Ideas Challenge – How Innovative Ideas Can Spark Change

By Alicia Clay, program associate at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Alicia Clay, program associate at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Alicia Clay, program associate at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

How would you use $10,000 to improve education in YOUR community? The Ideas Challenge asked this question on Facebook earlier this year, asking for 150 words for an idea that improved education. That’s it. Just an idea. No budget, no board list, no timeline. Just an idea, a thought.

The goal of the Ideas Challenge is to inspire residents of greater Atlanta to create innovative solutions to critical community-based issues. This was the second year of this social-media based program of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. In 2015, three top winners will receive a cash prize up to $1,000 and a partnership with a local nonprofit to implement their idea with a grant award up to $10,000.

The Ideas Challenge has been such a refreshing project to work on for a couple reasons. Why do I love this program? The Ideas Challenge is innovative, collaborative and an inspiration. Our goal is to inspire Atlantans to become grassroots leaders. To think, talk, and take action in their communities. It’s a reminder that communities are built, improved and strengthened by the people who live in them.

Today we announce top 16 ideas of the 2015 Ideas Challenge. We received 200 entries from across the 23-county region addressing issues in education through nutrition, eco-education, entrepreneurism and even mobile education (think a classroom on wheels). These ideas stood out for their creativity, reach and potential impact. Congratulations to the following semi-finalists:

  • ABCs vs APPs, Kathryn Rice
  • Camp Success, Tonya Gibson
  • Community Champion, Tammy Greer
  • Creating Bilingual Communities with Dual Language Classrooms, DeShea Ware Brooks
  • S.T.E.A.M. Summer Camp/After School Program, Vanessa Johnson
  • Knowledge is Freedom, Tami Boyd
  • Nutrition and Food Literacy, YaQutullah Ibraheem Muhammad
  • Our Town, Diane Dierks
  • Recycling For DREAMS!, Debra Clark
  • Shop Class as Soul Craft, Elise Blasingame
  • STE(A)M Truck, Jason Martin
  • The Babysitter’s Club, Aneta Lee
  • The Shared History Project, David Burt
  • We STEM for Adams Park, Debra Robinson
  • Yoga and Meditation for Pre-K and Kindergartners, Robert Douglas
  • Youth Unifying Youth, Susanna Spiccia


These semi-finalists will attend a workshop on June 6 where they will fine tune their ideas and pitch to a judges panel. Six finalists will be chosen to create a short video explaining their idea and a public vote will determine the winners.

Be sure to vote for your favorite ideas June 25 – July 9 on the Ideas Challenge Facebook page!

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3 Reasons Nonprofits Should Host ‘Shark Tank’ Competitions

SHARK_TANKThe popularity of the hit show Shark Tank and the success for-profit companies have had with pitch competitions are leading many nonprofits to question whether they should embrace similar contests. My perspective is, absolutely!

Earlier this year at our Connecting for Community Change Conference (C3), United Way of Greater Atlanta hosted our own pitch-style grant competition called Spark Prize. It was one of the most uplifting and exciting events we’ve ever undertaken – full of passion and energy!

Here are three reasons why your nonprofit might want to consider hosting a pitch competition too.

1. It Provides Innovative Solutions – We all have talented, smart professionals in our organizations. But what would happen if you could double or triple that brainpower? Pitch competitions do just that, providing dozens of fresh ideas and solutions to help us create stronger organizations and stronger communities.

2. It Opens the Door for Future Collaboration – Each person or organization that enters a submission for your contest is demonstrating an interest in your mission and showing a desire to partner with you. It begins a relationship with (and creates a database of) potential partners to collaborate with in the future to help your nonprofit make a greater mission impact.

3. It Re-energizes Donors – When we initially launched our Spark Prize contest, we had $20,000 available for the winner. By the day of the live contest, that amount had tripled to $60,000, thanks to generous donors who were re-energized by the innovative ideas and the fun ways they were presented. In addition to the funds, donors also participated as judges, giving them a unique way to volunteer and contribute to our mission.

I understand the reservation some nonprofit leaders may have about these contests. After all, it is vital to always be good stewards of the money our supporters have entrusted to us. However, I want to encourage you to give them a try. You may find these competitions are a perfect way to complement and energize your work, mission and vision, and thus, help to ensure our entire community thrives.

headshot_donnaBuchananDonna Buchanan is the chief operating officer at United Way of Greater Atlanta.


