Letter from Leadership

Both now and forever.

Last month, I sat down with a donor who left a significant estate gift to the Fund for Chattanooga, the foundation’s endowed grantmaking fund. When I asked him what drew him to give to the Fund, he said something that struck me. He said, “Because the Fund for Chattanooga will be here long after I’m gone. It’s impossible for me to know, today, what needs will come up, but the Fund will be there to respond to them.”

This is a shorthand statement of the work of the Community Foundation, as a whole. Our job is to understand the needs of Chattanoogans at any given time, and line them up with the giving interests of donors. We believe, very strongly, that we are accountable not only to families who have funds with the foundation, but also to our community. To every Chattanoogan.

When we created our new strategic plan in 2017, we sat down with leaders from nonprofit organizations, neighborhoods, government, and businesses. Our goal was to understand both the quantitative data surrounding needs in our community, as well as anecdotal experiences of students, families and individuals seeking to better their lives. What we learned inspired us to think more deeply about how we make grants. Throughout our conversations two issues rose to the top: intergenerational poverty and lack of opportunity for upward mobility. Simply put, far too many of our neighbors lack shared opportunities to achieve upward mobility. In fact, 70% of children born into poverty in Hamilton County will remain in poverty for their entire lives.

This is reality. And in response, we need a grant strategy that goes beyond a traditional, program-focused, responsive approach. The Foundation has an opportunity to inspire and support community solutions to complex problems, especially by building infrastructure and resources for change makers who are working to address the root causes of our community’s greatest challenges. The goal, with all of these strategies, is to help create caring and inclusive communities where the most vulnerable continue to be cared for, while the root causes of poverty are addressed, and communities, organizations and systems thrive under inclusive leadership.

Investing in people and places

Moving forward, the Foundation will make strategic grants aimed at:

  • Creating pathways out of poverty and opportunities for all residents to experience health and well-being, have access to high quality public education, engage in meaningful work and feel safe and secure in their homes and their neighborhoods; and
  • Building organizational and leadership capacity for our community’s problem solvers and change makers to find solutions to our communities’ greatest challenges

So let’s get specific. Our focus will be in three areas:

Caring and Inclusive Communities – We will support social service organizations, neighborhood-level initiatives and cross sector partnerships that address unmet needs in health, housing, family support and community engagement; root causes of intergenerational poverty; and opportunities for more diverse and inclusive leadership within organizations, systems and communities.

Educational Achievement – Our investment in Chattanooga 2.0 supports educational improvement strategies that enhance the quality of learning and achievement for all students. We also support strategies addressing the external factors that influence student achievement, such as poverty, parent and student engagement and access to resources that promote life and learning opportunities.

Economic mobility – Through the Foundation’s existing partnerships with government, philanthropic, nonprofit and other community entities, we will make proactive investments in strategies that connect our neighbors with the tools and opportunities they need to reach their fullest potential, regardless of where they start in life.

I am proud to be part of an organization with the humility to challenge our own assumptions, to listen with the goal of understanding and to make changes in response to the voices of the nonprofit and neighborhood leaders who are the change makers in our community.

With deep gratitude,


P.S. To learn more about our new grant strategy, we invite you to attend an open house on Dec. 7th at green|spaces and hear about the first grant recipients under our Caring and Inclusive Communities priority area.