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Cumberland foundation looks ahead

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By Todd Cohen

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Although they represent just 1.4 percent of the nearly $38.7 million the Cumberland Community Foundation has received since it was formed in 1980, gifts under $250 represent 80 percent of all gifts it has received.

By contrast, 80 gifts over $100,000 represent 53 percent of total dollars the foundation has received but only one-half of 1 percent of total gifts.

“Anyone can be a philanthropist by participating with the Cumberland Community Foundation,” says Mary Holmes, executive director.

Now, as it celebrates its 25th year, the foundation aims to strengthen its unrestricted giving for community programs, Holmes says.

Of its $31 million in assets, $6 million consists of unrestricted funds the foundation uses to make roughly $300,000 in grants each for which local nonprofits can apply.

The remaining $25 million consists of funds that donors have restricted for designated causes.

The foundation aims within five years to double the total grant dollars for which local nonprofits can apply each year, Holmes says.

Soliciting unrestricted funds will buck a national trend that increasingly has seen donors designating their gifts to community foundations, Holmes says.

The foundation will continue to serve all donors, whether they want to make restricted or unrestricted gifts, she says.

But it plans to “reengage our board to raise community endowments, or unrestricted endowments, so that we’re better able to respond to the best opportunities and the greatest needs in the community every year,” she says.

After received $3.1 million in gifts in 2005 and paying $1.9 million in grants, the foundation kicked off 2006 with a total of $600,000 from three bequests that eventually will generate another $600,000.

Formed in 1980 with a $576,000 gift from Dr. Lucile Hutaff, the foundation made grants from that gift through the 1980s but did not begin actively soliciting gifts from other donors until 1990, Holmes says.

The shift was the result of gift in 1988 from an anonymous donor that paid for all members of the foundation’s board to attend the annual conference for community foundations sponsored by the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C.

“That’s when the light bulb went on and we said, ‘Yeah, we’re supposed to be building endowments from everybody,’” Holmes says.

In 1990, the board hired its first executive director and began asking people to create unrestricted funds at the foundation.

Now, board members will launch a new unrestricted fundraising effort, talking about the foundation to their lawyers, stockbrokers and other professional advisers so they can talk about it to their own clients.

Board members also will be spreading the word about the foundation to their friends and neighbors, asking them to consider creating unrestricted funds.

Creating a fund requires giving a minimum of $5,000, a gift that can be spread over five years.

“It’s very accessible to participate in philanthropy through our foundation,” Holmes says.

The foundation also plans to enlist the 36 former members of its board in its fundraising effort.

It also wants to reduce the rate at which it turns down nonprofits applying for grants.

Last year, it declined community grant requests from 56 percent of nonprofits that applied.

So the foundation is working to define priorities within the broad categories in which it makes grants, which range from $5,000 to $50,000, Holmes says.

Those categories include the arts, education, the environment, health, human needs, and neighborhood and community development.

Headed by Loleta Wood Foster, a psychologist and leadership-development trainer who serves on the foundation’s board and chairs its grants committee, an ad-hoc group of former grants committee chairs is reviewing reports that have assessed community needs, and talking to board members about the foundation’s priorities.

“Our goal is to still have an open and welcoming community grants cycle, while helping nonprofits understand the likelihood they would get funded or not,” Holmes says.

The foundation also offers other support for nonprofits, including paying half the cost of local courses offered by the certificate program in nonprofit management at Duke University, and scholarships for the annual conference of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.

And the foundation manages the endowments of 30 Cumberland County nonprofits, and helps them raise endowment funds by meeting with their donors to develop plans for charitable trusts.

In October and November, for example, it worked with two donors who made gifts of $48,000 and $25,000 to the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra Endowment to endow chairs, respectively, for the principal oboe and violin.

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