National Christian Foundation low-key, growing fast

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — While keeping a low profile, the Raleigh affiliate of the Georgia-based National Christian Foundation has grown rapidly since it began operating in January 2005.

The affiliate has received a total of $92.9 million in contributions of cash, stock and other assets, including $34.9 million in 2012.

It also has facilitated grants totaling nearly $41.1 million, including over 2,600 grants totaling nearly $10.5 million in 2012.

A community foundation that works with individuals and groups to create and manage charitable funds that support a broad range of causes, the Raleigh office has one of the smallest staffs among the 28 affiliates of the national foundation, with only two people working full-time and one working part-time.

Yet it is the sixth-largest affiliate based on total cash and assets under management, says Alanna Linden, its president.

And it plans this year to add at least two staff members, she says.

Most donors to the affiliate are “mid-to-high-net-worth” individuals who typically are business owners, entrepreneurs and investment or financial professionals, “people with a situation where they are not just dealing with a cash salary,” Linden says. “They own things, businesses, investments.”

The biggest group of its donors are referred by the five members of its board, which is chaired by Cliff Benson III, president of the Palin Foundation, or by its existing donors, and the second biggest group are referred by nearly 40 professional advisers, accountants and lawyers who work with the foundation.

Donors referred by advisers account for 26 percent of the 326 funds it houses, including “inactive” funds set up to handle gifts in the future through bequests and estate plans.

Funds through referrals from advisers total roughly $10 million, or 45 percent of the affiliate’s current cash balance.

Like a typical community foundation, Linden says, the affiliate provides back-office support for donors, handling regulatory compliance for their funds, issuing receipts and quarterly statements to donors and, through a password-protected website, providing a “dashboard” that includes information about all their contributions and grants.

The local office, supported by a team of attorneys and other professionals who are among 100 employees working in the Georgia office, also provides advice and technical assistance on how to handle issues such as charitable giving, management of assets, and the sale of non-cash gifts such as real estate, businesses or restricted securities.

Unlike many community foundations, however, the affiliate typically works with donors who give away a big share of their funds each year rather than letting them accumulate value, Linden says.

“We’re not focused on being a foundation that money sits in,” she says. “We actually want it to get out into the community.”

The affiliate, which has the mission of enabling Christians to “give wisely,” supports churches and their outreach ministries, as well as a broad range of causes such as human services, education, poverty, international issues, the environment and emergency relief.

“To understand what somebody really cares about, look at their checkbook to see what they’re spending money on,” Linden says. “If people want to develop a passion for a cause, they should just start giving and see how that changes them.”

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