High Point funder on roll

By Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Six years after getting $5 million for its first gift, the High Point Community Foundation has received a $1 million gift that has increased its assets to more than $40 million.

Now, continuing to build on its strategy of cultivating relationships with prospective donors, tracking its impact and reaching out to middle-class and younger donors, the foundation is on track to increase its assets to $100 million within five years, its top executive says.

“We don’t see the community foundation as a vehicle solely for the wealthy,” says Paul Lessard, executive director. “It’s a resource for everyone.”

After forming the foundation in 1990, its founders devoted most of the 90s to planting and cultivating the seeds for its future growth.

Then, in 1998, the foundation received a $5 million gift from the late Jim Millis Sr. and his wife, Jesse, and hired Lessard at its first staff member.

That same year, the foundation made its first grants, a move that required dipping into its corpus, Lessard says.

Making grants was critical to show donors the impact their gifts to the foundation would have, he says.

An early grant supported the “2009 Project,” an initiative spearheaded by David S. Miller, president of engineering firm D.H. Miller Inc., to improve reading instruction in the High Point schools.

The grant paid for literacy teachers to teach public school teachers how to teach reading, an effort that was credited with improving students’ reading scores and led to expansion of the training program throughout he Guilford County schools, Lessard says.

The foundation last year handed out $359,000 in unrestricted grants, pushing past $1 million the total value of unrestricted grants it now has made.

Annual grants from donor-advised funds at the foundation total another $3 million to $4 million, he says.

Boosting the foundation’s overall assets past $40 million was a $1 million gift from Earl Congdon, CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line in Thomasville, and his wife, Kitty, who created a donor-advised fund.

To increase gifts to the foundation, Lessard says, it is targeting high-net-worth donors with specialized services, reaching out to professional advisers, and to middle-class donors and younger donors.

With $40 million in assets, Lessard says, the foundation now has access to Calibre Investment Consulting Services, a specialized Wachovia group provided through Wachovia Trust Co. that he says takes a sophisticated approach to managing investments, an approach that involves managers outside Wachovia.

Assets of donor-advised funds created by individual donors at the foundation are pooled with its assets, and Calibre manages the investment of most of those funds.

And the foundation, which counts on one day getting at least $70 million in deferred gifts it already knows about, works to educate donors and professional advisers about planned giving, Lessard says.

The foundation also tries to help donor-advised funds find causes they care about.

Working with Martin and Lou Green, who created a $150,000 fund known as Dustin’s Greenhouse in memory of their son, for example, the foundation is developing a new pilot project to team a small group of eighth-grade students and their families with local agencies.

If a state university accepts the students, the fund will supplement state and federal support to cover the cost of their tuition.

“What we’re trying to create is a program we can replicate,” Lessard says. “Donors create programs that serve and nurture the city.”

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