Foundation for the Carolinas assets hit $1.3 billion

Foundation for the Carolinas plans to reveal Thursday that the nonprofit’s assets have hit $1.3 billion, making it one of the nation’s top 10 community foundations.

That’s an increase of 30 percent from 2012 for the foundation, a nonprofit that serves as a catalyst for philanthropy by connecting companies and individuals with charitable causes.

In another milestone, the foundation will announce that it is creating a Charlotte-based disaster relief subsidiary that will become one of the country’s leaders in providing cash grants to disaster victims on behalf of their employers and sympathetic coworkers.

The new philanthropic entity, called E4E Relief, will assume control of a foundation program that began when Charlotte banks sought to help New York City-based staffers affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the nearly 13 years since, a growing number of national companies have contracted with the Foundation for the Carolinas to set up similar employee relief programs for disasters such as tornadoes and floods, and family emergencies such as house fires.

“We have emerged as a leading provider of employee relief,” said Laura Meyer Wellman, who will move from executive vice president at the foundation to president and CEO of E4E Relief. “The increasing need to bridge gaps in hardship situations for employees prompts us to look at this as a national opportunity.”

Record growth year

Foundation for the Carolinas’ jump to $1.3 billion in assets makes it the biggest community foundation in the Southeast and bigger than foundations in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston and Dallas.

Its numbers appear to be growing steadily, too. Foundation CEO Michael Marsicano says his organization already has an additional $400 million in commitments from Carolinians who intend to leave all or part of their estates for philanthropic efforts.

“The point of all this is that it won’t be long before we’re at $2 billion,” Marsicano said. “It’s a testament to the generosity of this community.”

Last year, the foundation gave out a record $178 million in grants, $20 million more than in 2012, and $36 million more than in 2011.

Credit for the 30 percent increase in assets goes to the improved economy, he said, and to wisely made choices by the foundation’s investment committee and staff. Equally important: 120 new funds were established through the foundation by families, nonprofits and companies. They include efforts to aid the environment, health care, faith-based projects and the education system.

The foundation launched projects as well, including a $25 million effort to renovate the old Carolina Theatre on North Tryon Street for use as a civic meeting hall. Bank of America contributed $5 million to launch the project, which is seen as the start of North Tryon Street’s revitalization.

Charles Bowman, Bank of America’s market president for North Carolina and Charlotte, noted the bank also supported foundation projects such as the Project LIFT education initiative and the Critical Need Response Fund, which fed and sheltered people during the recession.

“The foundation has vision for the future, and they step up for the tough issues,” Bowman said of the foundation’s reputation for civic leadership. “They are very ambitious in the things they take on, and they are very persistent.”

E4E Relief disaster aid

From 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina. From Hurricane Sandy to the Colorado wildfires of 2013.

Scarcely a big natural disaster has occurred over the past 13 years that didn’t involve a Foundation for the Carolinas relief effort. This includes not only helping companies distribute aid, but setting up 24-hour call centers to take aid requests from their employees.

During Hurricane Sandy alone, more than 2,000 grants totaling $1.75 million were issued for employee relief, said foundation officials. The storm also prompted an increased number of calls from national companies that heard of the foundation’s program and wanted to sign up.

Charlotte-based bank Wachovia was among the first companies to enlist the help of the foundation, after some of its New York employees were affected by 9/11. When San Francisco-based Wells Fargo took over Wachovia, it decided to maintain the program, said Peter Dudley, a senior vice president with Wells Fargo.

“The disasters can be anything from a tornado that rips across the Midwest to a house fire in an apartment building,” Dudley said, adding that he has been among those who have referred other companies to the foundation for disaster relief efforts.

Family Dollar, Synder’s-Lance, San Francisco-based McKesson and Atlanta-based HoneyBaked Ham of Georgia are also part of E4E, officials said. In some cases, the companies set aside money for relief, while others developed voluntary payroll deductions so employees could donate.

Michael Esposito, an executive with HoneyBaked Ham of Georgia, said he learned of the foundation program from officials at Home Depot.

“I did the research on how we could build a program of our own and I learned it’s too costly, complex and we don’t have the staff to run it,” said Esposito, noting HoneyBaked Ham of Georgia has staff across 20 states.

“Employee giving is what has pushed a lot of employers in this direction. What often happens is employees want to pass the hat to help others in the company who have been hit by a tornado or flood. But that’s not an efficient way to run a business.”