I guess any job title that includes the word “regional” is probably going to require some travel. That is certainly the case for me, personally, as the Northwest “Regional” Associate with NCCF. I cover ten counties and spend a fair amount of time in the car. I could probably write a pretty interesting blog post on the wide range of inclement weather gear, office supplies, Nalgene bottles and other apparel you might find in my Subaru. Instead, as we are within the brief period of time each year when debates about ACC basketball reach a temporary truce, I would like to take this opportunity to honor the legendary Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith.
I have recently been listening to Coach Smith’s The Carolina Way:Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching as an audio book while driving to board meetings and visits with donors and nonprofits across Northwest NC. One of the greatest and most respected college coaches of all time, Coach Smith describes the backbone of his coaching philosophy — the approach to the game that he tried hardest to instill in his teams—as these three key principles: 1) Play Smart, 2) Play Hard, and 3) Play Together.
The Carolina Way was written, in part, to offer insight on how professionals in other careers can incorporate some of the ideals, habits and perspectives that helped Coach Smith consistently achieve success and earn respect from players, fans, other coaches and an entire university community over many years. Here are some thoughts on how these principles apply to my work at NCCF:
Play Hard: This one I get. I was always a pretty scrappy rebounder. At NCCF, visiting with donors and nonprofits and providing support for my affiliate boards and fundholders is kind of like diving for loose balls or hustling up the floor on a fast break: the small things that require extra effort can make a big difference over the course of a game, season and career.
Play Smart: Coach Smith ran his practices with absolute precision and expected his players to learn and execute complicated defenses and a fast-paced offense. For me, organization, attention to detail and sound preparation are important areas that I must continue to cultivate.
Play Together: At NCCF I am part of a team. I don’t see some of my teammates that often as many are in Raleigh and others are across the state. My colleagues in Finance, Communications, Development and Community Leadership can and do provide assistance, resources and expertise beyond my individual set of knowledge and skills. No doubt that taking more opportunities to learn from and engage my teammates would make me better at my job.
Despite where your basketball allegiances lie, it’s hard to argue with Coach Smith’s record, his generosity and integrity, and his commitment to his players. I’m sure one could make a very similar argument for Coach K — but I will leave that to one of the two Duke alumnae that I am fortunate to work with at NCCF.
Our new fiscal year started April 1st. I have yet to find any other organization that has the same fiscal year as we do, but I have to say I like it. April provides a great buffer after the end of the calendar year to get all those things done that you had planned to get done by December. April also marks the beginning of spring here in North Carolina, so now that everything is blooming it just feels like a great way to start a new year. So what is ahead for us in this new year? Well for one, we are celebrating our 25 anniversary, something you will be hearing more of in the days and weeks ahead. We have elected new board leaders, are implementing some technology improvements you will be noticing, and are working to implement the recommendations contained in our FUTURES Committee Report. Already your grantmaking is in full swing across the state, scholarships are active, and our affiliate calendar is full of events, meetings, trainings and presentations.
Happy New Year!
It’s spring, and that means grant season at the North Carolina Community Foundation. Here in the southeast we’ve got six affiliate grant cycles in full swing, so I’m polishing my reading glasses and preparing grant committee members for the annual cascade of applications.
Since the Foundation’s grant application process is simple and the criteria relatively broad, we receive proposals from many small nonprofits that might not have a lot of experience preparing grant applications. Our online grant application system and instruction modules provide a great foundation in grantwriting basics, and we are always happy to answer questions about a proposal or the process.
Over the past five years I’ve read more than 500 grant applications, and from that experience I’ve developed five questions for grantwriters who call for advice. Some of these questions may seem kind of obvious, but even the best writers benefit when they remember the basics!
- Did you read the instructions and grant criteria? If application deadline is April 30, don’t plan on submitting the application on May 1. If the criteria says “grant awards typically range from $250 to $2,000,” do not submit a proposal for $35,000. So far this spring I’ve received applications for $25,000 and $35,000. Seriously.
