Much needs to be accomplished between now and early next year to make the New Hanover Community Endowment’s first grants possible, according to officials with the private charitable nonprofit.
Leaders of the now $1.29-billion community endowment created through the sale of county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health recently sought the public’s advice as they head into their second full year of operations.
With an initial investment policy in place, the endowment’s directors hope to choose the group’s first president and CEO by the end of this year and to have a new community advisory committee in place by March. With guidance from the advisory committee and direction from the endowment’s new CEO, New Hanover Community Endowment’s growing team will begin to recruit staff, develop and announce preliminary grant criteria and start accepting grant applications next September, with the first grants made in November 2022, officials said.
To find its new CEO, New Hanover Community Endowment (NHCE) hired BoardWalk Consulting, a national executive recruiting firm based in Atlanta.
In a July CEO leadership profile sent to targeted prospects, Board- Walk described Wilmington and New Hanover County as a “highly attractive region with entrenched social issues” but with a “major new philanthropic force determined to develop creative, even transformative solutions in active partnership with the community.”
The ideal CEO candidate, BoardWalk said, would have “the benefit of having been tested in publicly visible environments, delivering progress against bold ambitions with a minimum of drama.”
“Hundreds of contacts” were made in BoardWalk’s outreach efforts, said Spence Broadhurst, the board’s chair and president of First National Bank’s Eastern North Carolina Region, adding that the endowment now has a “manageable number” of candidates.
“We are now in the process of having conversations at different levels,” and the board hopes to make its final selection this year, he said.
Citing BoardWalk’s description of ideal candidates, Hannah Gage, NHCE’s board vice chair, said that foregoing “short-term comfort or easy choices” will be one of the endowment’s bedrock practices once its CEO comes on board.
Throughout this year, the endowment’s leadership has met with the officers of in-state philanthropic organizations such as The Duke Endowment, Golden LEAF Foundation and Dogwood Health Trust to discern best practices in making grants, Gage said.
At one such session, Gage said, “they were talking about grantmaking and the shift from responsive grantmaking to strategic grantmaking.
“That was something that over the last few years has been a dramatic change, and Rhett Mabry said ‘If you don’t fail 20% of the time with your grantmaking, you’re not doing your job,’” Gage quoted Duke Endowment’s president as saying.
“His point was, if you want to have a major impact in the four areas [education; health and social equity; public safety; and community development] that we’re focused on, then to push the envelope, you’re going to fail,” Gage said. “It’s going to mean collaborating with organizations that may not have huge capacity; that may not have been around for 50 years, but they have an interesting idea that you think will move the needle.”
Advice also came from Ret Boney, executive director of the N.C. Network of Grantmakers.
“She said, ‘You’ll hear a lot of people talk about what the grantmaking applications should look like, but the best advice I can give you is make it easy; make it simple. Don’t make these small organizations that don’t have a lot of capacity jump through a zillion hoops,’” Gage said. “And I thought that was good advice.”
The endowment board recently held the first of two “listening sessions” so the public could express their opinions on how the organization should go about making millions of dollars of grants each year.
The first was on Oct. 26 at the Wilmington Convention Center. The second is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. on Dec. 1 at a venue to be determined as of press time. The endowment is projected to issue $50 million or more each year for projects that address NHCE’s designated areas of community need.
“We’re there to listen, not answer questions. We really want input. We want ideas, thoughts, direction,” Broadhurst said, emphasizing that the sessions were not intended to be a platform for people to request grants.
Since NHCE came into being in October 2020, leadership has been mostly focused on organizational, legal and financial issues in anticipation of selecting its first CEO, building staff and structuring a process for making grants.
The endowment now acts as steward for $1.296 billion, up $52.8 million from the original amount it received in February of this year at the close of the hospital sale. The additional funds were received by NHCE as the result of a settlement of a sale-related escrow account.
Going forward, no more than 4% of the endowment assets’ average net fair market value as defined in the group’s bylaws can be drawn down annually and used for grants. For now, the nearly $1.3 billion is being transferred incrementally into a conservative equities index fund, Broadhurst said. Requests for proposals from potential investment managers on how to invest the holdings long term should go out late this year or early next, Broadhurst added.
Individuals can sign up to speak at the Dec. 1 event at nhcendowment. com/get-involved. Those unable to attend the event can leave a written comment. The sessions will be streamed live on NHCTV.