Billy Woodard: Banker yields return on investment in community

By Todd Cohen; this 2011 interview is excerpted with permission of the Philanthropy Journal

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. -- Whether to improve his community, build his business or serve the causes he cares about, Billy T. Woodard has banked on the value of helping people help themselves. He learned that lesson in 1940, at age 10, when his school bus in rural northern Johnston County dropped off three children at the ashes of what had been their home.

To help the now-homeless family, Woodard's neighbors, most of them tenant farmers like his parents, gave food, clothing, a place to sleep and what little cash they had. "I learned it was rewarding to share with other people," says Woodard, chairman of Fidelity Bank in Fuquay-Varina. "That was the thing that you should remember in life."

Career in banking

Encouraged by his high-school math teacher, Woodard applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, becoming the first person in his family to go to college.

After graduating with a business degree, he got a job at First Citizens Bank, which was at the time was based in Smithfield. He later worked at Bank of Biscoe, and in 1977 was named president of Fidelity Bank. 

Community philanthropy

Community philanthropy, Woodard says, was fundamental to the corporate culture at First Citizens and at Fidelity Bank, both controlled by the Holding family.

"We would give back to the communities through serving in clubs and volunteering," he says. "And the bank gave to charities."

In the 1980s, the late Lewis R. "Snow" Holding, First Citizens' CEO began talking to Woodard about wanting to create a foundation that rural residents could use to pool funds and then help decide how to invest those dollars to address local needs.

"The idea was to allow people of all means to make contributions to their communities," Woodard says.

Holding asked Woodard to help enlist founding donors for local affiliates the new North Carolina Community Foundation wanted to create in Granville, Harnett, Hoke, Montgomery and Moore counties.

Operating endowment

The foundation handles administrative services for affiliates, and Woodard has worked to raise endowment support for operating costs such as salaries and legal and accounting services.

Several banks supported creation of the operating endowment, and Woodard himself has made several personal contributions to it.

The vision

The idea for the foundation was to help local communities create local endowments that would grow over time, using investment income to make grants while creating a permanent source of funds to support local causes, Woodard says. Holding "was more interested in looking at what people could do to help themselves," he says.

Woodard, who has served on the foundation's statewide board since its inception in 1993 and as its secretary [until March 2013], received the Lewis R. Holding Philanthropic Leadership Award in 2010 for exceptional volunteer leadership resulting in outstanding stewardship and growth. "Philanthropy is just helping others," he says. "You should share what you have. There are people around you that need help. Through philanthropy, you can help." 

(To watch the video interview with Billy Woodard, click here.)