Chronicle of Philanthropy: five Atlanta organizations among nation’s top 20 non-profits

By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 28, 2011

Move over Fortune 500.

The Philanthropy 400 gives metro Atlanta and Georgia solid bragging rights as a leading center for the headquarters of the country’s major nonprofit organizations.

The 2011 Philanthropy 400 list, compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, shows that five of the largest 20 nonprofits in the country are based in metro Atlanta. The only other metro area with the headquarters of five of the top 20 is the Greater Washington, D.C., area.

The list ranks the 400 charities that raised the most donations from private sources in 2010. The top three nonprofits in the country were: United Way Worldwide; the Salvation Army and the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.

Surprisingly, the highest ranking nonprofit in the state is the Task Force for Global Health, which came in at No. 4 — the first time the nonprofit had made the list.

“To go from not being on the list to being No.4 is still stunning to us,” said Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, which is based in Decatur. “It’s not something we ever thought would happen.”

The Task Force, founded in 1983, works collaboratively with other nonprofits and pharmaceutical companies to provide medicine and vaccines to treat, and possibly eliminate, diseases throughout the world, primarily in developing countries.

In all, the Task Force received $1.14 billion in donations from the private sector in its last fiscal year — with 97.9 percent being the donation of products and services. The Task Force values those in-kind contributions conservatively, calculating the lowest wholesale price available for donated medicines. Last year, the Task Force partnered with Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. Inc., and Pfizer Inc., which donated 300 million doses of medicine collectively.

The Task Force also partners with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, ministries of health and other domestic and international nonprofits.

“It’s a real testimony to the extraordinary philanthropy of our partners,” Rosenberg said. “Here you have these pharmaceutical companies donating medicine and medical supplies, and when you add it up, we are the fourth-largest charity in the country — bigger than the American Red Cross.”

In all, Georgia has a total of 15 nonprofits on the Philanthropy 400 list — with the Chronicle listing 12 as being based in metro Atlanta.

Actually, 14 of the 15 are headquartered in the Atlanta region. Habitat for Humanity International has had its administrative headquarters in Atlanta since 2008 but it keeps its “operational” base in Americus. MAP International made Atlanta its global headquarters in 2001, even though it has more employees in Brunswick.

Of the 15 nonprofits on the Philanthropy 400, about half of them are involved in the areas of international assistance, public and global health. They include CARE, the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center and MAP International as well as the leading research universities of Georgia Tech, Emory University and the University of Georgia.

“The base of Georgia organizations in the global health arena has expanded enormously over the past decade,” Rosenberg said. “In addition to the obvious benefit to humankind, there is tremendous impact on, and potential for, economic development in the state. With our research universities, health-focused businesses and not-for-profits, Georgia has arguably the broadest global health industry in the nation.”

The economic impact of charitable organizations in Georgia is significant, according to Karen Beavor, president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

“The nonprofit sector has been one of the few that’s actually grown during this economic downturn,” Beavor said. “It would be great to grow our charitable sector as an economic development strategy. Our sector is incredibly strong.”

Despite Georgia’s strength as a center for major nonprofit organizations, seeking the headquarters of major charities has not been a priority of economic development officials in years.

Back in the late 1980s and the mid-1990s, Georgia had three big wins back-to-back. First the American Cancer Society moved here in 1988; CARE moved its base to Atlanta in 1992; and then came the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1994. All three moved from New York City.

The recruitment effort was similar to those seeking the corporate headquarters of major corporations — selling the global access of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; economic savings because of a lower cost of living here; and a supportive business and civic environment.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation also was instrumental in providing donations to help the nonprofits build or buy a home for their headquarters.

“Nonprofits are a vital part of the fabric of any community,” said Pete McTier, who was president of the Woodruff Foundation at the time and now serves as a trustee. “Nonprofits are the soul of a community in terms of voluntary investment of people’s time and money. It’s important to have the headquarters here. We looked for opportunities to make their welcome warm.”

McTier said that making metro Atlanta an attractive location for nonprofit headquarters “should be on the radar of any economic development activity.”

But historically, it has not been a priority in economic development circles.

“What we have done is take advantage of opportunities when they become known, when these major nonprofits expressed interest in moving,” McTier said, adding that it is not in good taste to raid other cities for their nonprofits because they are so vital to their communities.

Hans Gant, senior vice president of economic expansion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the business organization does not have a specific strategy to recruit nonprofit headquarters.

The only exception would be when the nonprofits are “associated with one of our industry clusters,” Gant said. “It may be something we should reconsider.”

Georgia nonprofits on Philanthropy 400

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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