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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

How to Become a Philanthropist

Georgians give $7.2 billion to charities annually, representing 4.31 percent of household income, according to a 2016 publication from The Independent Sector, a national membership of charitable organizations.

A Charity Navigator 2017 Metro Market Study reports that the metro Atlanta area ranks 12 out of 30 metropolitan markets across the United States, with $3.45 million in total median contributions from corporations, individuals and government.

“To me as an individual, but more importantly as a business owner, our state has always been a philanthropic state,” says Chris Sizemore, United Way of Greater Atlanta board member, volunteer and CEO of the marketing agency Creative Mischief. “I feel that is the essence of a true Southerner, to always give back.” lists 38,363 nonprofits in Georgia, with 6,306 agencies in Atlanta. Asia Hadley of Foundation Center South, part of the national Foundation Center—which promotes philanthropy through support of nonprofits—hopes people will not let the plethora of philanthropic choices immobilize them.

“First of all, do something,” says Hadley. “With everybody doing something, a big impact can be made.”

Sizemore says his parents instilled the responsibility to give back in him when he was growing up in Fayette County. One of his largest projects, done with the United Way of Greater Atlanta, was creating Safe Harbor Yes, a nonpartisan campaign focused on passing Amendment 2 on the November 2016 ballot to create the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. The vote passed with 83 percent, or more than 3 million votes, which Sizemore says was the highest approval rating in state history.

“Most folks think as a volunteer you can’t make a lot of impact,” Sizemore says. “But the reality is you can make a very large impact, as we did with Safe Harbor. But also going to some of these food pantries, helping folks out—all those efforts make a difference.”

Where to start

Hadley’s advice for people who want to begin to give back is simply that they should start with causes they are passionate about or groups that impact them personally.

Dennis Hanthorn, senior consultant for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, agrees. He suggests people considering philanthropy sit down ask themselves what they like in order to begin the process.

“What excites you?” Hanthorn says. “There’s probably a nonprofit organization there.”

But for those looking for further direction, Hanthorn has a feel for where money and services are needed in Atlanta.

“I think it’s human services,” he says. “It’s providing shelter. It’s providing transportation. It’s providing education and a means for individuals to be self-sustaining. I’m amazed at the percentage of individuals that are going to bed hungry that live in the state of Georgia, and I hear all kinds of percentages. I hear 25 percent and sometimes I hear a third, but I think it’s closer to the 25.”

Hanthorn said a lot of nonprofits are popping up around Atlanta’s west side, near the new Atlanta Falcon’s football stadium, to deal with need in one of the city’s poorest areas.

Because it’s not just for ‘them’

Hanthorn has a 30-year history of working for nonprofits and has helped raise more than $75 million over those years, according to his biography. Before founding Hanthorn Consulting Group, he was general director and CEO of The Atlanta Opera.

He says that people would not want to live in a community without nonprofits, whether they focus on the arts or humanitarian needs.

“What kind of life would we live?” asks Hanthorn. “You wouldn’t have the hospital. You wouldn’t have the Woodruff Arts Center. You wouldn’t have FOX Theatre, just to name a few. You want to have great hospitals. You want to have food and an education system. and those are nonprofit.”

Hadley pointed out that the nonprofit industry is an industry, an economic contributor and an employer.

“It’s a professionalized industry and a viable part of the economy,” he says.

And she’s right. Georgia’s nonprofit sector holds $137.2 billion in assets, reports The Independent Sector, and employs 10 percent of the state’s workforce, generating more than $57.5 billion in revenues.

Charitable giving can also bring personal vitality, according to Sizemore.

“I get joy out of seeing people happy,” he says. “But I would say some of the truest friendships that I’ve made in my professional or adult life have been through giving back, because it’s not fake. You’re there to give back, and it’s true and honest relationships.”

Take Action

Georgians will have a vetted opportunity to give to thousands of local charities all in one place November 28.

Since 2012, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits has held the one-day giving marathon known as Georgia Gives Day. This year the campaign is partnering with the national Giving Tuesday campaign to officially form GAgives on #GivingTuesday.

To date, GAgives has raised $13.5 million for Georgia nonprofits, with all money staying with state agencies. The day also raises awareness of local groups and campaigns.

Visit now or on November 28 to donate. All GAgives on #Giving Tuesday agencies are in state and listed 501c3s.

For more information visit,,


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