Cumberland funder investing in impact

Todd Cohen

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Child Advocacy Center in Fayetteville last year asked the Cumberland Community Foundation for $20,000 to continue paying for a professional fundraiser the agency had hired a year earlier with funds from the foundation.

Instead of simply awarding the grant, the foundation asked the agency “what you really need, what is it you really want to achieve, and what do you need money to do,” says Mary Holmes, the foundation’s executive director.

The agency, in turn, said it needed unrestricted operating support to establish metrics to track its impact and help show local government the difference it was making in reducing child abuse.

The result was a $45,000 grant in unrestricted funds over three years.

The grant reflects a new direction the foundation has taken.

In October 2005, anticipating the organization’s 25th anniversary the following year, the board of the foundation decided it was “at the end of the beginning” and had grown its assets to the level that it could move beyond focusing on fundraising and instead focus on its impact on the community, Holmes says.

To help increase the foundation’s impact, the board also decided to launch an effort over five years to raise $6 million in unrestricted endowment for community grants.

And the foundation worked with Hal Williams of the Rensselaerville Institute in Rensselaerville, N.Y., to revamp its funding strategy, shifting from making grants to support “activities” and instead treating its dollars as “investments” designed to help community groups increase their impact.

Setting a goal and enlisting its board and staff in the fundraising effort have helped the foundation secure $3.6 million, plus another $1.4 million in pending gifts from an estate and through pledges, Holmes says.

Overall, the foundation’s assets at the end of 2007 totaled just over $40 million, including nearly $14.7 million in unrestricted assets, up from $11.1 million in unrestricted assets two years earlier.

In 2007, the foundation received 1,259 gifts totaling over $4.7 million, including 1,000 gifts of up to $250.

Since the foundation was launched, Holmes says, gifts of that size represent 79 percent of all gifts it has received.

“Our board has said that we will not measure our success solely by total assets or total dollars received,” she says, “but also by the extent to which we are a philanthropy partner for anyone with any ability to give.”

As part of the $2 million in grants it makes each year, including grants from endowments designated for specific purposes, donor-advised funds and scholarships, the foundation in October announced $500,000 in unrestricted community grants.

That support, including the grant to the Child Advocacy Center, was based on the foundation’s new investment strategy that focuses on outcomes.

Another grant, totaling $40,000, will support efforts by the Fayetteville Symphony to increase the use of its programs, including developing an audience that is younger and more economically diverse, increasing the number of concerts and varying their location, partnering with community groups and developing a more aggressive marketing strategy.

Last year, the foundation sponsored a legal seminar that attracted 100 nonprofit staff and board members, a training session on how to set up a system to measure impact, and a luncheon for donors and their friends that focused on what the foundation had learned about effective grants it had made.

It also worked with Biz Tools One to redesign its website using marketing materials from the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C.

This year, in addition to continuing its new strategy, the foundation is holding more luncheons with donors and starting two “giving circles,” one to support math and science at E.E. Smith High School, the other focusing on women donors.

Chairing the E.E. Smith Academic Excellence Giving Circle are Glen Adams of law firm Adams, Burge & Boughman, and Dr. Sam Fleishman, a psychiatrist and sleep-medicine specialist.

Chairing the women’s giving circle are Alisa Debnam, dean of health programs at Fayetteville Technical Community College, and community volunteer Michelle Courie.

Boosting the startup of both giving circles are grants of $65,000 from the Cumberland Community Foundation and $175,000 from NCGives, a donor-advised fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation that supports efforts to strengthen giving among African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women and young people.

The Cumberland Community Foundation also aims this year to develop a system to track available data measuring the community’s civic health, and to make that data available to nonprofits while also using it to set its own grantmaking priorities.

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