By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To better recruit, serve and retain donors, the Foundation for the Carolinas is borrowing a page from the financial-services industry – and has turned to a banking veteran to oversee internal operations and help shape long-term strategy.
Having built $250 million in assets, along with “mechanisms to support virtually all aspects of philanthropy,” says Laura Meyer, its new executive vice president, the foundation now needs “to look to the future and be able to bring in the kinds of relationships that will be able to support and expand our ability to do discretionary grantmaking.”
Community foundations make discretionary grants from unrestricted endowments, as well as grants from funds either dedicated to particular causes or advised by donors.
Those possible strategies range from planned giving, donor-advised funds and services for private and family foundations, to support for nonprofit endowments and for fundraising efforts by donors.
Another option is a big campaign, possibly with other groups, to raise discretionary endowment.
Meyer, who spent the last two years as a consultant to nonprofits and small firms, sees close parallels between business and philanthropy, particularly in needing to build ties with customers.
“You have a diversity of customer base and you have to figure out how to service and develop that relationship successfully and then to retain it,” she says.
With an undergraduate degree in Russian and French from Duke University, Meyer joined Citibank, holding sales, marketing and management jobs in international and domestic private and consumer banking before overseeing investor relations.
She also earned an MBA in marketing at Fordham University, and later joined Bank of America, serving as the top marketing officer for its East Coast region.
In banking and philanthropy, she says, the challenge is “following how something works and impacts the customer.”
And whether they are board members, individual donors, family foundations or grant recipients, the community foundation’s customers “want us to be responsive, to anticipate their needs,” she says. “They want advice. It’s not enough to just respond.”
The foundation also reflects the banking industry’s branching strategy by pairing a regional governing board of public and private leaders with separate grantmaking boards for each of the 12 communities the foundation serves.
“The regional boards are closer to the customer, close to the community, and yet we have this governing board that can really focus on policy and growth, as opposed to grantmaking,” Meyer says.
And with Meyer on board, the job of building ties with community leaders will get more attention from Michael Marsicano, the foundation’s president.
Like corporate America, the foundation faces the dual challenges, sometimes tough to mesh, of wanting to know its customers while also “thinking in much broader terms,” Meyer says. “We’re poised to think big and yet act locally.”