Creating endowed assets to fight poverty

Former statewide Board Member Horace Stacy Jr. passed away in 2015. This feature was from our 25th anniversary collection of profiles about some of the people who made an impact on NCCF’s development and progress.

Robeson County’s per-capita income near ranks the bottom among the North Carolina’s 100 counties, with one of the highest unemployment rates.

Poverty has created big challenges for the county, while preventing it from accessing some 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 access better education and to help our county dig out of poverty,” said 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 said.

The Robeson County Community Foundation, with a number of endowment funds under its umbrella, has total assets valued at more than $1 million as of Dec. 31, 2023.

RCCF has awarded more than $100,000 in grants to local nonprofits from its community grantmaking fund, including $15,000 it distributed in 2013.

Additional grants are made each year from 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 said.

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

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 said. “We wanted them to know we wanted to help them.”

Among the projects the affiliate’s grants have supported are 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 said, it still faces challenges in building its unrestricted endowment.

In a county with lower per-capita income, and a racially diverse population, the affiliate needs a strong board with members who represent the community, can tell the affiliate’s story and enlist new donors to work together to address challenges and issues in the county.

“The potential is unlimited if we can get the right leadership and corral enough money for endowments,” he said. “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 said

“You don’t have to hire a director or spend any money to get your foundation started,” he said. “The North Carolina Community Foundation guides you. They handle all the finances and invest all the funds. They just do everything. And they do it right.”