A Few Things to Know About the Athens Federal Foundation's Grantmaking in Tennessee

 job training is one focus of the Athens Federal Foundation. Photo: goodluz/shutterstock

job training is one focus of the Athens Federal Foundation. Photo: goodluz/shutterstock

The foundations of banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America are some of the biggest players in corporate philanthropy. We write all the time about the grantmaking of these institutions, which give away millions in the communities they serve.

However, an often-overlooked type of business funder is the small community bank that only operates within a restricted geographic area. These institutions give at a much lower level, but they tend to have a very local focus that’s worth paying attention to if your nonprofit operates in the coverage area.

One example is Athens Bancshares Corporation, which is the holding company for Athens Federal Community Bank and established the Athens Federal Foundation as part of a 2009 stock conversion. This bank has a narrow market and only serves the Eastern Tennessee counties of Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Loudon and Polk. This bank was built on local values, and according to the bank’s website, “Instead of being headquartered hundreds of miles away, Athens Federal employees make decisions locally and are always accessible to customers on site.”

Recently, this bank foundation announced that it will award at least $134,000 to local nonprofits in 2018. While this amount may not hold a candle to what the larger banks of the philanthropy world are doing these days, nonprofits of all shapes and sizes can get in on this highly targeted opportunity. Unlike some large bank foundations with narrow and well-defined giving areas like financial literacy and housing, this one is open to funding pretty much anything. Its primary mission is to support and fund community development via affordable housing, job training and programs "that assist the economically disadvantaged.”

But the Athens Federal Foundation also plans to consider grant requests related to educational initiatives, human services programs, arts and cultural activities, and healthcare programs. In fact, basic needs have been the backbone of this bank funder’s giving thus far.

The foundation's president and CEO, Jeff Cunningham, said:

This area is experiencing a crucial need for basic life essentials, including food, shelter, and adequate healthcare. The foundation is committed to helping overcome those hardships and inspiring others to continue the effort of endowing our communities. As the Athens Federal Foundation grows, we get to touch more people in the community in different ways.

Athens Federal Foundation grantmaking is up slightly this year from $116,500 to 42 local nonprofits in 2017. Prior years saw grantmaking totals of just over $119,000, $100,000, and $89,000.  Last year, most of the grants ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 each, with the highest award of $7,500 going to Helping Hands Ministry to pay for home repairs for seniors and low-income homeowners to improve quality of life and establish safer living environments.

Tennessee nonprofits can pick up grant applications at any Athens Federal Community Bank starting on June 1 or access the application on the foundation’s website. The combination of foundation grants, charitable sponsorships and employees’ personal volunteerism brings Athens Federal’s total giving to around $250,000 per year.