — to share the impact we’re making with and through nonprofits and directly into those communities. Inclusion with Equity is a core value that produces results. We need to share that important work.

There is also an opportunity for Black philanthropists, Black giving circles and foundations led by Black CEOs to reassure our communities that we’re here for them. We are going to continue to lead with a sincere desire to make the world and the communities we live in better than they were when we got here and stepped into our roles. That is my desire and hope for the field, quite frankly.

How would you describe the beginning of your journey as a change agent?

Growing up in Charleston, I saw the disparities that existed and understood that the education provided to me through sports gave me a platform to say and do things that others couldn’t. As a teenager, I was caught in between the paradox of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom some academics would call the integrationist, and Malcolm X, whom some would call a segregationist. Today I think the polarizing rhetoric that pulls people apart is not in the best interest of the community, and so I’m inspired by Dr. King. In many ways, I’m challenged, encouraged and inspired by Malcolm X, but I think my disposition would be more of the beloved community in ways that Dr. King would expose.

From a young age, I thought: If I ever have the chance to lead, I’m going to lead with passion and conviction. But I’m also going to bring people together without sacrificing and compromising the truth about the reality we are facing.

What advice would you give to the next generation of trailblazers?

I don’t consider myself a trailblazer — so many have come before me. I’m running the next leg of the relay race. What I would say to people who endeavor to do this kind of work is to discipline themselves in the function of what philanthropy is in its ideal, not the way it manifests itself today. The ideal of philanthropy is to love humanity, to relieve suffering, to give people a hand up and not a handout. There is a paradox in what we do. We must run and operate with the discipline and efficiency of a strong, well-run business with the compassion and empathy of a place of healing and restoration. I can think of no better tension to hold than this.

There are not many people in the country, only about 900 Community Foundations, and the CEO’s and ED’s who get to do this job every day. I feel very privileged and honored to do this work.