Triangle Community Foundation regroups

Phail Wynn Jr.
Phail Wynn Jr.

Ret Boney

DURHAM, N.C. – Nearly four months after giving its president an immediate and indefinite sabbatical, and two months after her permanent departure in July, the board of the Triangle Community Foundation is poised to adopt a new strategic plan that will guide its future and help it find its next leader.

The plan, which foundation leaders have been developing for almost a year and which they expect the board will approve this month, will set priorities and direction for the foundation, says Phail Wynn Jr., interim president and CEO and immediate past board chair.

And an assessment of the foundation’s organizational “capacity” will inform a new organizational structure, he says.

Despite the leadership transition, the foundation is on solid financial footing, Wynn says, managing 755 funds totaling a record-high $144.8 million in assets on June 30, the end of its fiscal year.

“We’ve gone back to get refocused on the main things of the Triangle Community Foundation,” he says. “The new strategic plan, the new organizational structure and the refocusing on the main things are all tracking in parallel.”

The foundation’s “main things,” or core functions, Wynn says, are “donor identification and cultivation, exemplary financial and asset management, fund-holder services and relations, and grantmaking.”

The foundation has not begun a search for a president to replace Andrea Bazán, who led the organization for six years before leaving amid a controversy that sources say centered on her lack of attention to and presence at the foundation, as well as staff unrest.

Since Bazán’s initial departure in May, Wynn has led the organization on an unpaid basis.

Lori O’Keefe, who had resigned from the foundation shortly before Bazán was placed on a paid sabbatical, returned immediately as chief operating officer on Bazán’s departure.

Wynn, whose full-time job is vice president for Durham and regional affairs for Duke University, spends about 12 to 15 hours a week at the foundation, with O’Keefe running the organization in his absence, he says.

“When I’m not here, Lori has full authority to serve in my stead,” he says. “She’s really managing the day-to-day affairs and operations of the foundation.”

And while Wynn’s term of board service ends in June 2012, he plans to serve as interim president and CEO for an “indefinite period” until a new leader is hired.

No timeline has been set for that hire, he says, and a search committee has not been formed.

Wynn expects that process to follow the board’s adoption of the strategic plan.

“The board will probably seek someone that’s best qualified and best suited to implement the strategic plan,” he says, adding he will not apply for the position.

Asked if she will be a candidate for the top job, O’Keefe says, “I think that’s a decision for the board and where they go after the plan is approved and adopted.”

The strategic planning process, underway for almost a year and conducted in part by Executive Service Corps of the Triangle and Raleigh consulting firm Armstrong McGuire, has reviewed the foundation’s mission and purpose, as well as its activities over the last five years, and evaluated community needs, says Wynn.

And the organizational assessment, begun shortly after Bazán’s initial departure in May, aims to organize the foundation’s staff to best achieve the organization’s strategic goals, he says.

While the plan and reorganization still await board approval, and a new president has yet to be named, the foundation’s finances are healthy, Wynn says.

Gifts to the foundation totaled $11.9 million in fiscal 2011, down $2.3 million from the prior year, but grants from the foundation and the funds it manages grew to $14.1 million in fiscal 2011 from $11.7 million in 2010.

“We have recovered over the past two years,” Wynn says. “We have had investment gains that have offset the losses we suffered in 2008 and 2009, and we’ve maintained grantmaking at the level we’ve targeted – 10 percent of total assets,” on average.

To better serve its fund-holders in what Wynn calls “this more challenging and complicated financial environment,” the foundation has hired a new controller and a new staff accountant to bolster its financial team.

And daily operations of the foundation are continuing, says O’Keefe, adding that the organization received 92 applications for the next cycle of its Community Grantmaking Program, nine more than it received during its spring cycle.

“We’ve been working hard and getting things done,” she says. “Grants continue to go out the door, gifts continue to come in and we’ve created new funds. We’ve really been business as usual.”

Kevin Trapani, a former board member and current fund-holder at the foundation who is president CEO of The Redwoods Group in Morrisville, echoes that sentiment.

“Any time there’s a leadership change, there’s some uncertainty,” he says. “I feel the organization is doing terrific right now.”

During the almost four months since that leadership change began, foundation leaders have refused to speak publicly about transitions at the organization and, until interviews with the Philanthropy Journal for this story, had not been willing to talk about the status of the foundation or its plans.

The foundation maintained that silence “as the board continued to deliberate and consider its future direction, Wynn says, and “on the advice of legal counsel.”

And while it now is willing to discuss its status, and to make its strategic plan available to the public once it is approved, the foundation still will not disclose any lessons it may have learned from its leadership transition of the past four months.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss those at this time,” says Wynn.

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