- Is your paperwork in order? Community foundations may only make grants to 501(c)3 public charities, faith-based institutions like churches, and government agencies such as schools and libraries. If your organization is a public charity, it must be in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service. If your organization has received a grant from NCCF, it must have completed all of its reports in order to apply for another grant. If you aren’t sure if your organization is eligible, call.
- Does your project description make sense? A project description that is crystal clear to a grantwriter may sound like a foreign language to a grant committee member – especially if the explanation is full of jargon and acronyms. Ask someone who isn’t familiar with your organization to read the application – well before the deadline - and take their feedback to heart.
- Do your numbers add up? The Foundation requires a project budget for every proposal and an organizational budget for every applicant. Nothing will hurt your chances more than sloppy numbers.
- Have you set aside time to proofread? Successful, well-run organizations pay attention to detail, so spelling errors, poor grammar and bad math are not just unprofessional; they can doom an otherwise good proposal in a competitive grant environment.
Make sure you set aside enough time to answer all these questions, and you will be well on your way to submitting a successful grant proposal.
As my term as your NCCF board chair winds down, it is natural for my thoughts to turn to where we have been. I resist that tendency, however, and usually prefer to consider where we are going.
When I became chair in 2009, there was much unease, even fear. Not long before, Lehman Brothers had collapsed, and our own Wachovia Bank stumbled. The crisis was upon us; fear and trembling were palpable everywhere, and meetings of the NCCF Executive and Finance Committees provided no exception. But, we stayed the course and now, with the DOW having doubled, the steadiness and foresight of NCCF’s Committees and the Board are vindicated. We are stronger financially.
More than that, we are stronger in our resolve.
The Board and its Committees, with staff, rather than retreating, advanced with budgeting, planning, working on strategies, aiming for the future. Those efforts, that focus, will not end with the FUTURES Committee work about to be promulgated, but will continue for the future. Those efforts, that focus, will ensure the continued growth and success of our philanthropy with a rural and local focus.
Our affiliates are today stronger than ever. The kernel of genius our founder could see has now come to full flower. Local philanthropy is now a significant force for good in North Carolina, through a combination of efforts. A very large part of that effort is the work of the affiliates – local work for local good.
The Foundation has changed as North Carolina has changed. And change it must to remain relevant to donors, to serve communities as changing demographics and economies alter the landscape. In many ways, the view from the Foundation is like watching the forest turn to fields, hills turn to plains -- outside the window of a train that travels faster with each passing year.
While the Foundation has matured and has become much more technologically sophisticated, has adapted to respond to new donor concerns and directions, its focus has stayed the same – local philanthropy for local good, focusing on rural North Carolina.
Our Board is stronger than in the past; certainly it is more collegial, more engaged, more attuned to what makes the Foundation a success, what will drive it to achieve its greatest potential. Staff, under the leadership of a strong and visionary CEO, has achieved a new level of responsiveness and activity.
We are a Foundation on the move. Lewis R. Holding saw 25 years ago the great need for community philanthropy, the great good that this Foundation could do. From that seed the sapling has now grown to a tree. That tree will become a mighty oak, an even greater force for charity – for scholarships, donor advised funds, field of interest funds in a thousand different locales with a thousand different beneficial interests. That oak will grow and flourish under new and younger leadership, with ever greater passion for excellence.
The hope, the dream, the future, are here. The genius that gave birth to this Foundation has matured with innovation, effort, dedication, enthusiasm. That maturing genius will surely see the Foundation grow exponentially as the good it can do grows with it. The good our Foundation can do will never outrun the need, but we shall give it a good race. That is our heritage.
Spring is officially here today, and with spring comes many promises. It is a time of packages arriving in the mail. Each one is filled with the hopes and dreams of scholarship applicants, seeking financial help to set them on their next path to academic opportunity. Sometimes the letters from the students touch me and our scholarship committee members to our core, others are so uplifting and brimming with dreams.
The scholarship committees will begin meeting shortly after the close of the application season, and every page of each student’s application will be carefully read by every committee member. Each scholarship awarded is carefully matched to the fund’s criteria, and we are excited to be able to fulfill some of the dreams that students share with us. We always wish there was more that could be done for each student who applies.
