Local Christian foundation hits $16 million

By Leslie Williams

RALEIGH, N.C. — You might expect a community foundation that manages more than $16 million in donor-advised funds to have a pretty hefty staff.

But the Christian Foundation of the Triangle is just one strong: Director of Donor Relations Alanna Linden.

The foundation is an affiliate of the National Christian Foundation, which has a back office in Atlanta that runs a national fund and acts as backup for the Triangle affiliate and the national group’s 27 other community foundations.

Together, the national organization and its affiliates have accumulated $2 billion in assets since the organization was formed in 1981.

The Triangle affiliate was created in 2001 and since then has received $8.4 million in contributions – not including planned gifts – and awarded $5.7 million to nonprofits, with more than two-thirds of the money staying in the local community.

Most donors direct their contributions to locally-based Christian nonprofits, as well as some national groups with local affiliates, like YoungLife, Linden says, and many use their accounts to make regular tithes to their churches.

Christian Foundation of the Triangle is currently based out of the offices of Cherokee Investment Partners, which is owned by board member Tom Darden, who lends support staff to the Foundation from Cherokee’s charitable entity, Cherokee Gives Back.

The biggest benefit to the foundation is simply in not having to worry about the cost of a lease, says Darden.

“One thing I think is important in philanthropies is that the money goes to the beneficiaries and not to trying to build overhead,” Darden says. “They should be left to finding ways to leverage philanthropic capacity.”

While the organization reports $16 million in assets, more than $10 million of that is in complex gifts. Linden says estate planning is a big part of what her affiliate does.

“We’re unique in being able to liquidate complex assets,” Linden says. “It’s sort of our niche.”

Most donors to the Christian Foundation of the Triangle are individuals or families, she says, and a handful of donors make their contributions through the national foundation in the interest of preserving anonymity.

“Some of that is the faith aspect of trying to be humble in their giving,” Linden says.

The assets reported by the affiliate include these anonymous funds, which tend to be larger sums of money.

Though individuals make up the vast majority of donors, the number of local businesses creating funds with the foundation is growing, helping the organization raise $2.4 million and distribute $2.3 million in grants last year alone.

This summer, Linden and some of the affiliate’s board members will undertake a strategic planning process, in part to determine if the time is right to add new staff members.

Most of national group’s affiliate foundations have three or four employees, says Linden, making the Triangle affiliate atypical.

An additional staffer could help donors connect with ministries, says Linden, given that many donors want to contribute their time to worthy causes, not just their money.

Cliff Benson III, chair of the board of directors, said the board does not necessarily have any specific design for what it expects to come out of the planning.

“What we’re looking for is what the foundation needs to do to move forward,” he said. “It’s about how we can better work with generous giving.”

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