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2015 Greater Good Award

By Rob Smulian, vice president, philanthropic services

By Rob Smulian, vice president of Philanthropic Services for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

By Rob Smulian, vice president of Philanthropic Services for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Atlanta’s and Georgia’s legacy of planned giving is long and distinguished, and the Georgia Planned Giving Council (GPGC) exists to build on that history and grow the impact of planned giving across the region and the state. Each year, through a rigorous process, GPGC selects a professional advisor who exemplifies the best in incorporating a charitable focus on planned giving in his/her professional practice, as well as in his/her personal life, to receive the annual Greater Good Award.

Greater Good Award recipients focus their respective practices on advising charitable individuals in order to increase the quantity and quality of planned gifts to charities in Georgia. Additionally, the professional advisor should incorporate that thinking and action in his/her personal involvement in the community, volunteering with and supporting nonprofit organizations who can benefit from wise counsel, time and resources.

This year’s Greater Good Award winner, Bertram L. Levy, fits the bill perfectly. Bert is a partner in the Atlanta based law firm of Arnall Golden Gregory LLC, where he heads the firm’s Private Wealth Group. In his work, he encourages his clients to incorporate philanthropy and planned giving into their financial planning, as he leads by example. The impact of his work benefits the nonprofit organizations doing the good work in our community, delivering services, addressing critical needs and enlivening our culture. Bert and his wife, Barbara, are deeply involved with, and have supported, many nonprofit organizations in the region over the years. Currently servicing as the Chairman of the Piedmont Healthcare Foundation, he also serves on the governing boards of the High Museum of Art, the Woodruff Arts Center and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, along with a number of other advisory boards.

Bert Levy personifies our region’s philanthropic legacy. What a great lesson to follow!

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Religion, Nonprofits and Mental Health: They Go Together

By Rabbi Judith Beiner, community chaplain at Jewish & Family Career Services

By Rabbi Judith Beiner, community chaplain at Jewish & Family Career Services

Despite all of our differences, there are still many things that all people have in common. One of them is the need to maintain good overall health and well-being, and to be connected to support systems, be they family, friends, co-workers or fellow believers. Mental health is a vital part of our overall health, and challenges to good mental health exist among people of all socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities and religions. And yet, many of our neighbors don’t seek the treatment they need, or even know treatment and support are available.

Each day, I meet with families and individuals who are affected by mental illness. For believers, God’s presence and the quest for transcendence can bring hope and inspiration. The routines of observing holy days and festivals provide needed periods of rest as well as celebrations, all of which are necessary for good mental health!

Still, there are times when more support is necessary.

That is why we at Jewish Family & Career Services partnered with United Way of Greater Atlanta and other nonprofit organizations for an awareness campaign called “I Am More Than…” The campaign aims to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health and combat stigma associated with seeking help for a mental illness. United Way has played the role of convener for a group of nonprofits that are seeking to end the stigma. The nonprofits involved have utilized their collective knowledge and experience to begin a dialogue on stigma with the philanthropic community, the criminal justice community and the education community. In addition, United Way will be hosting a forum on Thursday, June 18 at The Carter Center which will be open to other nonprofits and community leaders to learn more about mental health.

Leaders of faith communities can play a vital role in supporting the mental health of their members. Clergy who preach and teach openly about mental health issues dispel myths and create safe spaces for those who seek support from their faith. In addition, synagogues, churches and mosques signal to their communities that institutions of faith can be places for healing and reconnecting by providing meeting space for support and therapy groups. I urge my fellow faith and religious-based leaders to have frank conversations with their peers and congregations about mental conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, to help remove social stigma and enable those afflicted to feel welcome in their faith communities and hopefully, seek help.

Watch our video and learn more about the importance of mental health and combating related stigmas.

If you or someone you care about needs mental health support, please contact United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center or the Georgia Crisis & Access Line at 800.715.4225. For more information about the symposium, please email Kezzie Joseph at

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Managing for Excellence: Nonprofits are businesses, too

By Kristina Morris, program officer at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Kristina Morris, program officer at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Kristina Morris, program officer at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Whenever I’m at networking events or in a new group of people, I find that after a few minutes of small talk, the conversation inevitably turns to work. Having spent my entire career in the nonprofit sector, I have often heard the following statements when people find out about my profession: “Oh! How fun! You must find that really rewarding!” [Yes, I do!] or “So you volunteer with them full time? [No, really, this is my full-time job. I get paid to do this.]

The reactions, while positive, tend to focus on the “warm and fuzzy” aspects and tend to assume a focus on altruism above all else. Even within the sector, the idea that nonprofits need to operate more like a business appears frequently. But, I argue, they already ARE businesses. Like for profits, nonprofits offer necessary services, have clients and have to manage revenue and expenses. The main difference (but certainly not the only one) is a tax designation.

