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Cumberland foundation gets $10 million gift

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Mary Holmes

Mary Holmes

Todd Cohen

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – In 1991, a small-business owner made his first gift to the Cumberland Community Foundation, a $10,000 donation to support a local youth-development program.

Eight years ago, a few years after she joined the foundation as executive director, Mary Holmes phoned the donor to bring him up to date on the foundation, and he invited her to meet with him.

That 30-minute visit was the first of eight annual meetings at which Holmes talked about the foundation’s work, and the donor asked a lot of questions about its operations and systems, particularly its investment practices and the way it managed its scholarship funds.

That relationship now has culminated in a $10 million gift from the estate of the donor, an anonymous donation that is the largest ever for the foundation and will bring its total assets to $58 million.

“This is a man who was very generous,” Holmes says. “He had a long history of making large gifts directly to organizations in the community, mainly focused on education.”

Born and raised in a poor family in Eastern North Carolina, the donor had to drop out of high school when his father died, and never attended college, Holmes says.

He ran a small business and developed a system for investing in the stock market that made him wealthy, she says.

“He was a very smart and very disciplined man,” she says.

During his life, she says, he donated roughly $6 million she is aware of to education, mainly to benefit high schools, younger students and local charities.

“Most of his giving was outside the foundation, mainly directed to education-related nonprofits and schools,” Holmes says.

The donor was “very active in his giving and really never engaged with the community foundation until he started doing his estate plan” about four years ago, she says.

Over the next 25 years, the foundation estimates, $17 million in scholarships funded with investment income from the endowment gift will be awarded to nearly 1,000 graduating seniors from Cumberland County high schools.

And over 50 years, the endowment could pay out as much as $53 million in scholarships.

Since 1980, when it was founded, the foundation has received 23,000 gifts, only four of them over $1 million, most under $250, and the typical gift totaling $25.

“We got this gift based on our stewardship by paying attention to the very boring stuff,” Holmes says. “In the tortoise and hare story, be the tortoise.”

The gift is a “win” for Rachel Anderson, the staff member who runs the foundation’s investment committee, and for Susan Barnes, the staff member who runs its scholarship committee, Holmes says.

“And the big win,” she says, “is for the students in the community.”

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