11 States in 11 Months: Southern Philanthropy in... Georgia

Note: This post is the fourth in a series that will run throughout our 50th Anniversary year. Each month, we'll focus on philanthropy in one of the 11 states in the SECF footprint, using both current and historical data while highlighting a variety of voices. This month's state: Georgia.

Georgia Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Members: J. Bulow Campbell Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Southern Education Foundation, Woodruff & Whitehead Foundations (all joined 1969-70)
Newest SECF Members: D. Gaines Lanier Family Foundation, Sandy Springs Arts Foundation (both joined February 2019)
Number of SECF Members: 118

Learn more about Georgia foundations from SECF’s Southern Trends Report!

Voices from Georgia

Christine Reeves Strigaro
Executive Director
The Sapelo Foundation

Tell us about the state of philanthropy in Georgia today – what are the biggest opportunities, trends and challenges you see as you assess your state and the work of its philanthropic community?

Based in Savannah, The Sapelo Foundation is grateful for the dedication and expertise of our outstanding grantee partners, who help us advance a mission of promoting positive social change affecting vulnerable populations, rural communities and the natural environment in the state of Georgia. In 2019, we are celebrating our 70th anniversary and designing a data-informed strategic plan that will help us deploy all our assets (grant capital, endowment capital, convening capital, relationship capital, and advocacy capital) for our mission. We are also excited that Georgia will host SECF’s Annual Meeting in 2019! Given our deep scan of the state for strategic planning, we have seen numerous opportunities, trends, and challenges emerge. Here are a few.

  1. Collaboration. As we know, no grantee partner or foundation can achieve success alone. It’s exciting to see the depth and breadth of Georgia’s coalitions and networks. Individual members can bring different skills, resources, issue expertise and members to the table. A telltale sign of a successful collaboration is often when groups focus on a common goal, but also break into smaller groups to address additional goals (because they have come to trust and value each other so much). Sapelo encourages grantee partners to collaborate, and we also try to collaborate with our foundation peers whenever possible. For example, 38 nonprofit organization comprising ProGeorgia are helping people register to vote.
  2. Specificity. Sometimes, work is understandably and laudably meant to benefit all Georgians. However, if rural communities – as one example – are not named and prioritized, a statewide goal may disproportionately benefit urban communities. For example, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute disaggregates data to show how key demographics (race, gender, geography, etc.) are affected by different issues (labor, health, education, etc.).
  3. Policy change. We don’t want to accidentally enhance broken systems. Instead, we want to make sure democratic systems and laws help Georgians and their environments thrive. May of our grantee partners pursue policy change and implementation through advocacy, civic engagement, voter registration and education, grassroots organizing, data analysis and more. This important work takes time and often requires long-term support and partnership-building with grantee partners. For example, the JUST Georgia Coalition helped the former Georgia governor revise an outdated Juvenile Justice Code.
  4. Mission investing. We have learned so much from our peer foundations and philanthropic networks about mission investing, as we pursue an exciting and creative journey to align our endowments (95 percent of our financial capital) and our grants (5 percent of our financial capital) all under our mission. We see it as a way to honor our grantee partners by making sure we know what we own and (at the very least) ensuring the companies we own do not run counter to the grants we support.
  5. The environment is a social issue. According to Environmental Grantmakers Association’s 2017 Tracking the Field Report, only 4 percent of U.S. foundations’ domestic grants dedicated to “environment” went to the 11 SECF states. We hope that number can increase, but we also hope that foundations focused on other important goals (i.e. health, children and families, social justice, economic development, etc.) see how environment is a social issue, too. For example, Georgia’s unlined coal ash ponds (which include carcinogens such as hexavalent chromium, which was made notorious in the movie Erin Brokovich) represent a leading public health issue that disproportionately hurts children, rural populations, low-income communities and communities of color. The Georgia Water Coalition’s 250 organizational members are hard at work on solutions.

John Stephenson
Executive Director
J. Bulow Campbell Foundation

What are the most significant ways the philanthropic landscape in Georgia and the Southeast has changed during your career?

During my 33 years with the J. Bulow Campbell Foundations and my work with two family foundations and a health conversion foundation there have been, of course, many significant developments among the philanthropic community as well as the non-profit sector. New pockets of wealth have joined in Georgia’s tradition of giving, and the number of non-profit organizations has increased steadily. Rarely does a quarterly meeting go by when the Campbell Foundation does not award a grant to an organization it has never given to before. This reflects not only population growth, but also the innovative ways organizations attack new and persistent challenges and opportunities. I have also noted over the years, in general, a much more businesslike approach to management of nonprofit organizations, and more attention to holistic solutions, more willingness to seek partners and collaboration, and more consolidation of effort when logic and financial and mission efficiencies dictate.

Within each category of the independent sector, in the Atlanta area and throughout Georgia, there have been some rather spectacular, sustained successes in the arts, medicine, human services, education, human welfare, the environment and quality of life amenities. In example after example the role of private philanthropy in leveraging public resources can be seen in parks, public hospitals, public education, attention to children at risk and public policy. The trust between public and private decision makers, periodically breached, seems to be on increasingly stronger footing, providing good results for the community.

Georgia’s philanthropic organizations have matured nicely as well, with highly professional staffing, meaningful interaction among counterparts, and a willingness to hear new ideas, a characteristic sometimes not associated with foundations and individuals who are comfortable with the status quo while the world experiences rapid, significant change. With some notable exceptions, staffing is fairly modest, relying on the grant seekers to bring interesting and worthy ideas for consideration followed by trust that the objectives will be met. Atlanta and other Georgia cities and regions within the state benefit greatly from the combined efforts and generosity of many.

Philanthropic Phactoid

Thank you to former SECF President & CEO Martin Lehfeldt for providing this and other "phactoids" about the history of philanthropy in the region!

Robert W. Woodruff, the renowned chief executive of The Coca-Cola Company who made its logo the most recognized one in the world, was insistent that his generosity remain anonymous — so much so that when he established his foundation in 1937, he named it the Trebor (“Robert” spelled backward) Foundation. Only after his death did this multi-billion dollar institution become the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.


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