Likewise, a well-managed nonprofit must employ certain characteristics to ensure success. Such organizations should be fiscally sound, have thoughtful board and staff engagement, focus on continuous improvement and have a clear, mission-driven vision and plan. The Community Foundation has long focused on promoting and celebrating best practices in nonprofit management in each of these areas, most notably through its Managing for Excellence Award program.

Since 1984, Managing for Excellence has played an important role in the Foundation’s efforts to strengthen the region’s nonprofits by highlighting organizations adhering to nonprofit best practices. The program, sponsored by Boston Consulting Group, selects the most accomplished organizations among competitors by focusing on management expertise, not programmatic success. Nonprofit organizations are ranked against a criteria of over 80 characteristics and undergo a rigorous application and site visit process to win the award. A review committee selects a winner in each of two budget categories – under $2 million and over $2 million.

Dad’s Garage Theatre, 2015 winner in the under $2 million category, is a mid-sized theatre that engages, cultivates and inspires artists and audiences alike by producing innovative, scripted and improvised works that are recognized locally, nationally and internationally for being undeniably awesome. Families First, this year’s winner in the over $2 million category, works to ensure the success of children in jeopardy by empowering families.

This year’s winners are vastly different in their missions and programming, but they both exemplify well-managed nonprofits and contribute greatly to the fabric of the nonprofit sector in metro Atlanta. It is our hope that through these winners, and through the awards program, that we will continue to lift up best practices in nonprofit management, strengthening nonprofits and ultimately improving our region.

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Silencing Summer Child Hunger

When school lets out for summer, more than 350,000 students in Greater Atlanta will go hungry. These are students who are enrolled in free and reduced school lunch programs, but do not have access to summer meals programs when school is out.

Our partners at MUST Ministries have been serving these students for 20 years as part of its summer lunch program and have distributed more than 1.8 million meals! Their SVP of programs and administration, Chris Fields, shared two stories with us to explain why summer meals programs are so important.

No child should go hungry this summer. Click here to be a part of the solution and help us Silence the Growl.

Randy Latimer is vice president of marketing at United Way of Greater Atlanta. He can be reached at



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Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

By Kathleen Wagner, philanthropic advisor for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Kathleen Wagner, philanthropic advisor for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Kathleen Wagner, philanthropic advisor for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

I can’t be alone in hating my piano lessons as a child. My teacher’s house smelled funny. She was a close-talker who wanted me to learn faster than I felt I could. She wanted me to go home and practice piano. All I wanted to do was spend my time outside. I wanted to play “hit-the-tennis-ball-against-the-garage”, a game my sisters and I invented because of sheer boredom.

But here’s the thing that may seem insignificant: we had a garage to hit a tennis ball against. We had a racket to hit the ball with. We had parents that would help us replace the broken windows in the garage door when we missed the garage door itself. Looking back at my childhood, my family had a lot of things that were easy to take for granted, both in terms of material possessions and personal support systems.

It’s not quite the same for all families in America. In his newest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert D. Putnam reminds us that the times are changing. Putnam, a leading author and professor of public policy at Harvard University, helps us to begin examining the gaps in income inequality and upward mobility and how they are vital in determining the attainability (or lack thereof) in achieving the American Dream for children and adolescents today. Some kids don’t have a dad around to help replace the broken glass window, or neighbors who give piano lessons, or supportive adults around encouraging them to work hard in school and read books.

Here’s the thing – Americans have always wanted equality of opportunity and for kids, no matter where they’re from or what their family looks like, to have a chance at life improvement. But the American landscape is not shaping up to be this “melting pot” as intended. Classes stick together in neighborhoods, schools, marriage and even in the workplace. Upward mobility becomes an unattainable “dream” to those who grew up in poverty or without social and societal supports. Wealthier families are spending more on their children than ever—and lower income families are falling further and further behind.

In Our Kids, Putnam notes the “extraordinary role that social class has come to play in our patterns of achievement, accompanied by a hardening of class boundaries over the past ­half-century that makes it exceptionally difficult for those from classes below to rise to classes above.” What factors determine where different individuals end up in life? Putnam explains that upbringing plays a huge part in determining your child’s life-trajectory.

Maybe we can take a page out of Putnam’s book and get more involved with all of “our kids.” Find out what opportunities there are to get involved with your community so that you are part of a support system. Putnam would likely remind us to continue putting a strong focus on all kids – so that we’re not only improving opportunities for our own children, but our communities as a whole.

