Southern Education Foundation remembers Janine Lee

March 4, 2024

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) mourns the passing of Janine Lee, the president and CEO of Philanthropy Southeast and a visionary leader who challenged many foundations to increase their focus on racial equity in the South and across the nation.

Ms. Lee, who died on Feb. 28, mentored, supported, and inspired many leaders in the philanthropic community and nonprofit sector, including our own leaders at SEF.

SEF was a founding member of Philanthropy Southeast, formerly known as the Southeastern Council of Foundations, more than 50 years ago and remains active in the organization today.

“When I joined SEF as president in 2018, Janine provided tremendous support and good counsel, helping me build connections with other leaders in in our region,” said SEF President and CEO Raymond C. Pierce. “She was a great leader and will be missed by everyone who knew her.”

Under Ms. Lee’s leadership since 2011, Philanthropy Southeast influenced many foundation leaders and helped them understand why equity should be a central tenant of southern grantmaking.

“Janine made a profound impact on the field of philanthropy nationwide and was a trailblazer for women, leaders of color, and many professionals in the field of philanthropy. We will miss her leadership for many years to come,” said SEF Chief Operating Officer Kenita T. Williams, a Philanthropy Southeast board member and former staff member under Ms. Lee.

“I’ve also lost a mentor and trusted colleague who contributed so much to my growth and leadership in philanthropy,” Dr. Williams said. “Part of Janine’s legacy is that she worked to prepare new generations of leaders dedicated to racial equity and making a greater difference for the people of the South.”

Ms. Lee became the leader of the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, which supports philanthropic foundations and other funders in 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in 2011. She was a co-founder of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, which helps foundations better account for and make a lasting impact in their work.

The SEF team expresses our sincere condolences to Ms. Lee’s family and the team at Philanthropy Southeast.


The Southern Education Foundation is a 157-year-old education and civil rights organization based in Atlanta. We work to improve education in 17 states and across the nation, with an emphasis on Black students and students from low-income families.