Surprise! – How My Son Became Philanthropic

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

This past week, I experienced one of those moments in the life of every parent where I realized that the advice, admonishments and, ultimately, values I strive to instill in my child might have actually stuck.

My child is the son of two parents who are deeply connected to the charitable world and philanthropy – one by vocation and both by avocation. As such, throughout all of his 18 years, my child has been on the receiving end of my wife’s and my shared experiences trying to impact the world in a positive way. Between volunteer experiences and opportunities to gift money for charitable causes and to nonprofit organizations, my wife and I have never been sure that our son fully appreciated the importance of giving back and making a difference.

Well, our son turned 18 on December 6. He was fortunate to receive many good wishes and gifts from family and friends near and far. On December 7, after reflecting on his new-found good fortune, my son said to me, “Dad, I want to take a lot of the cash gifts I’m getting and buy new toys to give to little kids during the Holidays.”


Of course I was delighted by his unprompted desire to donate. I thought about how many times my wife and I tried to express to him the joy and satisfaction we felt in giving back, and the obligation we knew we had to give to those in need.

What struck me is that a parent can never overstate or overemphasize to his or her kids, extended families and networks how important it is to support the causes and nonprofits we care so passionately about. At the end of the day, something DOES stick when you share your philanthropic passion and purpose regularly and consistently over time with great enthusiasm.

So as you consider how to give those philanthropic dollars and as you donate your valuable time at the end of this year, don’t forget to bring your children, family and friends into the process. Keep them involved throughout the year. You will be paying it forward through the next generation and all the succeeding generations to come.

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United Way Volunteer Gets Gift of Life, Pays it Forward

It’s the holiday season – the giving season. Many of you are opening your hearts and wallets to help others, but why? Why do you give back? United Way of Greater Atlanta President and CEO Milton J. Little, Jr. posed that question to James Clifford Piatt, a United Way volunteer and advisory business services administrator at Habif, Arogeti & Wynne (HA&W) LLP, and his answer was so personal, it nearly brought him to tears. Watch as he shares his story, then let us know in the comments below why you give backYou can watch the full interview on AIB Mondays at 5:30 p.m. through the end of the year.

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December Holidays: Tis the Season for Interfaith Understanding

By Alicia Clay, Program Assistant at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

By Alicia Clay, Program Assistant at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

This time of year, there is a special excitement in the air as many of us are focused on family, food, decorating, gift giving and festive celebrations. While we might be busy with our respective holiday traditions, it is important to remember there are numerous cultural and religious groups celebrating major holidays during the month of December. Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Pagan holidays all fall in December making it a celebratory time for many groups. In fact, depending on the year, there are also a number of Baha’i, Sikh, Islamic and Shinto holidays that could fall in December, making this one of the holiest and religiously significant times of the year.

Major religious holidays this December include the following:

  • Buddhist Holidays
    • Dec. 8 – Bodhi Day
  • Christian Holidays (all denominations)
    • Dec. 8 – Feast of Immaculate Conception (Catholic)
    • Dec. 12 – Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
    • Dec. 24 – Christmas Eve (Western Churches)
    • Dec. 25 – Christmas Day (Western Churches)
  • Jewish Holidays
    • Dec. 17-24 – Hanukkah
  • Kwanzaa (cultural holiday)
    • Dec. 26 – Jan. 1
  • Wicca/Pagan Holidays
    • Dec. 21 – Solstice/Yule (northern hemisphere); Litha (southern hemisphere)

But why does this matter? While there is something deeply moving about feeling a sense of collective celebration, there are also real lessons to be learned about understanding what your neighbors are celebrating this month and throughout the year.

