Creating endowed assets to fight poverty

Editor's note: Former statewide Board Member Horace Stacy Jr. passed away in 2015. This feature is from our 25th anniversary collection of profiles about some of the people who had a big impact on NCCF's development and progress.

Robeson County is one of North Carolina's poorest counties, with per-capita income near the bottom among the state's 100 counties and unemployment near the top.

Poverty has created big challenges for the county while starving it of the resources needed to try to help address those problems.

"We need and have needed, for a long time, some way to help all of our residents to get better educated and find some way to dig out of this poverty," says Horace Stacy Jr., a native of Lumberton, the county seat, who retired in January 2013 after practicing law for 56 years at McLean & Stacy, a Lumberton firm that traces its roots to 1840.

To help build philanthropic assets that could be invested in local causes, Stacy and others spearheaded the formation of the Robeson County Community Foundation in 2005 as an affiliate of the North Carolina Community Foundation.

"This seemed to be one way we could begin a small step or two to get people interested in giving money to help us support all the organizations in the county that needed support," Stacy says.

The Robeson County foundation now has 18 funds under its umbrella, with total assets valued at $608,000 at June 30, 2013.

The Foundation has made a total $27,000 in grants to local nonprofits from its unrestricted endowment fund, including $7,600 it distributed in 2013.

Additional grants are made each year from "restricted" funds created to support particular charitable causes or organizations in Robeson County.

Connecting to NCCF

The foundation grew out of initial efforts by Stacy and Gayle Fernandez, executive director of the Robeson County Community Development Corporation.

At the time, Stacy says, he was not familiar with NCCF. But he did know Mary Holmes, president of the Cumberland Community Foundation in Fayetteville, who suggested he and Fernandez talk to NCCF. So they contacted Elizabeth Fentress, who at the time served as NCCF’s founding executive director.

Getting started

The first step in setting up the Robeson County affiliate, Stacy says, was to find a chairman for the local board.

Stacy recruited Jim Byrne, who had retired as senior vice president of Lumberton-based Southern National Bank, which Stacy's law firm had served as general counsel before the bank merged with BB&T and moved to Winston-Salem.

Stacy, Byrne and others, in turn, recruited members for the affiliate's board of directors.

The job of board members would be to raise awareness about the new affiliate foundation and eventually to encourage donors to create funds to support local causes.

A key visit that Stacy and Byrne made was to see Rob Greene, who was a senior vice president at BB&T.

The bank agreed to give $100,000 to the new foundation over five years to honor Hector MacLean, a former president of Southern National who died in December 2012.

"That's when we really got started," Stacy says.

The gift was particularly important because income from the fund was "unrestricted," meaning the income could be used for any charitable purpose selected by the affiliate's board.

Creating endowments

The affiliate initially worked with Beth Boney Jenkins, who at the time was a regional associate serving NCCF’s southeastern counties. She is now the Foundation's vice president of development.

An early goal was to recruit donors who created endowments for the Robeson County Public Library, Robeson Community College Foundation and Southeastern Regional Medical Center Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, among others.

"We wanted those people who had foundations to know that we were not their enemy and were not  trying to steal their donors," Stacy  says. "We wanted them to know we wanted to help them."

The affiliate in 2012 awarded grants from its unrestricted endowment to nine organizations.

Among the projects those grants supported were a weekend food program through Communities in Schools of Robeson County; a food and nutrition program through the Robeson County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension; a senior citizen art program through the Pembroke Housing Authority; a summer enrichment camp at Robeson Health Care Corporation; operating support for the Robeson County Committee on Domestic Violence and a seniors program for the Town of Fairmont.

Lessons learned

While the affiliate has grown and become better known, Stacy says, it still faces challenges in building its unrestricted endowment.

It raises money through an annual Phantom Ball, a direct-mail appeal Stacy initiated that generated $7,000 in unrestricted donations in 2012.

But in a poor county with a diverse population that includes heavy concentrations of Lumbee Indians and African Americans, he says, the affiliate needs a strong board with members who can tell the affiliate's story and enlist new donors to help address the county's problems.

"The potential is unlimited if we can get the right leadership and corral enough money for endowments to make a real dent in this county," he says. "But it's a long process."

A core value the North Carolina Community Foundation adds to philanthropy is to give donors in rural counties "all the governance and guidance they need," Stacy says.

"You don't have to hire a director or spend any money to get your foundation started," he says. "The North Carolina Community Foundation guides you and holds your hand and writes thank-you notes. They handle all the finances and invest all the funds. They just do everything. And they do it right."