One day in 1999, when his assistant told him, "Mr. Holding is on the line for you," Steve Wangerin assumed she meant Frank B. Holding Jr., who had been his boss in Charlotte at First Citizens Bank and now is the bank's chairman and CEO.

But when his assistant corrected him, saying it was "the chairman" on the line, Wangerin, then First Citizens' area vice president in Jacksonville, realized it was Lewis R. "Snow" Holding, at the time the bank's chairman and CEO (now deceased).

Holding was calling to ask Wangerin to meet with a local lawyer and the owner of local Burger King franchises to talk about starting a local affiliate of the North Carolina Community Foundation.

Getting started

As a result of Holding's phone call, Wangerin met with Rod Martin, a First Citizens client who owns Burger King franchises, and with Ron von Lembke, then a lawyer with the firm of Ward & Smith and now chief of staff for the United Water and Sanitation District in Greenwood Village, Colo. The three met and identified about 10 community leaders and others who might serve on the new affiliate's founding board. 

The affiliate, known as the Onslow Caring Communities Foundation, was launched in 2000, and most of the members of the founding board still are serving, says Wangerin, who was named board chair about six years ago, succeeding Martin after he joined the statewide board of NCCF.

Building capacity

The Onslow County affiliate has built total assets of $4.42 million, including an unrestricted endowment of $270,000, and has made grants totaling $168,000 from the unrestricted endowment. Grantmaking initially focused on helping to build the organizational and fundraising capacity of local nonprofits, says Wangerin, who is CEO of W.T. Humphrey Inc., a construction and real estate development firm in Jacksonville.

A lot of the early grants, for example, provided funds for professional education or training for nonprofit board members, executive directors or staff members to "build their capacity to raise money and sustain themselves," Wangerin says. Nonprofit representatives might attend workshops or training sessions at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville or other locations, or might purchase materials they could use to train themselves. 

"We felt like that was the way to involve nonprofits to help build their knowledge of endowments and sustainability," Wangerin says.

Building endowment

The Onslow affiliate also has made grants to seed endowments for local nonprofits.

For the past 11 years it has held a New Year's Day golfing event at the Jacksonville Country Club that typically nets $15,000 to $40,000. In the early years of the event, the affiliate used some of the funds it raised to establish endowments at nonprofits "to encourage them to begin adding to their endowments for their own sustainability," Wangerin says. It also used some of the funds to build its own community grantmaking endowment. 

Focus on youth

Funding for organizations that serve young people has been another focus of grants the Onslow affiliate has made. With seed money from founding board members Rod Martin and Johnny Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Automotive Group, the affiliate established the Onslow County Youth Fund. The Fund supports youth-oriented initiatives in the county, including HARMONY, a youth and philanthropy program for a youth council organized by the City of Jacksonville.

Based on grant requests the city submits, the fund provides financial support for instructors for the youth and philanthropy program, as well as dollars that program participants use to make grants to local charities. The idea, says Wangerin, is for participants to learn "how to be good stewards of money, what endowments are all about, why there are endowments and how to get through a grant cycle and distribute money."

The program also can provide a kind of feeder system for the Onslow affiliate. "We're hoping to grow some future leaders and people to be on our board," Wangerin says.

County needs

Most of the industry and business in Onslow County, which has a population of roughly 180,000 people, is generated by Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The Onslow Caring Communities Foundation supports a range of local causes serving Jacksonville as well as more rural parts of the county. It helped start endowments for the USO of North Carolina, Jacksonville Center, for United Way of Onslow County, for the Caring Community Clinic, for Onslow Community Ministries, now known as Onslow Community Outreach.

Planning for the future

As members of its board have retired, Onslow Caring Communities Foundation has looked for younger members, Wangerin says. "An ongoing challenge is to continue to develop the board and add some new blood to the group," he says. That effort includes trying to recruit members who live in some of the county's smaller communities and rural areas, he says. 

The affiliate holds social events and workshops to raise awareness about its work and impact. In the fall of 2012, for example, Kevin McConnell, a lawyer with the firm of Tisdale, McConnell & Bardill, presented a workshop on estate planning at the Jacksonville Country Club. And the affiliate partners with the City of Jacksonville and Coastal Carolina Community College to host an annual nonprofit roundtable and board training.

Wangerin says he would like to help build the affiliate's unrestricted endowment to $500,000 by 2018 so the grants it makes "become more and more meaningful, and we're seen as a leader in developing nonprofits." Reaching that goal, he says, will require hard work and patience. "It takes time and perseverance to grow endowments," he says.

For information about Onslow Caring Communities Foundation, please email Patricia Lawler, NCCF regional associate or call her at 910-509-7256.

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