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Quiet charity

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By Todd Cohen

With the recent death of Jim Semans, North Carolina has lost a gentle and influential philanthropist.

Jim and his wife, Mary, formed a partnership with enduring impact on our state and beyond.

Through the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and the couple’s own giving and fundraising, critical funds flowed to cultural institutions like the N.C. School of the Arts, N.C. Museum of Art, N.C. Symphony, the National Endowment for the Arts and Duke University, which Mary Semans’ family endowed.

Beyond the arts and education, the couple perfected the art of making small grants to help nonprofits grow, learn and thrive.

Their foundation’s grants, typically a few thousand dollars each, provided a broad range of charities with much-needed and strategic injections of capital to improve their programs and effectiveness.

Those grants have boosted groups throughout the state addressing the needs of people in all walks of life, including those without a voice or access to services most of us take for granted.

Philanthropy can seem dominated by high-powered brands that promote and attract a lot of buzz about their big initiatives and new paradigms.

Jim Semans quietly showed the power of modest, informed philanthropy, a legacy Mary Semans continues.


Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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