More packages will begin arriving in just a few weeks from nonprofit organizations seeking grants to help them provide much needed services and programs in our communities. These also are full of hopes and dreams of a slightly different nature than those of the students, but just as compelling for our attention and support.
Spring is also a time farmers are in the fields planting spring crops, and I head to my garden to do the same. I am reminded often that the work of our many donors and volunteers who help with so many important services are all helping to grow the financial seeds for future needs. A new seed just popped up yesterday from a donor, and this new scholarship opportunity will help a new graduating senior reach for a dream and academic goals. Spring can be so full of promises!
When I was about ten years old I remember going with my Dad to his office sometimes on a Saturday. He had lots to catch up on a weekend; I enjoyed spending time with him. It also felt pretty cool to go to an office, and I sat behind his desk pretending I was at work, doing what at the time seemed like work things -- pushing papers around, sharpening pencils and taking notes on a small pad.
If I am honest, my favorite part was that my Dad would give me some money so I could go to the vending machines and buy something to eat. My favorite machine dispensed sandwiches that somehow I just found fascinating -- wrapped triangle cut sandwiches -- all sorts of different types. It revolved, and it must have been refrigerated as I clearly remember egg salad as one of the choices!
Coming to the NCCF office feels like a bit of a treat. I am not traveling until Friday this week, so much of my time will be in the office -- and not pushing around papers and sharpening pencils. It is a busy time of year. Our fiscal year is coming to an end, so there is a flurry of activity around starting a new year and closing out last year. Our statewide board meets next week, and we’ll elect our new chairman, approve the FUTURES Committee report as well as review our budget, approve some policy changes and review our grantmaking recommendations. Our finance committee meets next week, and grants committee met last week! We recently held a session on some technology upgrades we are planning for this next year. On Thursday and Friday our community leadership staff was all in the area at a retreat, planning and sharing information. Scholarships are underway, and our affiliate grantmaking kicked off two weeks ago. Grant requests are in full swing.
It is a busy time here at NCCF; no time for pushing papers around! Just wish we had a vending machine that dispenses sandwiches! Often no time for lunch!
Lately there’s been an uptick in the number of invitations to meet with folks who are deeply concerned about unmet needs in their local community, hometown, birthplace, that small town that touches their heart. And they are thinking about their legacy, questioning how they can make a difference.
For those of us lucky enough to grow up in rural communities and small towns all across North Carolina, we readily know an answer to that question -- we think of our local needs often, sometimes with concern, sometimes with uncertainty. But in the 67 counties, many rural, mostly small towns, that the North Carolina Community Foundation serves, we offer solutions through our philanthropic services, our grantmaking programs and our community leadership initiatives.
Partnered with our donors, fundholders and community volunteers we make a difference every day. Some would say that there is no better gift to a community than unrestricted grantmaking endowments, or donor advised funds, scholarships. What do all of these have in common? They can support our NC communities, now and in the future.
These funds, endowment funds, energize local support and remind me of small engines, churning along, moving forward, creating energy, supporting change. Even in times of uncertainty, our endowment funds can continue to support needs in your community.
If you, like so many of the folks I meet with in North Carolina, are seriously thinking about the needs in your community, consider a gift to an endowment, consider creating an endowment, or consider a legacy gift to an endowment. The needs will be present, and with your philanthropic interest, you can be a part of the solution in so many of our communities.
One last thought. Who among us is capable of such support of local need? The answer is truly anyone. Just in the past few weeks, we have spoken with families, individuals, foundations and companies who are looking for solutions to meet local needs -- and they are learning about the many flexible opportunities that exist in making the gift of endowment in their communities. It’s happening in North Carolina today!
When I was in seventh grade I received a small package in the mail that contained a locket with my name on it. There was not a card or note attached, and the package had a return address of Bazooka Bubble Gum. At that time, you could collect the comics inside the bubble gum and send away for a prize or gift.
