Sisters of Mercy foundation gives quietly

Edward Schlicksup Jr.
Edward Schlicksup Jr.

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While keeping a low profile, Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation has made 1,200 grants totaling over $63.4 million since it was formed in 1995 through the sale of Mercy Health Services in Charlotte to what is now Carolinas HealthCare System.

The $180 million-asset foundation also has provided $65 million in support to the Sisters of Mercy South Central Community, a group of 700 Roman Catholic nuns in 18 states, plus the U.S. territory of Guam and Jamaica.

The Sisters’ South Central Community, based in Belmont, N.C., is one of six regional communities of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, which is based in Silver Spring, Md., and serves mainly the U.S. but also has operations abroad, including in the Philippines.

Operating with a staff of five people working full-time and one working part-time, including a full-time employee in Asheville, the foundation has the primary mission of providing support to the Sisters of Mercy South Central Community.

It also acts as one of the Sisters’ investment arms and as one of their charitable arms.

The charitable mission of the foundation, which seeks to promote systemic change, is to “serve the unserved and underserved, focusing on the economically poor, especially women, children and the elderly,” says Edward Schlicksup Jr., the organization’s president.

It focuses its grantmaking on social services, health care and education, making three rounds of grants a year that total roughly $5.2 million combined.

While any nonprofit or government agency in the Carolinas may apply for a grant, a priority for the foundation is to invest at least one-third of its grants in the Charlotte Metro region, including Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union counties.

It tries to invest at least another third to 27 counties in Western North Carolina, and the remainder to anywhere in the Carolinas, including the geographic territory of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, which extends east to Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

After it was formed with $115 million from the sale of Mercy Health Services, the foundation received another $83 million in 1998 from the sale of St. Joseph Hospital in Asheville to Mission Health System, says Schlicksup, who served as president of the two Mercy hospitals in Charlotte.

Assets of the foundation, which in May 2010 transferred $66 million to another Sisters of Mercy investment company, St. Louis-based Mercy Investment Services, grew to $290 million before the capital markets crashed three years ago, and fell to a low of $240 million during the recession, a drop that also reflected distributions from the foundation’s portfolio.

Unlike many foundations, which prefer to support programs and projects, the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation likes to make grants to support operations, although it also supports programs and projects.

“If we have an effective organization that is having an impact,” Schlicksup says, “why not provide support for their core mission so they can continue their good work, as opposed to having to generate the latest new idea that may or may not last.”

The foundation also has been shifting more dollars to support education as a “proxy” for its promotion of systemic change, Schlicksup says.

“We think it’s probably the most effective way to help people help themselves over the long-term,” he says. “They have greater impact, more lasting change.”

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