 The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has discovered this through its One Region Atlanta initiative. Launched in 2013, One Region Atlanta focuses on bridging cultures and faiths in our region. Throughout the past year, there have been several “ah-ha” moments for us. There were thrilling moments such as receiving more than 160 ideas from throughout the region about how Atlantans might bring different cultures and faiths in their community together. There were touching moments such as witnessing the City of Atlanta working to becoming a more “Welcoming City.” There were humbling and enlightening moments learned from our own unintended ignorance of cultures different from our own. For example, we learned not to schedule meetings or other major events on Fridays since it is the Muslim day of prayer. We learned to double check religious holidays throughout the year for multiple religions and cultures. We learned to consciously consider the wide variety of cultural and religious perspectives of the communities residing here in Atlanta. These have been critical, life-changing lessons that have made our staff and our organization richer, broader and deeper in our understanding of our region and the growing diversity of today’s metro Atlantans.

 There are tangible benefits that result when an eclectic community embraces its differences and takes the time to get to know each other. Public policies improve. Businesses are more successful. Governments run better. Schools educate more effectively. Institutions of all types fulfill their missions with greater impact. The quality of life is consistently higher, right down to the neighborhood and block level. Here in Atlanta, we are becoming increasingly international, recording 716,434 foreign-born residents in 2010. These numbers have moved Atlanta up from 14th to 12th in U.S. metro areas with the largest immigrant population. When fostered by respect and candid curiosity, these cross-cultural relationships have the potential to alter our region’s civic infrastructure from “inside out,” and to also increase collective motivation and capacity to solve our toughest community concerns.

This is why all of this matters.

I encourage you to get involved with the many cultural and interfaith opportunities happening throughout the metro area this December and throughout the year.

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Three Ways to Give Back this Holiday Season

By Rene and Barbarella Diaz, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Campaign Co-Chairs for 2014-2015

Giving back to our community is very important to us and to our family. It’s the reason we are co-chairing United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2014-2015 campaign – the first couple to have the honor. And we know giving back is important to you too. In fact, it’s the reason why Atlanta is one of the top five cities in the country for giving. So this Thanksgiving, we want to thank you for your generosity and share three ideas for how you can continue to give back to Greater Atlanta this holiday season.

  1. Give: A lot of people hear the word give and immediately think about money. While financial contributions are necessary, you can also give without opening your wallet. Give a warm coat or clothes. Give a few cans of food to a community pantry. You can also get your children involved by having them pick out some of their toys to give to kids who have less.
  1. Advocate: Earlier this month, a woman – “Jane” – reached out to United Way on Twitter. One of her friends – “John” – sent a tweet saying he was not looking forward to the holidays because he lost his job and was having trouble paying his bills. Determined to help, Jane connected United Way to the online conversation, suggesting it could be a resource. United Way responded, sending John information about its 2-1-1 Contact Center, which connects people to the assistance they need to address everyday challenges.

This story demonstrates the ease and impact of advocating, not only for organizations you support, but also on behalf of the people who can benefit from those agencies. You may not have the time to volunteer, or the resources to give, but you can be an advocate. 

  1. Volunteer: One of the most precious gifts you can give is your time. When you give your time to volunteer, you develop a personal connection to the community you are serving. And you see first-hand the challenges our community faces.

No matter what you’re interested in, there are volunteer activities you, your family and friends can participate in. Paint art for formerly homeless veterans. Spend time with hospice patients. Walk dogs at animal rescue centers. Those are just a few of the hundreds of volunteer opportunities available across our region. The “take action” page on United Way’s website can help you connect with the opportunities that are right for you.

As we mentioned before, Atlanta is one of the most generous cities in America.  But with more than 600,000 Greater Atlanta residents struggling, it’s up to all of us to do something – anything – to help them. So we have one final idea: Encourage others to give back this holiday season. The needs are too vast for any one person or organization to solve alone. Only together can we Create Change for a Stronger Community this holiday season – and beyond.

How will you give back during this season of giving? Let us know in the comment section below.

Barbarella Diaz volunteering  at a project for the food bank

Barbarella Diaz volunteering at a project for the food bank

Rene Diaz volunteering at a project for the food bank

Rene Diaz volunteering at a project for the food bank

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Philanthropy in the Classroom – Superheroes and Children: Beginning a Lifetime of Charitable Giving

By Christy Eckoff, director of Gift Planning at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

By Christy Eckoff, director of Gift Planning at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Each fall, 1,000 philanthropists, nonprofits and community leaders are brought together by the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Atlanta Chapter to celebrate National Philanthropy Day.

