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Triangle funder sharpens focus

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By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The Triangle Community Foundation, a 23-year-old organization that raises charitable funds from donors and works with them to make grants to nonprofits, is retooling the way it does business.

After focusing for the past five years on engaging donors, the $110 million-asset foundation plans to do more to connect philanthropic resources with community needs, serve as an advocate and partner for social change, and promote philanthropy in the region.

By brokering support for priority needs, the foundation can better serve the region and donors, and in the process create opportunities to raise even more charitable support to address those needs, says Andrea Bazán-Manson, president.

“We believe we can make a bigger impact with the limited dollars we have,” she says, “and also, long-term, continue to increase the dollars that are available.”

As part of its new business model, the foundation is creating a new fund to address critical community needs; expanding its staff to better serve nonprofits and recruit corporate support; sponsoring events for nonprofits, donors and professional advisers; planning new technology to better serve donors and nonprofits; and forming a new committee of experts to better track and develop the foundation’s investments.

COMMUNITY FUND

While donors’ funds represent 92 percent of its assets, with $11 million in grants made from those funds, mainly with donors’ advice, the foundation wants to direct more “unrestricted” dollars to critical needs it has identified through talks with donors and nonprofits.

So, with matching support from donors, the foundation is launching a  pool of funds, known as the “community grantmaking program,” that support collaborative efforts the foundation is developing and will fund.

For its first round of grants, the pool initially will total at least $300,000.

The foundation has identified a broad range of youth initiatives it wants to support with that fund, including those that focus on dropout prevention and retention; mentoring; gang awareness and prevention; engaging children in philanthropy, including “giving circles”; leadership development, including internship and apprenticeship programs; and life-skills, financial-literacy and community-service programs.

In the area of civic engagement, the foundation wants to support “grassroots education,” organizing small and large groups to address issues of common interest or concern at the local or state level, says Bazán-Manson.

It also plans to support efforts to analyze and disseminate information about public policy, and to engage the community in public-policy issues.

“We believe that to truly address some of the concerns in the region, we need to get people more engaged in the decision-making process,” Bazán-Manson says. “It’s addressing the root causes of issues.”

In the next few weeks, the foundation will meet with community leaders to talk about more specific ways it might support youth initiatives and civic engagement.

GRANT CYCLES

On February 1, 2007, the foundation will issue requests for proposals for grants from its community grantmaking program.

Applications will be due in early April, and grants will be announced by early June.

The foundation plans to make grants in those two areas for at least three years, say Bazán-Manson.

“We think these are two areas where people can be excited and where we can make some change,” she says. “We’re not going to solve all the problems or all the challenges we have in the region, but it will hopefully attract some people to the table, and help some organizations get additional dollars.”

The unrestricted fund the foundation is creating also will support collaborative partnerships it is forming based on talks with nonprofits.

The foundation will not seek applications for grants to support those partnerships, but instead will decide on its own which partnerships to support, and also may seek funds from other funders, Bazán-Manson says.

The partnerships may not be limited to the four counties the foundation serves – Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake – and even might include community foundations from other regions of North Carolina, she says.

MORE STAFF

To support its new business model, the foundation has added two positions, neither of which has been filled, and may add two more in the next few months, Bazán-Manson says.

One of the new positions will be a community program officer who will manage the new community-grants program.
The community program officer will be part of the foundation’s philanthropic-services team that works with donors, creating a bridge between donors and nonprofits, Bazán-Manson says.

The second new position will be a corporate-outreach officer who will work with corporate leaders and companies, encouraging them to invest in community initiatives either through the foundation or directly with nonprofits.

That officer will be part of the foundation’s asset-development team that recruits new donors.

While it will continue to make grants from donor-advised funds every Friday, the foundation will make one round of community grants from its new funding pool in the current fiscal year and, in the fiscal year that begins next July 1, will make two rounds of grants.

In the eight months in which it developed its new strategy, Bazán-Manson says, the foundation did not suspend its grantmaking.

COMMUNITY EVENTS

The foundation also plans a range of events as part of its effort to expand its role in the community.

Building on monthly lunches that Bazán-Manson has been holding with groups of nonprofits, the foundation will bring together donors once a year to talk about their funds’ investment returns and community impact, and about the foundation’s strategy and direction.

The foundation also has teamed up with the North Carolina Bar Association to sponsor an event next spring for financial advisers, and will hold a social event in the spring for donors and prospective donors.

And starting in the fiscal year that begins next July 1, the foundation plans to sponsor an annual conference for nonprofits.

The foundation also is talking to two vendors that have proposed providing new technology it can use to better track investment and grants activity of its funds, as well as information on donors and nonprofits.

And it has created an investment committee that will recommend policies for improving the investment return on the foundation’s assets.

“Ultimately, our role here is to try and raise as much money as we can for nonprofits,” Bazán-Manson says, “and also get as many people engaged in philanthropy, through us or otherwise, as possible.”

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