Warner closing office

Board to run foundation, eliminate staff by end of year.

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. [05.20.04] – The Warner Foundation in Durham will eliminate its five-member staff and close its office by the end of 2004.

The board of the $9.2 million-asset foundation will handle its grantmaking, and likely its administration, and no longer will consider unsolicited grant requests.

The move follows by less than a year a decision by the foundation, which had focused its grants on improving economic opportunity and race relations, to narrow its focus to boosting black students’ academic achievement in kindergarten through high school.

The board chose that issue after suspending its grantmaking in December 2002 and spending much of last year assessing its first five years, but it had not yet developed a specific strategy for actually making grants, says Tony Pipa, executive director.

In fact, he says, the board is likely to take a break and review the issues it wants to address.

The five-member board, led by Michael Warner and his wife, Betty Craven, has concluded that the size of the foundation, combined with its administrative costs, which have averaged 7 percent of assets, limited its options for improving blacks’ academic achievement, Pipa says.

“The strategies the foundation was considering to have its desired impact seemed to be beyond what the foundation’s assets would support,” he says.

The board now will “take a step back and look for strategic relationships going forward,” Pipa says. “They want as much money as possible going directly into grants.”

The board also will review “how they want to administer the endowment going forward,” he says.

Several investment managers oversee the endowment assets, and the foundation board sets investment policy.

Formed in 1995 with proceeds from the sale of Atwork, a scheduling-software firm founded by Warner, the foundation operated informally for several years before being administered by the Triangle Community Foundation under contract.

It began making grants in 1998 and, in 2000, hired Pipa, director of philanthropic services at the community foundation, as its first staff member.

With assets fluctuating between $7.5 million and $12 million, depending on swings in the markets, the foundation has made 194 grants averaging $33,000 to 140 organizations.

Grants the foundation has paid out, including overhead and averaging about $1 million a year, totaled 15 percent of assets in 2001, 25 percent in 2002 and 9 percent in 2003, exceeding a federal requirement that grants total at least 5 percent of assets.

Pipa now has decided to enroll this August in a one-year master’s program in public administration for mid-career professionals at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

He has played a key role in creation of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, which he chairs, and has helped spearhead the formation of several collaborative grantmaking efforts in the state, one to address the needs of Latinos, the other to expand the role of lawyers in social-justice causes.

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