All 1,000 gather for a beautiful luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta was the title sponsor this year. Philanthropists and fundraisers are honored and everyone leaves feeling empowered to make Atlanta a better place to live for all Atlantans.

As president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Atlanta Chapter, I am honored to be able to celebrate this day but perhaps my favorite part of National Philanthropy Day happens in the classrooms of Atlanta schools.

Each year the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Atlanta Chapter goes into area classrooms to teach students about philanthropy – what it means and how they can be philanthropic. The Kiwanis Club of Atlanta is a sponsor of this effort and joins with the Association of Fundraising Professionals members to read a book and then create an art piece that reflects a child’s view of philanthropy.

As you can imagine, the art pieces tell a story.

"Philanthropy Girl" by Zoe

“Philanthropy Girl” by Zoe

My favorite art story this year was what we called “Philanthropy Girl” by Zoe – a superhero who flies through the sky to hammer nails and help the townspeople build homes for the homeless.  If other children feel the same as Zoe – that being philanthropic makes them feel like a superhero – then I believe Atlanta will continue to be a thriving and generous metro area.

I look forward to seeing the impact of “Philanthropy Girl’s” next adventure!

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Are We Doing All We Can to Help Homeless Female Veterans?

As we celebrate our veterans today, I want to talk to you about a very specific segment of that population – homeless women veterans. I know their story well, because it’s my story too. My name is Julia Kelly and I’m a formerly homeless U.S. Army veteran.

Intake Coordinator, United Way of Greater Atlanta (Formerly Homeless Veteran)

By Julia Kelly, Homelessness Intake Coordinator for United Way of Greater Atlanta (Formerly Homeless Veteran)

My story is not stereotypical. I did not serve any tours overseas or dedicate my entire career to military service, but I served my country – two years as a soldier and 10 years as an Army wife. After my military service and marriage ended, I moved back home to Atlanta with my daughter. It was 1993. From that period until last year, things were going great. I was working and making good money, then, I lost my job. I’ll never forget the day – January 2, 2013. In a matter of months, my severance ran out, then my unemployment. I couldn’t pay my rent, so I lost my place. I was officially homeless – one of hundreds of homeless female veterans in Greater Atlanta. Unlike my situation, a lot of those women have young children, have been physically or sexually abused, have PTSD or other mental health issues. Family members would have helped me, If I’d only asked, including my daughter, who had just started teaching. I also could have reached out to my pastor or church for assistance, but my pride wouldn’t let me. Fortunately, an older friend, who is like a mother figure to me, knew I was struggling and allowed me to stay in her home. Determined to get back on my feet, I started taking classes at Beulah Heights University. It was there that I met Kinte Rollins, a member of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Peers Reaching Out Team (PRO). PRO Team members are people who were once homeless and now work to help others facing the same struggle. Kinte invited me to United Way where I received additional assistance and joined the team. A short while later, United Way offered me a job as a homelessness intake coordinator. The PRO Team and United Way programs like Vets Connect have been able to help me and connect hundreds of other formerly homeless veterans with case managers, services and transitional housing. What these programs do is necessary and very important. Still, I often think about homeless female veterans – those living on the streets with their kids, dealing with mental health issues, healing from physical and sexual abuse, and who are seeking help. Each one has her own story and deserves a chance at success. So I wonder, are we – United Way and the country in general – doing enough to meet needs of our female veterans – homeless or otherwise? Leave your comments below.

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The Perfect Gift: Sharing Your Story and Your Family’s Story

By Audrey Jacobs, director, Center for Family Philanthropy at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

By Audrey Jacobs, director of The Center for Family Philanthropy at The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

November and December are months filled with holidays. For so many of us, this time of year has come to mean holidays = gifts + giving + busyness + exhaustion!

Gifts are the major focus. We are consumed with the gifts. What should they be? What are the perfect gifts – for parents, children, grandparents, colleagues, neighbors, mail carriers? And the list goes on and on.

