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New funds for High Point nonprofits, schools

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Paul Lessard

Paul Lessard

Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — In the fourth quarter of 2008, with the economy and capital markets sinking, Open Door Ministry in High Point found itself facing a $30,000 budget shortfall and invited the president of the High Point Community Foundation and a foundation donor to visit the agency and consider a gift to cover the shortfall.

The result was a $2 million gift the donor made to the foundation, which matched the gift with $2 million in unrestricted funds, creating the Heart of High Point Fund, a special-interest fund that will support organizations that address the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and medical and rehabilitation services.

“Historically, High Point has always had a safety net” in the form of charitable dollars given by wealthy families in the area, says Paul Lessard, president of the foundation. “It was almost a social contract. If you had a need, you knew there were families” that would help.

But as the community and its economy changed, and companies closed, were sold or moved away, that safety net has eroded, he says.

“This new fund will be the new safety net,” he says.

The new fund also will help offset a decline in the value of the foundation’s assets, which have dropped 30 percent to roughly midway between $50 million and $60 million from their peak in spring 2008, Lessard says.

Yet despite the tough economy and the decline in the value of its assets, the foundation has received $4.5 million in new funds in the fiscal year that began last July 1, with some of those funds from private foundations and a lot from new donors, he says.

“Philanthropy marches on,” he says. “There are still folks out there with a heart for giving,” many of whom also give because of a “taxable event” such as the sale of a business that gives the donor an opportunity to take advantage of tax incentives to make a charitable gift.

With the help of a committee consisting of local community leaders with expertise in the areas of emergency needs the Heart of High Point Fund will support, the foundation has selected as potential grant recipients a group of agencies that dedicate at least half their budgets to serving those needs.

The dual purpose of the new fund is to address emergency needs and sustain nonprofits, Lessard says.

“We should be there for these nonprofits that are serving the basic needs of the community,” he says, “because they are the ones that will always have a hard time making their budget.”

In addition to the emergency-needs fund, the foundation in 2008 received donations from two donors to create a fund to support needs in the public schools, such as field trips, band trips or uniforms for sports teams, not covered by the school budget.

The new Principals Fund, which will consider grant applications twice a year that have been approved by local school principals, so far has raised about $150,000 and aims to grow to $1 million, Lessard says.

The donors also have stipulated that the fund should give away $10,000 a year, even if that means dipping into the corpus of the endowment when it does not generate enough investment income to cover those grants.

“We should own our own schools,” Lessard says. “That’s a responsibility every family in High Point should have.”

And he says he hopes the fund, possibly in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, could grow to cover all of Guilford County.

While the deteriorating economy prompted the foundation this year to reduce its unrestricted grantmaking to $350,000 from $400,000 last  year, Lessard says, the two new funds will allow the foundation actually to give a little more this year.

“I have found that the struggle is less with getting new money,” he says, “and more just retaining the money you have in investments.”

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