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New funder on block – Setting up shop

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By Ann Claycombe

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Efforts to support nonprofits throughout North Carolina that focus on race and poverty will get a boost soon as the D. Michael Warner Foundation prepares to set out on its own.

The foundation — created with assets from the sale of Warner’s software company, Atwork Corp. – will make grants over three to five years to nonprofits that work to improve race relations or economic opportunity.

The focus of the grants will be to help those groups become stronger organizations, and to help their leaders learn management skills.

On September 18, the $16 million-asset foundation will get its first executive director, Tony Pipa, who has guided the funder’s startup in his job as director of philanthropic services for the Triangle Community Foundation. 

Since Warner and his wife, Betty Craven, created the foundation in 1996, it has been administered through the community foundation. 

“We got a lot of experience that made us much more comfortable with the idea of going out on our own,” says Craven, who the foundation’s vice president.

Warner and Craven created a donor-advised fund in 1995 at the community foundation after the sale of Atwork left the couple unexpectedly wealthy.

As relative newcomers to philanthropy, they asked the community foundation to administer their new charity when they created the Warner Foundation a year later.

“They decided they wanted to do it well, and learn as much as possible,” says Pipa, who has worked at the community foundation since 1996 and has worked with Warner and Craven since they created their foundation.

“It’s been a step-by-step process,” he says.

Pipa has experience in working with new organizations.  Before joining the community foundation, he was the founding executive director of the Mt. Diablo Habitat for Humanity in the San Francisco Bay Area, a group that experienced significant growth.

For his first year at the Warner Foundation, he plans to focus on hiring staff and gathering information. He wants to talk to as many nonprofits as possible throughout the state, including those who fund projects and those who seek funding.

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