High Point funder turning page

Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C.– Roughly six years ago, in the locker room of the Hartley Drive YMCA, Paul Lessard overheard one contractor tell another that, if he had the money, he would renovate and make available to kids a pool in south High Point that was scheduled for demolition.

After talking to the contractor and determining that refurbishing the pool would cost about $100,000, Lessard approached philanthropist David Hayworth, who after several discussions agreed to give $10,000 a year for 10 years to transform the pool into a swimming center for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater High Point.

Connecting givers with community causes is a key role the High Point Community Foundation, the philanthropy headed by Lessard, has played for 10 years.

After opening for business in 1998, the foundation now has assets totaling $62 million, a total that Lessard says should grow to $100 million within five years.

Driving that growth will be “donor-advised funds” and organizational endowments.

Individuals or family donors create the donor-advised funds, and advise the foundation on grants it makes from those funds, which the donors typically restrict in their use.

Nonprofits create organizational endowments to support their programs and operations.

Overall, the community foundation is home to 60 to 65 donor-advised funds and organizational endowments.

Cornerstone Health Care, for example, recently created a organizational endowment at the foundation, which also is home to a $1.4 million organizational endowment for United Way of Greater High Point.

“Community foundations are a flexible, easy-to-use vehicle for folks, particularly those who may not have the assets to set up a private foundation,” says Lessard, who serves as the foundation’s president.

By aggregating its assets for investment purposes, he says, the foundation can secure lower investment-management costs, or access to higher-yielding investment vehicles, than individuals or individual organizations might be able to secure on their own.

This year, the foundation plans to expand the resources it provides to help donors be more effective in their giving.

The foundation, for example, has just launched a quarterly publication for its donor-advised funds, profiling individual funds and giving donors news about potential projects their funds might support.

The foundation, which in its first decade has tended to focus on individual donors, also aims to focus increasingly on corporations.

The foundation, for example, houses a fund created by Old Dominion Freight Line.

“The corporate mission and the philanthropic mission should be so enmeshed,” Lessard says. “So when people think of you, they think of both at the same time.”

The foundation also is gearing up to create a special initiative to encourage giving by women, a focus of a growing number of community foundations throughout the United States.

The foundation will celebrate its first 10 years at its annual meeting May 14 at the High Point Country Club.

Keynote speaker for the event will be Henry Carter, retired executive director of the Winston-Salem Foundation.

Lessard says a key role the High Point Community Foundation can play is identifying nonprofits that match donors’ interests, and help gauge those nonprofits’ financial performance and programmatic impact.

After hearing about the planned demolition of the pool in south High Point, for example, Lessard was able to connect the need for a recreational facility with the interests of one of his donors, he says.

The result is the David R. Hayworth Swimming Center, a 2.2-acre complex that includes a 4,200-square-foot outdoor pool, plus a pool house, picnic shelter and volleyball court.

“We’re in a very unique position to connect people who are very passionate about what they do and connect them with good projects,” Lessard says. “We bring due diligence and the ability to check these organizations out, not only whether they are doing what they say they’re doing, but whether they are doing it in a cost-effective and efficient way.”

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