Exceeding Usual Limits

Brynn Grant lends her business acumen to the nonprofit sector

IN FEBRUARY, Brynn Grant became the president and CEO of United Way of the Coastal Empire, joining the fundraising nonprofit just one month before the coronavirus shut down the city and the nation. 

“Certainly, I’m not unfamiliar with crisis situations in my career,” says Grant, a longtime employee and former COO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. “But nothing quite like this. There are so many people already living on the edge who we need to support and prevent from falling off.” 

For a total of 19 years at SEDA, Grant advocated for the diversification and development of Savannah’s job markets. She was the executive director for the organization’s Creative Coast initiative,
 as well as the vice president of the World Trade Center Savannah, where she was integral to the city’s international business development efforts. 

Now at United Way, Grant is on the front lines, working one-on-one with people to address community needs in regards to education, income and health. Recently, the nonprofit released funding restrictions to its 53 high performing agencies and created the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to support local residents financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Community members can make further donations via the organization’s website. 

“I’ve been incredibly impressed by the commitment of volunteers to the United Way,” Grant says. “People in this community and across the region really invest not just money to support direct services, but they invest their time to make sure United Way is the best organization that it can be, and that it’s representing every- one’s best interest.” 

Bettering her community is nothing new for Grant. The Liberty County native decided a long time ago that her calling was to help others. 

“I worked for an advertising agency right out of college,” Grant says. “Though I loved idea generation, I realized I wasn’t as motivated [in advertising] as I was
 for coming up with ideas that had a real impact on the lives of other people.” Creating change in her community soon became the guiding light of Grant’s career. She first joined SEDA in 1996 as director of marketing, before launching an independent consulting business offering marketing services to local clients such as JCB and Colliers Keenan. In 2002, Grant became the executive director of the Savannah Technical College foundation, where she created the organization’s first signature fundraising event: The Opportunity Awards, recognizing state and local leaders who have created the most opportunity for others. 

“In all of those instances, I had a belief that what I was doing would be helpful to the economy and to the lives of other people,” she says. “In Savannah, I see such big opportunities among our business community leadership, our nonprofit leadership, and our government.” 

Grant returned to SEDA in 2004, kicking off a powerful 16 years, during which both the Creative Coast initiative and World Trade Center Savannah were born. Still, she wondered if she could do more. “A year before I turned 50,” Grant says, “I was really thinking, ‘I’ve been at SEDA all these years and I love it, but is this where I’m going to finish my career? Is there something more I should be doing? A place where I could have an even greater impact?’ I threw that out into the universe, and the opportunity with United Way presented itself.” 

In the months ahead, Grant and the United Way will continue to support the community through the storm of the coronavirus. And when the clouds clear, Grant says she’s excited about exploring new opportunities with Savannah’s community leadership, board and volunteers. 

“Politics at the national level are so adversarial,” Grant says. “At the local level, we have the greatest hope to overcome that, to assume good intent from others, and truly understand each other. That’s where collaboration begins.”

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