Johnston Community College retools fundraising

Todd Cohen

SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Three years ago, President Donald Reichard of Johnston Community College in Smithfield persuaded Tim Lightfield, an old friend and former community college president in Illinois and South Carolina, to come out of retirement and take stock of the school’s advancement program.

At the time, focused mainly on generating endowment funds to support scholarships, the Johnston Community College Foundation housed 77 endowment funds, 37 of them totaling less than $10,000 each, the threshold needed for a fund to award scholarships.

The foundation’s investment and fixed assets totaled $2 million, and it allocated $190,000 a year to the college.

After assessing its advancement program, Lightfield concluded the college needed to do more to give donors more options for the kinds of programs they could support, and the ways in which they could give.

“There were a lot of needs and interests at the college other than scholarships,” he says. “And there are a lot of donors for whom endowment is not the preferred way to give.”

Reichard then persuaded Lightfield to stay on and put his recommendations into place.

The strategy worked: The foundation now houses 82 funded endowments focusing on a broad range of needs, and has received commitments from donors to create 13 more.

Foundation assets now total $4.5 million, and it allocates $330,000 a year to the college.

“It was opening up the paradigm so that people would understand there are other ways people want to give,” says Lightfield, who plans to retire in April. “When you’re focusing so much on scholarships, you’re ignoring other needs and interests.”

Formed in 1982, the foundation for its first 10 years or so functioned as a subcommittee of the college’s 12-member board of trustees, with board members helping to raise funds.

Now, the 40 members of the foundation’s board are key players in raising money, making their own contributions and appealing to individuals and leaders in the community to give.

Unlike four-year colleges and universities that count on alumni for support, Johnston Community College looks for support from local residents and companies, many of which look to the school to provide specialized training programs for their workers.

In addition to support for its annual fund, which totals roughly $50,000 and also receives contributions from the school’s vendors, faculty and staff, and from individuals who participate in its performing-arts programs, the college also looks for planned gifts that are deferred or involved assets other than cash.

The foundation, for example, has launched a “legacy society” that recognizes individuals who have told the school they have included it or the foundation in their wills or estate plans.

The Rudolph Ashworth Howell Legacy Society, named for a former benefactor and trustee, now has 10 members.

“The idea is to let other people know this is something you can do,” Lightfield says.

The foundation also sponsors programs for lawyers, accountants, estate planners and other professional advisers to talk about the college and ask their clients to consider leaving it a gift.

“We have naming opportunities that might appeal to people who want to set a legacy,” Lightfield says.

The school also plans to launch a capital campaign to raise $3 million to $3.5 million to renovate for community public use the building that now houses its library once a new library is built with $10 million in funds approved by county voters in a 2007 bond referendum.

In addition to endowment funds that support programs ranging from student book loans and the school’s art gallery to minority male mentoring and a wide variety of industrial training, the foundation has begun to receive deferred gifts.

Those include two deferred trusts totaling $5 million and $3 million, and 11.5 acres that include a lighted baseball field and 10,000-square-foot clubhouse.

The property, worth over $1 million, was a gift to the college that the American Legion Pou-Parrish Post 132 of Smithfield made in December 2007.

With a decline in membership that eventually could cost it its charter, the American Legion Post signed an agreement with the foundation that calls for it to lease the entire property back to the Post until it discontinues operations or dissolves.

The college eventually expects to use the property for a new intercollegiate athletic program in men’s baseball and women’s softball.

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