Foundation for the Carolinas tops $2.1 billion in assets at ‘critical moment’ for city

Foundation for the Carolinas will be part of a Monday presentation by the Economic Opportunity Task Force, which is seeking solutions to the city’s economic inequity. The lack of economic mobility was a factor in violent protests last summer.
Foundation for the Carolinas will be part of a Monday presentation by the Economic Opportunity Task Force, which is seeking solutions to the city’s economic inequity. The lack of economic mobility was a factor in violent protests last summer.

Foundation for the Carolinas – aided by a growing number of retiring baby boomers – has surpassed $2.1 billion in assets, elevating it to sixth place among the nation’s 800 community foundations.

Foundation CEO Michael Marsicano will announce the record-setting sum Tuesday at the organization’s annual meeting. The event, at the Charlotte Convention Center, brings together 1,500 of Charlotte’s most influential community and business leaders, as well as elected officials and philanthropists.

“It took us 55 years to reach the first billion, but thanks to our donors, it only took four years to reach the next,” said Marsicano, noting $1.5 billion came in just the last three years alone. “This is a testament to the philanthropic spirit of our region.”

The money translates into millions of dollars distributed to nonprofit causes in the community, for projects to better the lives of the poor, veterans, disabled people and struggling students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s schools.

In all, 17,000 grants totaling $312 million were distributed on behalf of donors in 2016, which is $28 million more than in 2015. That’s also nearly double what was given out five years ago.

News of the milestone comes the same day another effort by the foundation is going public: a study of how Charlotte can overcome its status as the U.S. city where low-income people are most likely to stay poor, generation after generation.

The inch-thick Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force report, being released at 10 a.m. Monday, was paid for in part with foundation money.

Foundation officials also helped coordinate the task force, which is the latest in a series of foundation efforts aimed at solving Charlotte’s social and economic ills. Among the others: Project LIFT to improve graduation rates on the city’s west side and the A Way Home endowment to stabilize housing for low-income families.

Lesser known is the fact that a foundation subsidiary, E4E Relief, also was among the nation’s most active disaster relief efforts following Hurricane Matthew, which killed nearly 50 people in the Carolinas last year. At one point, E4E was fielding 250 refugee calls a day and issuing 100 relief grant applications.

“They’re involved in everything,” says Sean Garrett, executive director of Charlotte’s United Way. “The foundation has positioned itself to be about whatever needs to happen next in Charlotte, and that’s crucial after the events of the past year. We are at a critical moment in our community.”

Garrett is referring to the violent protests that rocked Charlotte this past summer, when thousands marched through uptown demanding change. The fatal police shooting of an African-American man named Keith Lamont Scott was the spark that ignited violence, but experts say the city’s low ranking for economic opportunity provided the fuel.

It is with that in mind that the Opportunity Task Force presentation Monday will include an announcement of next steps for implementing the recommendations.

Questions will undoubtedly be raised about where to get the money for implementing solutions, which is yet another area where the foundation will likely play a role.

Nonprofit experts across the country say Foundation for the Carolinas may be the nation’s “leading community foundation per capita” based on its ability to raise money.

The latest example is a new foundation subsidiary, Community Investments Foundation, that has tapped into the growing number of retiring baby boomers. The subsidiary helps them arrange for their business interests to be used for charitable causes long after they have died.

It is an idea that is credited to home builder John Crosland Jr., who worked with Holly Welch Stubbing at the foundation to leave his share of the family business behind for charitable work. Crosland began planning his dream in 2002, 13 years before his death.

Such arrangements contributed $97 million to the foundation’s assets last year.

“The foundation is admired broadly in our field, because year after year, they raise massive amounts of money,” said John Davies, president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

“But it’s not just that. Raising a lot of money doesn’t mean a damn thing unless you have a philosophy of trying to advance the quality of life. The foundation has a white hot commitment to improving things for people in that region through civic engagement. And they do that better than anyone.”

Davies said Charlotte’s foundation also has a reputation for being fearless when it comes to its proposals. Examples of that include its willingness to back Charlotte’s first fund benefiting the LGBT community back in 2003, and its ongoing support for the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, which offers bilingual schooling to immigrant children.

“Many community foundations want to play the role of Switzerland, bringing people to the table and standing neutral while other people work out the details,” said Davies. “Foundation for the Carolinas has a practice of consulting the nation’s smartest minds on solving an issue, and it brings that to the table.

“And it is not afraid to offend a few outliers. That’s called leadership. They are willing to take the criticism for the greater good.”