Join The Community Foundation and the Atlanta History Center on Thursday, April 30th to hear a lecture from Robert D. Putnam on Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Click here to register.

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Tell Us a Story: Meeting Millennials Where They Are in Philanthropy

By Abigail Russell

Abigail Russell, Tocqueville Society Coordinator at United Way of Greater Atlanta

Abigail Russell, Tocqueville Society Coordinator at United Way of Greater Atlanta

Everyone seems to have a view of millennials. A perspective, if you will. Organizations and companies spend their time and resources conducting studies and engaging diverse groups of people who are a part of that generation to better understand their “highs, lows, yesses and nos.”

That’s why a quick Google search for “millennials and philanthropy” turned up hundreds of results. And the overwhelming consensus is this: We (because I happen to fall into this category) are changing the face of philanthropy, and as a whole, we long to connect and belong to something bigger than ourselves within the communities in which we have ties. When we invest in something, whether it is for a day or longer, we walk away and share our story and connection to the mission through social media and face-to-face conversations. That connects others to the causes we care about, creating a ripple effect. We have become the social issue billboard – poster children – for global philanthropy.

The nonprofits that win our affection, advocacy and action understand one important point: we are storytellers desperately in need of people, tools and motivation that will inspire us to share their mission, vision and purpose.  Pause a moment. Think about the most dynamic speaker you’ve ever heard. Someone who captivated the room in seconds. That’s the storytelling that millennials crave.

So we ask you to feed us right – nourish us with meaningful activities in our neighborhoods, season our minds with stories and strategies, fill us with reasons to continue to come back and sweeten us up by allowing us to share our ideas with you.

There are young professional groups in every arena of the nonprofit field imaginable. At United Way, we have YPL (Young Professional Leaders) and LINC (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.) We want to do good for the greater good of others, and we will. Just as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

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Arts and Advocacy – Here are the Facts

By Lisa Cremin, director at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Lisa Cremin, director at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Lisa Cremin, director at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

I believe that you should advocate for issues and ideas that you feel are important. This is an essential tenet of our democracy. I’ve learned that art has proven to be an effective and transformative way to reach deep into the minds and hearts of people and to stimulate action and advance change. Through much of my career, the fine arts themselves have been my personal and professional advocacy tool. Early in my career, I did this through museum exhibitions that revealed the intimate and gut-wrenching plight of the homeless, and later, the lonely and terrifying advent of AIDS, which marked the lives of so many people in the creative community over the past three decades.

Now, I’ve learned to use facts to advocate for the arts. Last week I was in Washington D.C., and with colleagues from Georgia and all over the country, I made personal visits to our elected officials. Clarity and brevity and facts were the tools. I was armed with powerful new data: arts and culture production contributed $697 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012, equivalent to 4.5% of the nation’s economy. Arts is a major industry, more than transportation and warehousing (2.9% of GDP), travel and tourism (2.6%), or agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (2.15%). The arts and cultural sector supported 4.7M U.S. jobs in 2012 with a total compensation of $334.9B. Did you know that in 2012, total attendees at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exceeded the total attendees of all the New York professional sports teams combined?

Fact after fact underscores that the arts and creative economies are good for our towns, cities, states and our nation. And for education. And aging communities. When governments reduce their support for the arts, they are not cutting frills. They are undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, economic development and community revitalization.

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Let’s Bridge the Income Gap in Greater Atlanta

income inequality

Most of the time, when your city is number one for something, it’s worth bragging about. In this case, it’s not. According to a Brookings Institute study, Atlanta households in the 20th percentile earn, on average, about $15,000 per year, while those in the 95th percentile earn 19 times as much at $288,000. Compare that to the national average where the top earners make just nine times what their lower income counterparts get paid.

Copy of City Inequality 2013 Figures Tables and Appendix (Edited

In an effort to bridge that gap, many cities are increasing minimum wage, creating more affordable housing and expanding public transit to give people access to higher paying jobs.

At United Way of Greater Atlanta, we collaborate with other nonprofits, government agencies, businesses and experts to find solutions and fulfill our mission to ensure our community is a place where everyone thrives. From our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to our Financial Capability Network and partnership with Atlanta CareerRise, we provide education, job training and resources so individuals and families can qualify for higher paying jobs, track spending and plan for the future. However, we recognize that we don’t have all the answers. So we want to hear from you. What do you think needs to be done to bridge the income inequality gap in Greater Atlanta? Let us know in the comment section below.

By Diane McCants, Senior Director of Income at United Way of Greater Atlanta


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