The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation is a charitable organization that supports education, health care, human services, economic development, art and culture, and the environment through grants ranging from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Established in 1937, the foundation primarily focuses on giving to organizations and endeavors that serve Georgia, but exceptions are made for outstanding organizations that promote the well-being of mankind throughout the United States.
The foundation was established by Robert Woodruff, the long-time president of the Coca-Cola Company. Woodruff became responsible for guiding the company that makes the South’s most famous export in 1923, when he was thirty-three years old. Woodruff, born in Columbus in 1889, married Nell Hodgson; the couple had no children. The foundation is endowed from the estates of Woodruff and his wife. In an effort to remain anonymous, Woodruff originally named it the Trebor Foundation. (Trebor is “Robert” spelled backward.) The foundation, which was renamed after Woodruff’s death in 1985, was endowed with a few million dollars at its start and has grown to about $2.5 billion.
A board of trustees governs the foundation. Board members do not have term limits, and successors are elected. P. Russell Hardin, president of the foundation since 2006, and a thirteen-member staff oversee daily operations. The staff also provides administrative support for the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation. In many cases, organizations that do not receive grants from the Woodruff Foundation are able to receive grants from the other foundations in accordance with each foundation’s service area.
Although grant proposals can be submitted throughout the year, proposals are considered at the April and November meetings of the board of trustees. The foundation typically awards grants for one-time capital projects and exceptional needs for well-established, tax-exempt charities in Georgia.
Several organizations have benefited from the foundation’s philanthropy, but a few stand out as major grantees. Perhaps most widely known is the support the foundation has given to the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, which received an initial $6.5 million grant from the foundation to build the center. The center was formed as a memorial after several Atlanta arts community leaders died in an airplane crash near Orly Field outside Paris, France, in 1962. The foundation has continued to support the center in the decades since. In 2001 the foundation gave a $25 million grant to the center to expand the High Museum of Art.
The foundation has also richly supported Emory University, specifically the Emory University School of Medicine, since 1945; the school of medicine is now a part of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center Fund was established at Emory University in 1996 and has received grants from the foundation totaling $574.5 million. The Winship Cancer Institute, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Rollins School of Public Health, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and the school of medicine are all recipients of this sizeable fund.
Other health care programs and organizations are also recipients of the foundation’s grants. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has received grants to expand and improve its facilities, including a grant of $25 million in 2003. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have used grants to establish the CDC Foundation and to develop the Information Network of Public Health Officials. CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) relocated its international headquarters to Atlanta with funds from the foundation. Georgia Health Sciences University has been able to construct research facilities and laboratories due to the foundation’s grants.
Community development has also been an aim of the foundation. Numerous improvement projects in Atlanta have included the creation of pedestrian corridors, park renovations, and landscaping. Since 1992 more than $27 million has been given to the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership to revitalize inner city neighborhoods, primarily through the development of affordable housing. The foundation, however, was instrumental in the city’s reconstruction resulting from the 1996 Olympic Games; it provided half of the money for the purchase of the land and the development of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.