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Donor-driven

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Community foundation in Wilmington focuses on donors.

By Marion Blackburn

WILMINGTON, N.C. – When a donor wanted to support a local baseball team, he created a fund at the Community Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina, which put the gift to work through investments.

This year, the American Legion Post 10 Endowment Fund covered nearly the entire cost of roughly $5,000 for uniforms and equipment.

“That kind of thinking can benefit a lot of people in the community,” says Stephen J. Dillon, the foundation’s executive director.

“People can ask themselves, ‘What do I really believe in? What do I want to support?’” he says. “That’s where a community foundation like ours comes in. We’re here as advisers, to help them explore what they’d like to accomplish.”

Founded in 1987 to accept contributions, bequests and gifts from donors wishing to help a favorite charity over the long term, the foundation has until recently operated with volunteer and part-time staffing.

Dillon, a former national director of development for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America who also directed a $7-million United Way effort in Pennsylvania, joined the foundation last November as its first full-time employee.

With assets of $2.1 million, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $6 million over 18 years, including $808,000 in the past to more than 200 groups.

Grants, given in response to requests from nonprofits, mainly benefit groups in Pender, New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, Columbus, and Bladen counties.

Some donors to the foundation create funds that make grants to address general goals such as supporting health care, the arts or children’s programs.

Others, like Stephen Gaskins, start donor-advised funds that specify exactly which programs and agencies the funds will support.

Gaskins, director of investment management services for Old North State Trust, has contributed securities to the foundation to benefit his alma mater, Campbell University, and to fund groups serving children.

He estimates he has given more than $50,000 in the past three years to the foundation.

“The advantages are that, compared to giving a direct gift, I can contribute appreciated securities to the fund,” Gaskins says. “I get a deduction now but I can choose where it’s dispersed later.”

He can contribute as much or as little as he wants each year, and the money will accumulate while benefiting from professional management.

“The beauty of the community foundation is that it provides an opportunity for donors who don’t have millions of dollars,” he says. “You don’t have to be a Rockefeller, just a regular person who’s interested in doing good.”

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