Belk focuses on education, results

Katie Belk Morris
Katie Belk Morris

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a study it conducted with UNC-Charlotte, Freedom School Partners found 60 percent of children in its summer enrichment program improved their  reading, and 30 percent maintained their reading level, combating the decline in reading level that typically occurs among low-income kids during the summer.

The group is using the study as it works to expand its summer program to 5,000 youth from 500 by 2016, and develop an after-school program.

It also received $50,000 from The Belk Foundation, which has sharpened its focus to helping ensure that students graduate from high school and continue on an “intentional path toward college, career and life.”

The foundation has adopted its new focus because “education is one of the cornerstones of any civil society and it has such a ripple effect,” says Katie Belk Morris, the foundation’s chair and a granddaughter of William Henry Belk, a co-founder of the Belk department store organization.

The board, she says, “felt that education was just vital in shaping the future of any community and the leaders who are going to be vital in moving a community forward.”

A key factor the foundation will use in funding groups will be whether they can show “measurable achievement and results.”

Founded in 1928, the $51 million-asset foundation plans to distribute up to $3 million during its two grants cycles in the fall and spring.

“Results-oriented nonprofits that focus on education” are invited to visit the foundation’s new website at and submit a brief email inquiry.

The foundation, in turn, will invite nonprofits that meet its criteria to submit grant applications.

Johanna Anderson, foundation director, says the new website and grants process aim to make the foundation more accessible to nonprofits and to reduce barriers to seeking support.

Grants will continue to focus on groups in communities throughout the Southeast where Belk store associates live and work, particularly in Belk’s hometown of Charlotte.

Of the more than $27 million the foundation has distributed to charities across the Southeast over the past 10 years, roughly half has gone to education.

Because of the foundation’s tighter focus, its grants to education are not likely to continue to include support for buildings at colleges and universities such as dorms or chapels, Morris says.

Anderson, who joined the organization a year ago as its first foundation director, says that, to give them time to seek other sources of funding, the foundation will consider funding for two years for seven groups it has supported with annual grants averaging $10,000.

Building high-school students’ abilities and access to a productive future is the goal of the foundation, Anderson says.

Among the nearly $2.9 million in grants it awarded in its most recent fiscal year, for example, the foundation gave $20,000 to the Posse Foundation in Atlanta, a group that focuses on helping at-risk kids stay in college by teaming them up and providing them with mentoring.

Ninety percent of the students in the program graduate from college.

“Ultimately,” says Anderson, “we are interested in investing in what works.”

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