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Atlantans’ philanthropy measured in recent study

By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 27, 2012

Two-thirds of metro Atlantans donated money to causes that were important to them in the past year, 50 percent of local residents donated their time and 36 percent participated in political activities.

Those are just some of the findings of a new study done for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta on the level of philanthropic investment and engagement in the Atlanta region.

The study surveyed 2,700 metro Atlanta residents in the Community Foundation’s 23-county service area in a telephone survey that included both landlines and cell phones. The goal was to try to measure the level of involvement that metro Atlantans have in their communities.

“We are setting some community benchmarks on the amount of giving and the amount of volunteerism,” said Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “We are establishing a community baseline, and our intention is to do this every three years and see if there’s improvement.”

Philipp said a goal of the Community Foundation is to encourage philanthropy and to build community, and the study revealed some areas of improvement.

Beth Schapiro, president and founder of The Schapiro Group, which conducted the study, said the survey asked people why they didn’t give away more money or donate more of their time to community and philanthropic causes.

“Not surprisingly, the reason people aren’t doing more is because they don’t have the money or they don’t have the time,” Schapiro said.

But there were other reasons people didn’t do more. Some said they didn’t know enough about local issues or organizations, that they didn’t know how to get involved and they didn’t know how they could help.

However, the study did show that there was a strong motivation on the part of residents to want to help their communities and that they felt it was their duty to help.

“Metro Atlanta is not an apathetic community,” Philipp said. “People are motivated to help. They want to help. That’s an important piece to celebrate in our community.”

One of the surprising findings in the survey was how people answered the question of who was most responsible for improving the community.
The No. 1 answer was individuals — 47 percent said individuals had a great deal of responsibility and 41 percent said individuals had some responsibility for a total of 88 percent.

Local government came in second with 42 percent saying “a great deal” of responsibility, and 39 percent saying “some” responsibility — for a total of 81 percent.

Businesses and corporations were next with a total of 79 percent saying they had either a great deal or some responsibility. Neighborhood associations and faith-based organizations came in next with totals of 76 percent.

That was followed by state government at 73 percent; nonprofit organizations at 70 percent and the federal government at 62 percent.

“Atlantans feel a personal responsibility to their community,” Philipp said. “That attitude is a great attitude. They are not thinking that it’s somebody else who has to do it.”

The challenge, however, is to figure out how to tap into that attitude and get those individuals to do more, such as a greater percentage going out to vote for the candidates of their choice during local and state elections in addition to presidential elections.

The Schapiro Group also applied a national and international index used by Gallup to determine how metro Atlantans’ local engagement compares to other areas. Metro Atlanta’s score of 47 fell significantly below the national score of 60 and was in the range of engagement found in Hong Kong and Denmark.

For Philipp, that statistic showed that metro Atlanta has an opportunity to improve the level of its citizen involvement.

“We wanted to set a benchmark and figure out how do we keep improving on what we have,” Philipp said. “We have got to work hard.”

For examples, nonprofit organizations did not rank high when respondents were asked who was responsible in improving their communities.

“Nonprofits don’t pop up as who should help the community,” Schapiro said.

Philipp said that finding was an opportunity for the nonprofit community to do a better job of communicating what they do and to do a better job to reach out to individuals to get involved.

“Nonprofits are now at the table more than they’ve ever been,” Philipp said. “What are we not doing as nonprofits to get that message across about the role of nonprofits? I don’t think people recognize what a nonprofit does — there’s an image issue and there’s a capacity issue. That’s an area we need to figure out. We have got to get the message to get other people involved.”

The study also showed that most Atlantans have some sort of informal ties to their communities — by getting to know their neighbors, joining their neighborhood associations and civic groups.

Although the level of involvement was consistent between the urban, suburban and ex-urban areas in the 23-county region, income did matter — the higher the income of individuals the more they were involved.

The study also found that while a majority of Atlantans donated money to support an issue or organization in 2010, there was a decrease of 13 percent from the level of giving in 2001. Schapiro said that decrease could largely be due to the economic recession.

The areas where people did give money or volunteer their time were in education, human services, disaster preparedness and relief, children and youth services, religion and spiritual development, housing and the environment.

Also, the study showed that most Atlantans were generous on a personal level with 61 percent giving money to friends or family, not including a spouse or children.

Philipp said the study showed that there is a hyper-local connection that people have with their community, which is good and reinforces the Community Foundation’s work at the neighborhood level.

“We do believe in connections at a grassroots level,” Philipp said. “We care deeply about neighborhoods. If you are connected with your neighborhood, it improves your schools and your parks.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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