Voices of Philanthropy featuring Preservation North Carolina President Myrick Howard

For the past 42 years, Myrick Howard has been leading Preservation North Carolina. An early NCCF fundholder, PNC has rescued more than 800 old, interesting, historic, sometimes abandoned, but always important properties. There’s a story behind each one and PNC is committed to telling it.

Preservation North Carolina's new headquarters in the Hall and Graves-Fields House in Oberlin, an African American community founded near Raleigh after the Civil War. Photo credit: Jim Lamb, Capital City Camera Club.

Tell us about your organization.

Our organization actually dates back to 1939, but over the past 40 years we’ve had a pretty strong niche in working to save historic properties through acquisition and resale. We’re referred to as a revolving fund. We find properties and buy them and sell them to buyers.

You could call us the animal shelter for historic buildings. The analogy works perfectly because we don’t want to keep these dogs and cats, instead we want someone else to take them and love them. As is often the case with our work, these buildings would probably be lost without our involvement.

Many of the buildings we work with are vacant or condemned, but all hold significance in one form or another. Often, they are eligible for the National Registration of Historical Places.

Of course, we are heavily involved in education about historic preservation. We hold an annual conference. Naturally, it will be virtual again this year. We recognize important work through our awards program and offer publications and virtual programs throughout the year.

One thing many folks don’t know is we moved our offices a number of times to save local buildings. We’re actually in our fifth such office now.

What has your organization’s relationship with NCCF been like throughout the years?

We were pretty early in establishing our first endowment with NCCF. We founded our first fund in 1992, and have started several additional funds since then.

It was a big decision for our board to put the endowment with NCCF.

We had an endowment, and quite frankly, from my standpoint, I was so happy to put it in the hands of somebody else to manage.

One of the nonprofit executive director nightmares is having that investment committee where everyone has their own opinion about how it should be done.

So, I was really pleased to make that change.

We all know of some pretty significant North Carolina intuitions that burned through their endowments on a rainy day. I wanted ours to be truly permanent.

How has having an agency endowment benefitted Preservation NC?

It is very helpful to have a reliable source of income from those endowments to fill the gap in fundraising for our operations.

The funds from our endowment at this point are about 6-7% of our annual operating budget.

Our goal is to increase the endowment which will allow us to do even more.

How do you approach long-term thinking and perpetuity?

Our organization has that as a part of its DNA. We deal daily with historic buildings we’re working to save and make sure are preserved in perpetuity.

I’m hoping that as long as I’m in this position, and for folks in my position in the future, PNC continue to build the funds so that there is permeance for the organization.

Bellamy Mansion, Wilmington. Photo credit: David Strevel, Capital City Camera Club.

How do you think about equity and justice in your work?

We have been active on equity and justice issues for decades. Equity and justice has been an integral part of our work.

In the 1980s, we did a major book on North Carolina architecture and we did everything we could to try and make sure the story was inclusive, not just of buildings like Black churches and HBCUs, but also of Black builders who helped build landmarks across NC. We’ve had programs on Black architects and builders in North Carolina.

In the early-90s when we stared working with the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, we made a real point of trying to tell the whole story. The site has several things that are off the chart unique. It has urban slave quarters still in existence. Very few of those exist across the country. We’ve made it a major part of our programming and interpretation. It cost almost as much to restore the slave quarters as the mansion. Two state historic markers are related to the Bellamy Mansion and both are for enslaved people, not the white owners. We’re able to tell an amazing story and we’ve been able to tell that story with the support of the white family. They have generously contributed funds for a maintenance endowment, which is critical to the sustainability of the museum.

Additionally, we’ve now moved our offices to Oberlin Village, the former freedman’s community. Not enough has been documented about these African American communities throughout history. There were several in Raleigh, and the largest was Oberlin. We renovated two homes in Oberlin Village to house our offices. We’re working to do a program on the significance of this history.

We’ve tried really hard to make sure the story we’re telling is honest and inclusive.

What do you say to other agencies that may be considering endowments?

Endowments are tough money to raise but are an excellent way of trying to get people to support you through planned giving.

By placing the funds at a community foundation like NCCF, you’re letting a donor know you’re serious about it.

It’s permanent and will be professionally managed with a strong wall placed between the agency and the funds, which I believe is really important.

I hope we can continue to work on building our endowment because it provides a base of income so you start the year off knowing you have at least a certain amount coming in every year.

The more you can add to the endowment, the more you can do with confidence.

Click here to support the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina Endowment.