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Tipping point at Foundation for the Carolinas

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Fueled by a six-year effort to remake itself as a philanthropic-services hub, Foundation for the Carolinas has enjoyed rapid growth in assets and community visibility.

Now, having reached a “critical mass,” the foundation is poised to make big investments in building the community’s philanthropic resources and addressing its needs, says Michael Marsicano, president and CEO.

The foundation plans to spend $2.5 million over five years for new development staff, technology and marketing, Marsicano says, a donor-funded initiative that could increase its assets to $1 billion by 2012, up from $601 million at the end of 2006.

The foundation also is spending another $600,000 for technology to better serve donors, manage relationships with constituents, and profile and connect donors with nonprofits.

It likely will make its efforts to develop civic leadership in the community a strategic priority and, for its 50th anniversary in 2008, announce a major investment and fundraising effort to benefit the community.

While boosted by healthy capital markets and the start of an unprecedented transfer of wealth between generations, Marsicano says, its asset growth also reflects the foundation’s efforts to better serve donors, nonprofits and foundations, and strengthen civic leadership.

Gifts to the foundation totaled $85 million in 2004, $65 million in 2005 and $210 million in 2006, an all-time high, reflecting more gifts from living individuals and through bequests, and more gifts and business from corporations and nonprofits.

Five companies, for example, have created disaster-relief funds at the foundation to help employees experiencing personal catastrophes, Marsicano says, while a growing number of companies are outsourcing to the foundation the job of complying with IRS regulations.

And nonprofits increasingly are using the foundation to manage their endowments, saving time and money because they do not have to analyze investment returns, and generating higher returns the foundation can earn by pooling endowments it manages, Marsicano says.

While the foundation has not devoted a lot of time to marketing itself, Marsicano says, it has spearheaded a handful of initiatives to boost civic leadership.

Those include a citizens task force to develop a plan for restructuring the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools; a 10-year plan to develop 500 miles of interconnected greenways and trails in 15 counties; and Crossroads Charlotte, an effort to engage community leaders and 40 institutions in mapping the city’s future and their role in it.

“I think donors are seeing us as not just services but being substantive in our community work,” Marsicano says.

All funds it received in 2006 were the result not of requests by the foundation but of “repeat business” from lawyers, brokers, accountants and bankers who recommend its services to clients, Marsicano says.

So, with industry research showing 70 percent of all estate gifts to charity are the result of requests by nonprofits, he says, the foundation plans to ramp up its fundraising, marketing and civic-leadership work.

Unlike many nonprofits, which tend to focus on annual fundraising and their immediate relationship with donors, Marsicano says, “ours is a much longer-term relationship with donors because we’re really talking about philanthropy rather than contributions.”

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