What is the Atlanta Women's Foundation Looking for in New Grantees?

As we’ve just begun to scratch the surface of grantmakers in the Southeast, one funder that caught our attention early on was the Atlanta Women’s Foundation. This is a locally focused (five country metro Atlanta area) funder that aims to break the cycle of generational poverty among women and girls and promote economic self-sufficiency.

It’s had an interesting journey, first founded as a fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and since establishing itself as a separate independent foundation. Something else interesting that we have pointed out is that AWF is very much in tune with nonprofits about the realities of overhead and administrative costs.


So to learn a little more about how AWF grantmaking works and what’s in focus right now, I connected with AWF’s mission director, DiShonda Hughes. To start, she told me, “As the only public Foundation in Georgia dedicated exclusively to women and girls, we review all proposal submissions through a gender lens.”

I also learned that AWF is committed to both short-term and long-term investments. “Long-term investments contribute to lasting results, and short-term investments respond to emerging issues,” Hughes explained. She went on to elaborate about how AWF goes about this and how it all factors into its theory of change:

We are committed to providing our grantee partners with a variety of skills-based workshops and tools that will help them expand their capacity and achieve greater success in eliminating generational poverty in our community. AWF works to build effective partnerships with community stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, governments and businesses. These collaborations focus on education, awareness and creating change on the foundational issues that cause generational poverty. AWF identifies issues and/or speakers to bring to our community for education, debate and discussion. AWF also conducts research to deepen our understanding of the issues impacting women and girls in our community. We use that information to direct our activities and to help our nonprofit partners and the community work more effectively. We also use this information to develop a body of knowledge about causes and solutions and make these findings available to policymakers. It is AWF’s role to serve as an educator, funder and convener on critical issues that impact women in our community.

Fortunately for grantseekers, AWF is looking for new grantees that know how to implement strategies that lead to the economic empowerment of women and girls. Hughes elaborated on what AWF is currently looking for in new grantees:

Based upon our research findings, we give priority to organizations providing wraparound services that address multiple issues because there are rarely singular solutions to generational poverty. We have invested more than $14 million in our community. The Atlanta Women’s Foundation launches a competitive Spring Grant Cycle annually. Through that cycle we look to support nonprofits that provide academic preparation, mentoring, and educational afterschool and summer camp programs for girls. Currently there are 81,000 girls that live in poverty in our 5-county service area Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. We also look to support programs for women that include: job readiness & placement programs; career exploration, vocational training and job seeker support services, microenterprise development programs; and adult financial literacy programs.

Hughes also shared that it looks for grantees that provide wrap-around services for clients because that’s a “proven and effective strategy to combat multiple interrelated issues, thereby eliminating barriers and increasing access to services and opportunities for advancement.”

Right now, there’s a big push at AWF to support the mental health needs of women and girls in the community. Last year, it launched a Promoting Women’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Initiative to address the fact that women impacted by poverty are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness. Hughes filled me in on the local problem at hand:

The nearly quarter of a million women impacted by poverty in our 5-county service area often neglect their own health and that of their children because of all of the other struggles they face in their daily lives. The lives of women in generational poverty are filled with many challenges, often compounding each other. These women experience stress, grief, and depression without the resources or networks in place to manage these strong emotions appropriately and healthfully.

In terms of grantmaking, AWF employs a collective impact model that relies upon a shared agenda, measurements, and constant communication with a cohort of nonprofits. In a very short amount of time, the initiative has helped integrate primary care with mental and behavioral health services, facilitate cross-functional partnerships, and achieve an organizational staff buy-in among the cohorts.

As we’ve pointed out in our extensive coverage of philanthropy for women and girls, economic self-sufficiency is the key to addressing the needs of this population in local communities, not just in Atlanta but across the country and around the world. Another key to this issue, which hasn’t gotten the same amount of overall funder attention, is mental health. We’ll close with a final insight from AWF’s DiShonda Hughes about this critical funding need that perhaps more funders can get on their radar sooner than later.

Many experts interviewed for AWF’s proprietary research Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty in Metro Atlanta stated that mental health is one of the most important and most overlooked areas where women in generational poverty need help. One of the most consistently replicated findings in the social sciences has been the negative relationship of socioeconomic status with mental illness.