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Lunches focus on nonprofits

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By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Set to play a more active role in spurring change in the region, the Triangle Community Foundation is launching a series of monthly lunches with local nonprofits.

As part of a broader strategy that will be announced in late summer or early fall, the foundation this month is launching its “Lunch with the President” series.

That new strategy also is expected to include changes in the foundation’s process for accepting grant applications.

“We are going to be visiting our grantmaking process and looking forward to seeing how we can make an impact with the dollars we have, in the Triangle and beyond,” says Andrea Bazán-Manson, the foundation’s president.

The luncheon sessions will be designed to serve as a forum in which nonprofits can connect with one another, share news about their work and emerging trends, and talk to the foundation, says Bazán-Manson.

The idea grew out of a study the foundation commissioned to find out how its grantees and donors perceive it in the wake of its move several years ago to focus on “engaging donors as much as possible on community issues, and philanthropy in general, and teach them the impact their dollars could make,” Bazán-Manson says.

The $112 million-asset foundation, which handles more than 570 funds, most of them donor-advised funds, gave $11 million in grants in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005.

It awards grants every Friday, with the total varying from week to week.

On June 2, for example, Bazán-Manson says, she signed grant checks worth $260,000.

Several years ago, she says, the foundation decided to focus on engaging donors on community issues and philanthropy, and helping them see the impact of their dollars.

To help do that, it launched Philanthropy Central, a feature on its website that is accessible around the clock and lets nonprofits post information about their organizations and needs, and let donors search for causes to support.

But the foundation’s recent study, which included four focus groups and 200 interviews, found nonprofits preferred to have deadlines for submitting grants, Bazán-Manson says.

“They’re handling so many things on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “They appreciate a more traditional grantmaking process in which we do have deadlines.”

The luncheon series, to be held at the foundation’s offices in Research Triangle Park, will kick off June 26, run through November and be limited to 25 people each month.

The foundation will send invitations to all nonprofits on its mailing list, and will select participants on a first-come, first-served basis, including people not on the mailing list.

In December, instead of a lunch, the foundation will host a holiday networking party for 70 people.

And in October or November, it will announce its lunch-series schedule for 2007.

Depending on the response to the sessions planned for this year, the foundation will hold lunches either every month or every other month next year.

The recent study showed that “nonprofits really wanted an opportunity to talk to us on an ongoing basis, and also to talk to one another,” Bazán-Manson says.

At its meeting on August 22, she says, the foundation’s board is expected to vote on a new strategic plan for the organization.

While final details still are being developed, the board and staff are in “complete consensus on the direction we’re moving toward,” she says.

The foundation, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in two years, marked two big events last year, when its assets reached $100 million for the first time, and Shannon St. John, its founding president, resigned.

“We have a bigger role to play in the community now that our assets have grown and we’ve gone through a leadership transition,” says Bazán-Manson, who has been president for nine months.

For information about the lunches, contact Linda Depo, philanthropic services associate, at 474.8370, ext. 134, or Linda@trianglecf.org.

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