Triangle Community Foundation targeting urgent needs

By Todd Cohen

[Note: I have been providing communications support for Triangle Community Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Triangle Community Foundation is working to sharpen the focus of its discretionary funding to help address some of the region’s most pressing needs.

A key goal of the effort is to use that funding to “create a ripple effect in our community,” says Easter Maynard, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and chair of a task force that has been working to develop a blueprint for the Foundation’s grantmaking.

While the $145 million-asset Foundation makes grants totaling over $14 million a year, discretionary grants directed by its staff and board total less than $1 million.

Yet Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties, the region the Foundation serves, are home to nearly 5,700 nonprofits.

Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, says that, based on work of the task force, the Foundation this spring may select “one or two focus areas where we can really do some thoughtful initiatives,” possibly including annual grants to build the capacity of nonprofits working in those focus areas.

Foundation resources

Created in 1983 by George Hitchings, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Medicine, the Foundation focuses on “building a caring community through brokering solutions to local needs,” O’Keefe says.

In its first 30 years, the Foundation has invested over $185 million in nonprofits and community causes.

The Foundation holds 750 charitable funds, including giving circles, scholarship funds, designated funds, agency funds, “field of interest funds,” “donor advised funds,” and unrestricted funds.

Each year, the Foundation distributes over 10 percent of its assets to nonprofits, including $13.5 million last year.

Six years ago, the Foundation launched its Community Grantmaking Program.

Those grants, which have averaged $12,000 each, have focused the Foundation’s unrestricted funds on civic engagement, and on youth leadership and development.

Sharpening the focus

As part of its planning effort, the Foundation has turned to its donors, to nonprofits, and to community leaders and experts.

It has analyzed its donor advised funds and field of interest funds to better understand the impact they have on the causes donors care about.

Donor advised funds are created by donors who then recommend the grants they would like the Foundation to make from the funds.

Field of interest funds are created by donors who designate areas of interest to support, leaving it to the Foundation to use its discretion in making grants in those areas.

Taken together, field of interest funds and unrestricted funds, which are created by donors who count on the Foundation to use its expertise and knowledge of the community to decide how to invest the funds to support local causes, represent 13 percent of the Foundation’s assets.

The Foundation also has tracked community needs in five focus areas that receive most of its funding, including the arts, environment, health care, human services, and youth and education.

Among the 5,700 nonprofits in the region, 3,800 work in those five focus areas.

The Foundation also has surveyed nonprofits serving those five focus areas, and has assembled 65 community leaders and experts to serve on its task force, and asked them to recommend priorities for its community programs.

Big challenges nonprofits identified in the survey include collaboration, fundraising, and marketing and communication.

And key roles the Task Force has identified that the Foundation can play in working to address urgent needs in the region include leadership, convening, and fostering collaboration and capacity-building.

What’s next

Based on the work of the task force, which held three meetings in January and February, the Foundation this spring is expected to adopt and begin putting into practice a plan to distribute its discretionary resources and educate donors and other funders about how they can help address these priorities.

With donors and nonprofits alike wanting to have a greater impact on urgent issues in the community, O’Keefe says, the Foundation is looking for ways to expand its discretionary funds and grantmaking to help address those issues.

Over the years, she says, the Foundation has worked to balance the interests of donors with the needs of the community and the nonprofits that address community needs.

Now, in the face of an economic downturn that has deepened pressing needs in the Triangle over the past four-and-a-half years, she says, the Foundation will be working with donors and nonprofits to find ways to make a bigger impact on key issues in the region.

Based on the work of the task force, O’Keefe says, the Foundation likely will be asking donors to invest in strategies that have shown, through results that can be measured, that they are making a difference in the lives of people in and places in need in the region.

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