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Open-minded charity – Improving social ties

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the face of trends like venture philanthropy and social engineering, the Blumenthal Foundation in Charlotte hews to a brand of low-key, open-minded charity it has practiced for nearly half a century.

The $20 million-asset family foundation, created in 1953 by the principals of Radiator Specialty Co., contributes about $2 million a year in grants to about 175 organizations.

Grants cover nine broad fields and focus mainly on the 15-county Charlotte region that includes parts of South Carolina, although the foundation also makes grants throughout North Carolina.

“We’ve always been very broad-based,” says Philip Blumenthal, the foundation’s director and a member of its board of trustees.

Reflecting the philosophy of his uncle, the late I.D. “Dick” Blumenthal, who founded Radiator Specialty Co., the foundation backs efforts to help people get along better with one another.

It also funds groups in fields ranging from education, health and social services to the arts, environment and Jewish causes.

But unlike many funders that often favor high-profile programs and generally won’t support operating costs of nonprofits, the Blumenthal Foundation invests a lot of its dollars simply in helping charities pay their bills.

The foundation also sticks with many of its grantees over the years, providing a long-term cushion for running their operations.

“In any field, you can do new things or take a new approach,” Blumenthal says. “But if you don’t fund operations, they’re not going to be doing anything because they’re not going to be in business.”

The foundation also backs high-impact projects and has launched initiatives of its own, including two that reflect I.D. Blumenthal’s passion for improving human relations –Wildacres Retreat, nonprofit center in Little Switzerland, and the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Research Triangle Park.

Other big grants have gone to the Blumenthal Cancer Center at the Carolinas Medical Center, the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Blumenthal

Fellows Program at the McColl School of Business at Queens College, a Judaic chair at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a chair in American Jewish studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The foundation also is ongoing supporter of Shalom Park in Charlotte, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte and arts groups such as the Arts & Science Council and North Carolina Dance Theatre [now Charlotte Ballet].

In sifting through the 400 grant requests they get every year, foundation officials find many nonprofits reluctant to work with one another – even though they may be duplicating services.

So the foundation encourages groups to work together, and to think about the region as a whole – in keeping with I.D. Blumenthal’s vision.

“We’re all sort of tied together,” says Philip Blumenthal, “whether it’s environmentally or economically.

The foundation’s five-member board meets four times a year to review grant requests, but sets no deadlines for submitting requests. A Web site launched in July includes guidelines for grants, which generally range from $500 to $300,000.

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