High Point foundation rising to challenge

By Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Last April, the four children of the late Jim Millis Sr., one of its founding donors, agreed to match up to $10 million in new gifts made to the High Point Community Foundation within a year.

That pledge has paid off: The foundation already has secured $5 million in new support, and it expects to meet the entire match by the deadline this April.

Including those new funds and the matching dollars, assets at the foundation should total $70 million by the end of its fiscal year this June 30, up from $54 million now, says Paul Lessard, president.

“It’s one of those windows of opportunity you rarely get in life,” Lessard says of the pledge by Jim Millis Jr. of Kill Devil Hills and Bill Millis, Molly Millis Hedgecock and Emily Millis Hiatt, all of High Point.

The challenge not only will increase the assets of the donor-advised fund that each of the Millis children already has established at the foundation, Lessard says, but also will leverage additional dollars for the foundation.

“This is encouraging us not only to grow vertically, but also horizontally, reaching more folks, which is what you want to do at a community foundation,” he says.

Formed in 1990, the foundation received its first big gift, for $5 million, in 1998 from Jim Millis Sr. and his wife, Jesse.

The $20 million it expects to have raised through the matching grant from the Millis children marks a big step towards the foundation’s goal increasing its assets to $100 million within two years.

And that increase in assets should result in an increase in grants the foundation makes, Lessard says.

In January, the foundation made unrestricted grants totaling $350,000, all with investment income from unrestricted assets totaling $14 million.

A year ago, unrestricted assets totaled $13 million.

Unrestricted assets are those given by donors who place no limits on how the foundation can spend the funds.

The foundation’s $40 million in restricted funds include 55 donor-advised funds and 12 organizational endowments.

This year, Lessard says, the foundation plans to continue its ongoing strategy of building relationships with donors and with professional advisers.

“It’s all built on relationships,” he says. “Our success is entirely based on board members who have opened doors to relationships.”

In December, for example, the foundation received an unrestricted gift totaling $450,000 from the estate of Violet Hutchins, whose family owns Glenn’s Sewing Machine Co.

Lessard says he did not know Hutchins, who worked at the company and had heard a talk he had made in which he discussed a $40,000 grant from the foundation to West End Ministries, a collaboration among three churches to build a community center in the former industrial district that has fallen on hard times.

“She heard about what we were doing and went in and changed her will,” Lessard says.

Getting the word out about the foundation’s work is critical to its ability to raise money it can reinvest in the community, he says.

“We still focus on telling our story and explaining who we are,” he says, “and we are very intentional about earning the right to ask for money.”

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