The Foundation for the Carolinas plans to announce Thursday at its annual meeting that local donors set aside a record $627 million for charity in 2014, double the amount given the previous year.
As a result, the foundation now manages $1.7 billion in charitable assets, making it the ninth biggest among the nation’s 800 community foundations, officials said.
However, it ranks higher – at No. 3 – based on the money it gave out: 11,200 grants totaling $316 million, for causes ranging from veterans job training to helping unaccompanied immigrant children get legal aid in Charlotte’s immigration court.
Only community foundations in Silicon Valley ($469 million) and Kansas City ($323 million) awarded more money in 2014, according to a survey by Foundation for the Carolinas.
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Foundation for the Carolinas President Michael Marsicano credits the foundation’s third straight record year to the improved economy and Charlotte’s “spirit of generosity.” That spirit prompted families, nonprofits and companies to create 400 new charitable funds in 2014 at the foundation, he said.
Created in 1958, the foundation’s chief mission has been to help connect philanthropists to community causes, a job that typically involves managing and investing the millions of dollars set aside by donors for future grants.
Philanthropic experts around the country say such success has more to do with Foundation for the Carolinas being an innovator. An example is the foundation’s decision last year to create a philanthropic entity called E4E Relief, which helps corporations deal with disaster relief for employees.
Tom Peters, head of the Marin Community Foundation in California, says that’s why he made referrals to Charlotte last August, after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit California’s Napa Valley.
“Michael (Marsicano) and his people were able to come out and help with expertise in person and on the phone,” said Peters, noting community leaders in Napa had relief funds but no knowledge of how to set up a relief program. “It was a perfect example of the foundation’s nationwide reputation.”
The foundation is also considered a national leader for its willingness to create initiatives for solving community challenges, which was not common among community foundations prior to the recession, said Paul Grogan of the Boston Foundation.
An example is the Critical Need Response Fund, created by the foundation in 2009 to help food pantries, shelters and other critical needs to overcome a loss of donations during the recession. The fund, which was eventually taken over by United Way, gave out more than $8 million in donated money during the recession.
“This change came about in that era when cities were losing headquarters of companies due to mergers and acquisitions. With that came a decline in CEOs who were participating in civic life,” said Grogan. “Foundation for the Carolinas has been one of pioneers, in embracing this new, more expansive role.”
In the six years since starting the Critical Need fund, the foundation has racked up a series of successful projects, including ongoing initiatives to help low-income students improve their grades and homeless families move quickly into affordable housing.
Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter says he considers the foundation a “critical broker and key convener” in the community, with a knack for bringing all sides on complex issues together at the table. “The foundation has a reputation for being honest, politically neutral and looking ahead to what is behind the issues making headlines,” Clodfelter said.
Among the grandest of the foundation’s current projects is a push to revive the North Tryon Street corridor, starting with renovating the gutted Carolina Theatre, built in 1927. The foundation plans to turn the site into a civic space for public meetings, symposiums and debates. The theater, which closed in 1978, sits next to the foundation’s office on North Tryon.
So far, the foundation has raised $25.8 million toward the $35 million cost. This includes a $5 million “jump start” gift from Bank of America.
Among those impressed is retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr., who is credited with helping revive the city’s once-desolate uptown during the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’ve been in this city 55 years and for the most of that 55 years, people have been trying to solve the issue of the Carolina Theatre,” said McColl.
“I was stunned when Michael (Marsicano) told me his plan. I thought ‘Well, that’s not a very good idea.’ I was wrong about that. … It’s not a question ‘if’ anymore, but ‘when’ it will happen. That’s all Michael Marsicano’s doing.”
Where the money goes
Foundation clients distributed more than $316 million in grants from their charitable funds in 2014, of which 92 percent supported organizations in the Carolinas.
▪ In the foundation’s Center for Personal Philanthropy, the top four organizations most frequently supported by individual and family donors were: United Way (96 unique grants); Crisis Assistance Ministry (67 unique grants); the Salvation Army (60 unique grants); and the YMCA (55 unique grants).
▪ Recipients of major grant awards included Queens University of Charlotte, Carolinas Healthcare Foundation, HopeWay Foundation, Carolina Thread Trail, Project LIFT, Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, HEART Tutoring.