The University of Georgia recently hosted nonprofit leaders from Georgia and the southeast U.S. in a virtual panel discussion to examine the role nonprofits and foundations are playing in communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosted by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, the panel included representatives from five different organizations; the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Southeastern Council of Foundations, Community Foundation of Central Georgia and the J. Bulow Campbell Foundation.

The group discussed how foundations’ partnerships with nonprofits have changed in light of COVID-19 and the focus on racial equality and justice and how nonprofit leaders can best work with foundations to meet their communities’ needs during this time.

“Philanthropy is changing because of COVID-19 and the shifts in society and nonprofits are also having to change to meet the demands of their communities,” said Milton Little, president of the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Fanning Institute advisory board member and panel moderator.

Panelists noted that COVID-19 caused their foundations to examine and adjust guidelines around giving to nonprofits, prioritizing funding to help nonprofits remain operational.

Over the last year, that meant tackling issues around the pandemic, as well as looking at economic mobility.

“I equate philanthropy with leadership,” said Bullard. “Our goal in philanthropy is not to just raise or grant money; our goal is to solve hard problems.”

“We believe that is done by addressing issues around education, housing and food insecurity,” said Rodney Bullard, vice president of corporate social responsibility, Chick-fil-A, Inc. and executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation. “This year in particular, when it was obvious that racial inequity continued to persist, we made sure we addressed that by supporting organizations focused on communities of color.”

Overall, foundations are digging deeper and doing due diligence, particularly around racial equity, said Janine Lee, president and CEO of the Southeastern Council of Foundations, a membership association of more than 350 grantmakers across 11 states.

“We’re watching more communities and nonprofits hold philanthropy to account like never before and foundations hold themselves to account like never before,” Lee said. “Many foundations and leaders are looking at demographic data around organizations and communities that are being served and the grantees they are working with. They want to make sure resources are getting to those with the greatest need, particularly in communities of color.”

Foundations can be allies for nonprofits, said Betsy Verner, associate director for the J. Bulow Campbell Foundation, an Atlanta-based foundation that supports causes and organizations in Georgia.

“Foundations have just as big of a stewardship responsibility as nonprofits,” she said. “It is our job on the foundation’s side to find high-quality, worthwhile organizations doing good work in order for us to carry out our mission. We don’t expect a nonprofit to wait for the perfect time to come seek funding. We want to be accessible for those conversations.”

The key to those conversations is transparency, said Kathryn Dennis, president of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia.

“Don’t be afraid to say it might not be a 100 percent guarantee,” Dennis said. “Philanthropy allows you have to some noble failures. Nonprofits should not be afraid to take risks. However, organizations need to let foundations know about their challenges and that risk up front. There might be other help or guidance available.”

All of the panelists expressed optimism about the future and how organizations and foundations can work together to improve communities.

“I am optimistic because of the leaders across Georgia who have gotten it done through a year with more challenges than I have ever seen at one time,” said Verner.

Discussions such as this are key to supporting nonprofits in addressing community challenges across Georgia, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Nonprofit organizations often find themselves on the front line of responding to challenges within communities,” said Bishop. “Answering those challenges requires funding and forming partnerships. I appreciate these panelists for offering insight and guidance that leaders can use to build relationships needed to continue supporting the vital work nonprofits do across our state.”

Watch the entire panel discussion below:

Panelists can be contacted at:

For more information on how the Fanning Institute can assist nonprofits, click here.

Writer: Charlie Bauder, 706-542-7039,
Contact: Matt Bishop, 706-542-6201,