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St. John leaving

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Triangle foundation’s CEO built its assets to $100 million in 21 years.

By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Shannon St. John, who helped build the assets of the Triangle Community Foundation to nearly $100 million from $3,000 at its launch in 1983, will step down this summer as its founding president.

The foundation’s board has formed a search committee and will hire a firm to conduct a national search, said Peter Meehan, board chairman.

After a new successor begins work, St. John will remain at the foundation as senior consultant during a transition period, he said.

Her decision to leave was her own and was unexpected, he said.

“We’re sorry to see her leave,” he said. “In her mind, she has other opportunities. It was entirely a personal decision and something she felt made sense for her and for the foundation itself.”

St. John said that after working for “21 years essentially in the same position with the same organization in the same locality,” she now had “the luxury of being able to apply that experience to other settings that are very important to me.”

She said she was considering working either in her native Central Florida, where she purchased property five years ago and was recruited for a community foundation job 10 years ago, or on developing philanthropy in less developed countries, a cause that has taken her to 13 countries on six continents.

She also said the time was ripe for her departure.

“The foundation is at $100 million in assets, and if there was going to be a transition, this was the time to do it,” she said. “It’s a natural transition time for both the foundation and me.”

St. John has had a big impact on philanthropy in the Triangle.

Donors have created 550 funds at the foundation, which has over $99 million in assets, has made over $75 million in grants to nonprofits, and expects to receive another $112 million in bequests and trusts it knows about.

“What she’s done will affect us for many years,” said Jim Goodmon, a former board member who is president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Co. in Raleigh. “She’s created permanent philanthropic assets for the region, and she should really be proud of that. And those of us that have been involved in it are really proud of her.”

The foundation was founded by George H. Hitchings, a biochemist at what was then Burroughs Wellcome Co., now GlaxoSmithKline, who won a Nobel Prize in 1988 for pharmaceutical research.

With operating funds provided its first two years by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which is chaired by Goodmon and publishes the Philanthropy Journal, the community foundation’s initial $3,000 in assets were donated by Hitchings.

The foundation in 1996 launched its “Catalyst Project” to spur a tripling of permanent philanthropic assets in the region to $3 billion over 20 years.

So far, the foundation has identified more than $245 million in new philanthropic assets, said Jodi Hubble, communications director.

And the foundation last year launched Philanthropy Central, an online marketplace that aims to match donors and nonprofits.

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