Elizabeth A. Smith, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation

TITLE: Grants Program Director

FUNDING AREAS: Cultural activities, health, education, environment, human services and public affairs.

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Smith applies an extensive background in fundraising and finances to support philanthropic projects throughout Georgia, including—but by no means limited to—programs that conserve massive tracts of Georgia's natural habitats.

PROFILE: It was April 2005, and Elizabeth Smith had just spent seven years advising nonprofits on how to obtain funding. She was campaign director for the consulting firm Coxe Curry & Associates. But then she found herself in a new role: She'd be the one offering the funding. That month was the beginning of her new job as grants program director at the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, a position she has holds to this day.

She also holds this role at the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation. All four foundations share the same staff and office because of family and company connections.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation is a Georgia-focused institution founded in the 1920s by the Coca-Cola executive and conservationist Robert Woodruff to support the protection of its state's parks, botanical gardens, and sensitive habitats. Since then, the foundation has grown, with over $3 billion in assets. Woodruff recently awarded over $155 million in grants through its major areas of focus that include cultural activities, health, education, environment, human services and public affairs. Nonprofits in other states should take note, though, that the mission is Georgia-exclusive. Projects that take place outside the state's borders are outside Woodruff's purview.

Smith's career path prior to Woodruff involved working with the non-profit sector in general and the financing thereof, and it includes support of a mix of environmental and human-interest causes. She earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and then became events director for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Following this was that seven-year stint as campaign director for Coxe Curry & Associates, during which she helped numerous Atlanta-based nonprofits with their capital and annual campaigns.

In her present-day capacity, Smith divides her time between serving as Woodruff's grant program director and serving as the grant program director for the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, and Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation. The latter three groups, which share a common office and administrative staff but operate under separate charters and boards of trustees, all subsidize education scholarships and programs for youth. Smith also chairs the Atlanta Advisory Board of the Foundation Center, an information resource on philanthropic programs and funding sources. She is a trustee of the Southeastern Council of Foundations, a professional association of grantmakers.

In terms of her work in the trenches for the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are two of the many large environmental organizations that receive large annual grants from them. Woodruff worked with both organizations in recent years and other partner organizations to acquire 488 acres of conservation land, including a key two-mile sector of the Amicalola Creek and its tributaries, as part of the Georgia Land Conservation Program. Together with the adjacent, previously established Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, this land preservation cordoned off more than 15,000 acres from development and provided protection for the more than 27 fish species native to that portion of the Amicalola.

The foundation has an even bigger ongoing beneficiary in Ichauway, Woodruff's former quail-hunting plantation in Georgia's southwest. More than 17,000 acres of longleaf-wiregrass ecosystem are within its boundaries, and the foundation has been making annual contributions of as much as $14 million to keep it going.

But the foundation makes direct commitments to smaller groups for conservation and environmental education as well. It gave $1.5 million to the BeltLine Partnership, an Atlanta-based organization, to extend the city's Eastside Trail by 1.5 miles and build an entrance to the Fourth Ward Park, for instance. Another $1 million grant went to the non-profit Uptown Columbus to support a restoration project on the Chattahoochee River.

Larger grants awarded out of Woodruff's other areas of focus include: 

  • $80 million to Emory University toward the construction of a 210-bed wing at Emory University Hospital
  • $25 million endowment to Emory University for new scholarship programs.
  • $5 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in support of its "Great Futures" campaign.
  • $3 million to the Center for Puppetry Arts in support of its expansion and renovation, which, when complete will be home to Jim Henson's puppet collection.
  • $1 million to the Greater Atlanta Chamber Foundation in support of its "Forward Atlanta Campaign." 

Whatever the organizational size of grantseekers, stronger candidates for Woodruff grant funding will have a specific project in mind. The foundation generally does not award grants to cover overall operating expenses.