Last week, I was profoundly moved and inspired to a new way of thinking about what makes the perfect gift.

I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Alvin Sugarman at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ annual luncheon where 1,000 of metro Atlanta’s philanthropic leaders celebrate National Philanthropy Day. Rabbi Sugarman was honored as Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year. In his highly personal acceptance speech, this man shared how he came to dedicate his life to caring for others. In just a few moments, he transported the audience to 1943, sharing the vision of himself as a five year-old boy kissing his mother goodnight for the last time as she lost her fight with cancer. We learned how his Uncle and other caring individuals shaped him to be the humble, gracious, caring, insightful, charming, generous, quick-witted, thoughtful and humorous man he is today.

In that moment, amidst my tears, I realized there are few greater gifts to give to loved ones than your stories.

I wondered what we would be able to do if we all knew our family stories. These deeply personal tales—of life, love, loss and of triumph over hardship –provide the backbone that strengthens us. This sense of who and where we came from allows us to go out in the world – to be our best selves and to give of ourselves to others.  These family stories comfort us.  They ground us. They shape us. They guide us in our giving.  They are our life lines.

And even when they are sad or tough stories—stories of pain, we can take some nugget, we can find some piece to learn from and use it for good.

These are true gifts that we need and want. These are gifts we’ll remember and cherish long beyond this year’s latest cell phone or other material possession.

So, as you prepare for the holidays, I encourage you to take a few moments to weave in or to create a space to share your stories with your loved ones.

It might be as simple as asking each person at the table to share a story of a time when they felt proud.  Or a time when they faced a challenge and jumped over the hurdle.  Or, a time when they were giving their very best.

Consider sharing stories through photographs.  Ask each person to come to the table with a photograph and story to share.

I imagine everyone will leave the table with more gifts than ever imagined.  And the cost per story —priceless!

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Preparing for the Next Crisis

By Milton J. Little, Jr.

By Milton J. Little, Jr., President of United Way of Greater Atlanta

We are in the middle of the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. You cannot turn on the TV or surf the Internet without hearing about the disease. In the last 30 days, more than 21 million tweets mentioned Ebola. That’s about 8 tweets per second!

President Obama has named an Ebola czar and Governor Deal has organized an Ebola Response Team. All eyes are on Greater Atlanta as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes the lead on disseminating information and doctors at Emory University Hospital treat patients infected with the virus.

Health officials say we are at minimal risk. As of October 25, only four people in the U.S. had been diagnosed with Ebola. Our healthcare here is the best in the world, and with the exception of one person, those patients have been cured. Still, people are afraid. After all, the virus has already taken more than 4,500 lives. I am not trying to minimize the loss of life or the global threat. Both are significant. But what can we – nonprofit, business, faith and community leaders – do to prepare Greater Atlanta for the next crisis – whether it’s health-related, a natural disaster, terrorism or something else?

We’ve been here before. Remember SARS? Swine flu? This year’s Snowmageddon. The tornado a few years back? In each case, there was panic and fear because we were caught off guard and there was no central location or organization for citizens to connect with for information.

Now is the time to be proactive and come up with a plan to make sure everyone in our community knows where to go for credible information and ensure schools, businesses, churches and other groups know how to distribute that information to the people they serve.

I know you may be thinking, “Milton, that’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and news media are for.” You’re right. But those groups are only two pieces of the puzzle. We have people in our neighborhoods who may not have access to the CDC’s website for information, but may call United Way’s 2-1-1 contact center. Others may not believe what they hear on the news, but trust and listen to people they interact with regularly like their faith and community leaders.

Let’s not wait until the next big crisis to have this conversation. Let’s start right now. Join in by responding to the poll below.

Crisis Preparation Poll
What should nonprofits do now to prepare Greater Atlanta for the next health or public safety crisis? (You can select more than one.)
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Columbus, Trick or Treats and National Philanthropy Day!

By Kristin Dunstan, vice president of Marketing & Communications for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

By Kristin Dunstan, vice president of Marketing & Communications for The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

This October, many metro Atlantans have already celebrated one and will be celebrating another major American holiday:

  • First, there was the Columbus Day government holiday on the 13th.
  • Second, there is Halloween on the 31st.

