Sandhills targets endowment

By Todd Cohen

PINEHURST, N.C. — In the face of the sinking economy, Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst is quietly cultivating new local donors and considering a major endowment effort.

The school, which raises about $200,000 a year through its annual fund and receives roughly $1 million a year in private funds through the Sandhills Community College Foundation, depends mainly on individuals for private support.

Community support dates to the school’s founding 40 years ago, when Mary Luman Meyer donated 250 acres for its campus.

“She put in motion the wheels that really started the college going,” says Rick Smith, director of institutional development.

The school, which raised $11.4 million in a capital campaign that ended Jan. 1, 2000, exceeding its goal by nearly $4 million, prides itself on guaranteeing financial assistance to students who need it, Smith says.

In recent years, the school has awarded $230,000 a year in privately funded scholarships, one of the biggest private scholarship programs in North Carolina’s 58 campus community-college system.

But in the face of the economic slump, with government support shrinking and a tight job market sending many people back to school, demand for scholarship dollars at Sandhills grew 40 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2002.

So, spearheaded by its foundation’s board of directors, the school last November launched an initiative to find at least 75 new donors who would give at least $1,000 each for student support.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the initiative generated 105 new donors.

“That really is bridging the gap,” Smith says. “It’s meeting tremendous unmet needs.”

Still, he says, the school sees growing need to develop its endowment to cushion the ups and downs of the economy and public support.

“Public financing will always be the basis of how public institutions function,” he says. “But the margin of excellence, the value-added difference between where we are and where we need to be if we’re going to be a leadership institution, is the private gap. That difference is supported by the resources that we have to generate on our own.”

Sandhills has an endowment totaling $6.5 million, which has grown in part since the campaign through two estate gifts totaling $4.2 million, nearly half of which the school is earmarking for long-term support.

Smith, who says he knows about deferred gifts to the school expected to total at least $4 million, says Sandhills wants the endowment to grow by as much as $20 million by 2010.

That likely will involve a quiet fundraising effort targeting major donors that would not begin until 2004 or 2005.

“We ask our community to make an investment in our college,” he says. “It is our intention to grow that endowment to the point where it can have substantial impact on the college’s long-term economic stability.”

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