Working for change, Part 1

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The John W. Pope Foundation, which turns 20 this year, has increased its assets in recent years and stepped up its long-term focus on investing in charitable causes and shaping public policy.

“Our family has worked hard and benefited from America’s free-enterprise system, and we want to make sure that the benefits of a democracy with a free-market economy are there for everyone’s benefit and for future generations,” says Art Pope, vice chairman and president of Variety Wholesalers Inc. and of the foundation.

Formed in 1986 and funded mainly with donations from the Pope family and Variety Wholesalers, the discount-retailer Pope’s grandfather founded in the 1930s, the foundation helped launch and has been the biggest supporter of the John Locke Foundation, an influential conservative policy, research and advocacy group formed in 1990.

The Pope Foundation also has been a steady supporter of other state and national policy groups, higher education, and a broad range of local charitable and religious groups.

With assets worth nearly $53.6 million in fair market value last June 30, according to the Form 990 return it filed with the IRS, the foundation in fiscal 2005 made grants totaling just over $7.4 million.

That included nearly $3.2 million for policy work in North Carolina, nearly $1.1 million for national policy work, nearly $1.8 million for university and student groups, mainly in North Carolina, and over $1.3 million for local educational, charitable, humanitarian, cultural and religious groups.

Most of the foundation’s grants are unrestricted and support general operations, Pope says.

“If you have confidence in nonprofit organizations, then you have confidence in them to manage the money and spend it well,” he says.Pope says his responsibility as a philanthropist is to make charitable donations “that will get the best return in order to improve the life of our citizens.”

That includes direct support for groups that serve needy people, although “a lot of that is just treating the symptoms,” he says.

“What the Pope Foundation’s mission and priority are,” he says, “are to treat the underlying causes of poverty and human hardship, and we believe in order to treat the symptoms, what you need to do is to have a free and prosperous country and state, and the best road to prosperity is to have individual rights of the citizens protected by law to provide for themselves, which is a free-market economy.”

Key obstacles to a free market, Pope says, are “excessive government spending, regulation and levels of taxation.”

And philanthropy can play a critical role in shaping policy as part of a vigorous and civil debate in the “marketplace of ideas,” he says.

Unlike powerful interest groups that pay lobbyists to push for laws that will produce benefits far exceeding the lobbying expense, with the resulting costs passed on to taxpayers, Pope says, it is “very important for philanthropy to give to public-policy groups that are independent and do not have a dog in the fight.”

Part 2: Pope family and its company fuel support for Pope Foundation.

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