And in between these holidays is another day of celebration that’s not quite as well-known – Atlanta’s celebration of National Philanthropy Day on the 28th.

Yes – on October 28th, 1,000 of metro Atlanta’s philanthropic leaders will gather at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP’s) Greater Atlanta Chapter’s annual luncheon to celebrate National Philanthropy Day. There is a great synergy between The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and AFP’s Greater Atlanta Chapter. In fact, it’s pretty cool that in the year The Community Foundation is title sponsor of this celebration, the synergy between our two organizations is readily apparent – all three of the day’s award winners (Tom Chapman, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman and Jen Bennecke) are donors and/or volunteers at The Community Foundation and this year’s AFP Greater Atlanta Chapter president is the Foundation’s director of gift planning, Christy Eckoff.

But what I find even more remarkable about the Foundation and AFP is each organization’s deep commitment to developing a love for philanthropy in the next generation. Philanthropy is strong in Atlanta. An article just came out the other week in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which ranks Atlanta the fourth most generous metro area in the country. We know for philanthropy to continue to be strong in our community, we must get the next generation as fired up about philanthropy as we are.

So, I challenge you to celebrate this third holiday and to explore philanthropy with your children this month. At The Community Foundation, we define philanthropy as the giving of time, talent and treasure. While making Halloween treats or putting together Halloween costumes, you can start talking with your children about philanthropy. You can ask questions like:

  • If you could do something to help someone, what would you do?
  • If you could change something for the better, what would you change and how?
  • If you could volunteer to teach a child or a senior citizen something you’re good at, what would it be?

Out of your children’s answers may come some great ideas for things you can do as a family this fall to be philanthropic by helping others. I challenge you to pick one thing you will do before Thanksgiving as a family. In amongst all of the other traditions Fall brings, this is a simple way to start a tradition of family philanthropy.

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Creating Change for a Stronger Community

By Milton J. Little, Jr.

By Milton J. Little, Jr., President of United Way of Greater Atlanta

United Way of Greater Atlanta is excited to partner with the Community Foundation on this Philanthropy Thought Leadership blog! When my team and I started brainstorming ideas for my first post, I had no idea of what direction to take. We tossed around ideas ranging from homeless veterans to the reasons people give (or don’t give) to nonprofits. But I decided that if I was going to write for a philanthropy-focused blog, I needed to first talk about what philanthropy is and why I believe we can all be philanthropists.

Some people hear the word “philanthropy” and automatically think about wealthy people writing checks to charities. While donating money is a big part of it – whether $1 or $1 million – if you donate your time – through volunteering – or even your talents, to support causes that are close to your heart, you are a philanthropist too.

So philanthropists, I ask: How do we come together and create change for a stronger community?

If you look around Greater Atlanta, you’ll see signs of transformation everywhere. We’re building two new professional sports stadiums. We’ve opened several new museums and you can hardly drive anywhere without seeing new apartments under construction and streets blocked off for film crews. But if we look a little deeper, we will see that we have more than a half million neighbors – men, women and children – who need our help.

Did you know 27 teenagers drop out of schools in Greater Atlanta every single day? Or that on any given night, at least 6,000 people – more than 1,000 of them veterans – do not have a place to call home? These are the issues we are working to solve. Issues we must solve. Wouldn’t you like to see more children graduate from high school? Homelessness decrease? Families have access to quality healthcare? Of course you do. But the question is, how do we do it?

Over the next year, along with The Community Foundation, we will explore solutions and ways we can collaborate with you to make our region a place where everyone thrives. Like Alicia Philipp, president of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, said in her post last week, the challenges in our region cannot be solved by a single organization or individual. It takes all of us. That’s why we want this blog to be a community conversation. We need you! Let us know what keeps you up at night. Share ideas and solutions for how we can address them. Whether you know it or not, you are a change agent and your insight is valuable.

We look forward to getting to know you so, together, we can figure out the best ways to create change for a stronger community.

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