The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta is regarded as one of the premier philanthropic organizations in Atlanta and in the Southeast, as well as one of the most innovative and fastest-growing community foundations in the country. By 2005 the foundation had reached assets of $560 million, and in that fiscal year gave nearly $50 million to charitable organizations throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area in the areas of arts and culture, education, community development, human services, youth development, and health. The Community Foundation facilitates more planned gifts than any other locally based nonprofit organization in the Southeast.
The Community Foundation’s mission is to strengthen the local community in measurable and sustainable ways for the benefit of all citizens. The foundation promotes the idea that the well-being of each citizen is connected to that of every other, and that the vitality of any community is determined by how individuals, neighbors, and communities relate to each other. By educating donors on community issues and connecting them to causes and nonprofit organizations that serve their personal philanthropic interests, the foundation helps philanthropic donors meet their charitable objectives in a creative, cost-effective, and tax-efficient manner.
The Community Foundation is comprehensive in its approach to strengthening the greater Atlanta community. In addition to its primary role of engaged grantmaker, the foundation is also a builder and caretaker of resources by investing and carefully managing the charitable dollars entrusted to its care. Funds that have been established with the Community Foundation were done so specifically to benefit the region today and in the unforeseeable future.
Equally important is the foundation’s role as a convener, collaborator, and incubator. The foundation commissions studies and reports, convenes groups to address social concerns, operates special programs and initiatives, and often connects local nonprofits to national resources and partnerships. Over the years the foundation has served as an incubator for successful initiatives in the local nonprofit sector that provide the metro area, as well as the state, with vital services and resources. Most notably, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and the Atlanta Women’s Foundation both began as initiatives of the Community Foundation. Other key initiatives overseen by the foundation are the Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund, the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, the Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Opportunities Initiative, and the Neighborhood Fund.
The idea behind a community foundation is simple: no one knows what the needs of the community will be in 20, 50, or 100 years, yet what is known is that tomorrow’s local leaders will inevitably face a world of new challenges. If the next generations are to solve local problems, they will need local resources to do so. Such thinking led a group of Atlanta leaders to form the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
The Community Foundation was created in 1951 as the Metropolitan Foundation of Atlanta by four banks, known then as Citizens and Southern National Bank (C&S), First National Bank of Atlanta, Fulton National Bank, and Trust Company of Georgia. The leaders of these institutions recognized the community value in supporting social causes with a collective strength.
During its first nine years the foundation, administered by a trustees committee and a distributions committee, made 119 grants, totaling $450,000, to local nonprofit organizations. By 1959 it had settled into a pattern of growth under A. B. Padgett, its first executive director. Between 1951 and 1969 the foundation made grants totaling nearly $4.5 million. During the 1970s and 1980s, the foundation began to experience remarkable success and growth, much of which was due to the leadership of Dan Sweat, a prominent figure in Atlanta’s civic community and the president of the foundation’s board from 1974 to 1988. Sweat helped the Community Foundation grow from a little-known resource to a well-known center for community philanthropy. During his period of board leadership, the organization expanded its assets to $68 million, which translated into expanded funding for a wider array of community organizations.
Since 1977 Alicia Philipp has been the executive director of the Community Foundation. Under her leadership the foundation has experienced substantial growth in both assets (from $7 million in 1977 to $560 million in 2005) and initiatives. Philipp is known as one of the industry’s leading contemporary voices on progressive community foundations.
In 2006 the foundation established ATLCF Collections LLC, which coordinated a citywide fund-raising effort to acquire a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers. The papers were purchased for $32 million from Sotheby’s auction house and deeded to Morehouse College.
The foundation’s success has been the result of collaborative efforts, from the dedicated work of visionary chief executive officers, to strong boards and staff, to the advent and popularity of donor-advised funds and the generous individuals and families whose names are attached to them, to careful investing and a cultivated relationship with Atlanta’s professional advisory community—financial planners, estate-planning attorneys, and accounting professionals.