By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Continuity and change are in the works at the Duke Endowment.
As its first new chairman in nearly two decades prepares to take office, the $2.8 billion-asset foundation is expected to stick to its strategy of adapting itself to address the changing needs of the Carolinas while honoring the philanthropic intent of its founder, industrialist James B. Duke.
“What we’re trying to do is to develop his vision according to the increasing complexity of society, and the increasing urgency of needs,” says Charlotte lawyer Russell Robinson, a board member since 1987 who on July 1 will succeed Mary D.B.T. Semans of Durham as chairman.
Semans, a great niece of Duke who has served on the board since 1957, is retiring as chairman after 19 years but will remain on the board.
In creating the foundation in 1924, Duke directed that it support four broad causes in the Carolinas – four private colleges and universities; nonprofit hospitals; orphanages; and rural Methodist churches and retired Methodist ministers.
Over time, the foundation’s board has broadly interpreted Duke’s intent to expand the reach of its philanthropic support.
In supporting hospitals and churches, for example, the foundation has shifted from funding mainly construction projects to investing in a broad range of programs, often involving partnerships in which hospitals and churches teamed up with community groups to address such emerging needs as those of the homeless, migrant workers and people infected with HIV and AIDS.
Now the foundation, the largest in the Carolinas and one of the largest in the U.S., is set to embark on a range of new initiatives.
This year, for example, the foundation is studying the growing problem of child abuse and neglect, and expects to launch a big new initiative in 2002 to address the root causes of abuse and neglect through preventive measures.
The foundation also has teamed up with MDC Inc., a Chapel Hill think-tank that studies economic and workforce development, to help boost selected rural communities.
Other collaborations also are being planned. The foundation, for example, will work with colleges and universities to strengthen the training of allied health personnel, such as nurses and medical technicians.
Internally, the board will take stock of itself through a new committee to track and assess the way it operates.
The foundation also has diversified its investments to offset market ups and downs. As its assets nearly doubled to $2.86 billion at the end of 2000 from $1.48 billion eight years earlier, the foundation reduced the share of its assets invested in Duke Energy Corp., formerly Duke Power, to 13.03 percent from 77.26 percent.
The strategy has paid off: In 2000, with many market indices showing negative returns as the market slumped, the foundation’s investments posted a return of 27 percent.