Left Behind: How Can Philanthropy Make This Prosperous City More Inclusive?

 photo:  Brett Barnhill/shutterstock

photo:  Brett Barnhill/shutterstock

Not enough philanthropic support is going to communities left behind by Atlanta’s booming economy, fueled in part by the city’s reputation as progressive and welcoming. That’s the crux of a report recently released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) and Grantmakers for Southern Progress,  “As the South Grows: Bearing Fruit.”

The report is part of a series released by the two organizations examining giving throughout the South. Past reports have looked at the lack of investment from national funders and reticence to support communities vulnerable to climate change.


This latest installment charges that although the city has benefited from its inclusive reputation, epitomized by the slogan “The City Too Busy to Hate,” it has done little to make sure marginalized communities share in the success. Philanthropy has the chance to make up some of the difference by raising up community voices and building capacity of locally led nonprofits, but has not done enough, the report said.

Gentrification and displacement, immigration, and police violence and criminalization were identified by the report as top priorities for vulnerable communities within Atlanta.

Philanthropy supporting community economic development in Atlanta clocked in at $126 million from 2010 to 2014. Work supporting local power building got $73 million, and human rights work received $7 million during that time frame. For comparison, health and education were the top recipients of philanthropic dollars in the city from 2010 to 2014, getting about $1.1 billion each.

According to the report, 20 percent of funding went to underserved communities, but only two percent went to building capacity. This fits with a trend around anti-poverty initiatives that we’ve discussed before at IP. A big reason philanthropy has such a hard time moving the needle on poverty is that most funders in the space are reluctant to invest in broad, policy-focused work, instead supporting direct services on a local scale.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation tries to avoid those pitfalls in Atlanta by supporting local leaders and organizations focused on policy change, Janelle Williams, a senior associate at the foundation’s Atlanta civic site, said in the report. 

“While supporting direct service is important, we must also tackle advocacy, because the policies that got us here will not change unless we invest in true, resident-led organizing,” Williams said. To accomplish this, the foundation funds research and advocacy efforts at the Georgia Justice Project and Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, along with supporting local community partners.

Another major side-effect of Atlanta’s growth is displacement for its more vulnerable populations. The Kendeda Fund and Arthur M. Blank Foundation are two Atlanta-based philanthropists that have adopted gentrification and displacement as causes. The two funders have more than a cause and location in common: Their founders, Diana Blank and Arthur Blank, used to be married.

In housing, Kendeda focuses its work on developing models to keep houses affordable, building community wealth and access to transportation.

“Housing prices have pushed many low-income workers to the south of the city, while the job hub is to the north. So there are substantial infrastructure challenges around fair access to employment – both in terms of how people initially get hired for a job and then around how those same people can get to that job,” said Tené Traylor, an advisor at the fund, in the report.

While Kendeda is focusing on getting residents to jobs, the Blank Foundation is focused on job creation, training and placement. The foundation’s founder, Arthur Blank, is a big giver in the Atlanta area. He’s the co-founder of Home Depot and owns several Atlanta sports teams, including the Falcons. For the past several years, the foundation has doubled down on its work in the Westside, the neighborhood adjacent to the Falcons’ new stadium.

Since the new stadium was announced in 2014, the foundation has poured $37 million into the Westside, which is more than twice Blank’s initial commitment, but less than a quarter of the $200 million in public financing that went into the stadium.

One of the efforts Blank supported was a workforce development center in the neighborhood. The center has placed nearly 500 Westside residents in living wage jobs, according to Frank Fernandez, the foundation’s vice president of community development.

The foundation is also aware of the gentrification a major stadium can bring in its wake, and is working to keep housing affordable through funds that will cover rising property taxes and repairs, along with legal support to combat slumlords. In addition, the foundation is putting money into a fund that will acquire property to maintain affordable prices for renters, Fernandez said.

The scarcity of affordable housing is an issue nationally, not just in Atlanta. It’s a problem that a number of national funders are also trying to crack. The Funders for Housing Opportunity joins nine grantmakers, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to work on housing issues. The group, which awarded $4.9 million in inaugural grants in February, is focused on changing the narrative, encouraging activism and building an evidence base for policy reform.  

Like access to affordable housing, Atlanta’s problems are not so different from problems nationally. Here, as elsewhere, there's a lot of prosperity that is not being broadly shared, and the challenge for philanthropy is building more inclusive economies that work for everyone. NCRP’s advice to invest in community leadership and to empower underserved populations is applicable in lots of places beyond Atlanta.