Although I asked everyone I knew, no one ever claimed responsibility. I never knew who sent this to me. A secret admirer? I loved to think about who it might be. To this day many, many years later I still have the locket in my jewelry box. I never wear it, but it is a reminder to me about the power of anonymous giving.
What a selfless act -- the anonymous gift. We have donors here at the Foundation who prefer to stay anonymous and truly anonymous -- no mention of their names anywhere, not in our annual report, not in the letter to the grantee, not on walls or plaques. What a powerful way to embrace philanthropy!
And even if someone’s name is known, many of the gifts made through our work are truly anonymous. Examples abound: Those scholarship recipients who never get to meet the generous donor who is making a difference in their daily lives. Those gifts to organizations that are able to help more families, but whose clients never know who is helping to make it possible. The members of our giving circles who work together to make one gift to a charitable cause.
The concept of “random acts of kindness” is one of those anonymous gestures. We have heard about the donors who play “Santa Claus” over the holidays, giving out $100 bills at local shopping centers or paying off someone’s layaway. And then there are smaller gifts, like the person in line who pays for your coffee. Someone you have never even met reaches out with generosity or stops to help a stranger.
I would like to be more like this kind of person. I aspire to be someone who does kind things for others without an expectation of appreciation or recognition. What if we all tried to do something each week in this way? If you decide to give it a try let me know. I promise to keep your name out of it!
It's Valentine’s week, and we're all thinking about the people and the things that we hold dear. If you have visited and explored this website at length, you have probably seen a picture of a little boy and girl holding bags of coins. That little boy happens to be my son Brailey and the little girl is his good friend Morgan.
That picture was taken five years ago when Brailey and Morgan were in second grade. I had been with the Foundation for a little under a year at the time and decided to work with my son’s school on a project for National Philanthropy Day. The kids collected coins for one week and then made decisions on where to allocate their funds. They had a great time doing it, and I was able to capture this photo of Brailey and Morgan with some of the change. The picture and the story became an office favorite and has been on our website ever since as an iconic image of our goal to get youth involved in philanthropy.
Fast forward five years… This past week, Brailey and Morgan were both inducted into the National Junior Beta Club at G.R. Edwards Middle School in Rocky Mount, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. In addition to maintaining a high scholastic record, members of the National Junior Beta Club have to commit to civic service activities.
They have hosted food drives, volunteered at church, a local vet, a school, helped with a sock drive for our homeless shelter and assisted with a holiday party for disabled children.
Brailey and Morgan are both interested in attending the Early College High School. My hope is that I can share another update when they are ready to head off to their chosen colleges. Morgan is interested in Marine Biology and Brailey wants to pursue Green Engineering.
I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I’m excited to announce the creation of the Foundation’s Green Team, our first-ever! And I am honored to serve as team captain.
Many of us on the Foundation’s staff share a passion for environmental causes. And, through our grantmaking programs, our Community Leadership team supports a host of environmental initiatives and conservation projects. Since 1992 we’ve provided annual grants totalling over $90,000 to the nonprofit organization Keep North Carolina Beautiful for environmental education, litter prevention, waste reduction, and statewide beautification projects. One of our newest endowments for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail helps maintain 900+ miles of footpaths and bike routes across the state. And, through our partnership with Currituck-Dare Community Foundation, we’ve provided thousands of dollars in grants to support our coastal state parks, endangered sea turtles, wild horses, and even dolphin research on the Outer Banks.
Of course grantmaking isn’t the only way we can support the environment. Though many individuals on our staff are already recycling, carpooling, minimizing waste, and buying local, we’ve never discussed how we can work together as a team to minimize our collective footprint.
At our Green Team kick-off meeting last week, we decided that our first step will be to raise awareness and promote staff collaboration.
Over the coming months, we will embark on a journey to institutionalize our sustainability practices. We would love to hear from you, our loyal readers in the blogosphere. Have you “gone green” at your workplace? How did you get started? What challenges did you face?
NCCF’s new Green Team has representatives from Communications, IT, Finance, and Community Leadership.
(L-R): Lori Johnson, Patrick Callahan, Kelly Lee, Sandi Matthews and Mary Anne Howard.