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With Listening Sessions Complete, New Hanover Endowment Looks Ahead

By Johanna F. Still, posted Dec 2, 2021
Sixty people, many leaders in the county’s nonprofit scene, turned out to tell the New Hanover Community Endowment Inc. about their greatest needs this week. Forty more sat in the audience to observe.  

For nearly three hours, endowment board members heard speakers address them in three-minute increments late Wednesday afternoon as themes began to emerge: the need for affordable housing, language equity, youth programs, after-school care and more. 

It was the second of a pair of listening sessions for the endowment, created from the sale of the once county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health, which closed in February. The close transferred more than $1 billion – the bulk of the sale proceeds – into a new private endowment, chaired by 13 community members. 

Turnout was more substantial at Wednesday’s session after 25-30 speakers showed for the first listening session last month.

“The enormity of the opportunity just continues to get hammered home,” endowment Chair Spence Broadhurst said in an interview Thursday morning. Broadhurst left the second session with the sense that “money doesn’t solve everything,” he said.  

“There's got to be more than money if this thing's really going to work,” he said, pointing to the need to invest in human capital.

As part of the sale, New Hanover County tasked the endowment to focus its grantmaking efforts on four categories: education; health and social equity; public safety; and community development.

Representatives from a range of organizations shared their ideas and struggles with the board, which sits on the largest pot of charitable funds the community has ever seen. 

“My takeaway was we have an incredible nonprofit service sector that is doing remarkable things with few resources,” endowment Vice Chair Hannah Dawson Gage said. “I don't think I realized how vast the network was, which ultimately, is what's going to move the community forward. We're just the catalyst for those things.”

Leaders from the area’s largest institutions – including the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College – and big and small nonprofits alike told the endowment how it could act to improve the community.

Some proposals were straightforward: After-school programs need more vans; the county needs bilingual 911 operators and more culturally trained emergency personnel. Other problems mentioned didn’t have quick solutions. 

“Some of these comments and suggestions and ideas are very detailed,” Broadhurst said. “And so our real opportunity is to take those narrow details and incorporate them up into a strategic direction.” 

The endowment board will use the information shared in the listening sessions to inform its criteria when selecting a community advisory committee, another requirement of the hospital sale. Gage said the sessions will help the board shape which voices are necessary to be represented on the committee. 

This group will be responsible for producing proposed grantmaking criteria, which the endowment will later approve and publish publicly. Final grant criteria approval is tentatively set for July 2022 and the first grants could be approved by November 2022. 

Before any of that happens, the endowment still has to select a CEO – a nationwide search that remains underway. The group had a goal of naming a CEO this month, which Broadhurst said may or may not happen. 

“There's no one like us,” he said of the endowment, one of the largest per capita legacy foundations in the country. “We're just very unique and in a very positive, powerful way. So it's going to take a unique, positive, powerful leader to lead this organization, and we are committed to taking as much time as it takes to get the right fit to do that.”

Work on forming the advisory committee will begin after a CEO is named, according to Gage.

“We're being persnickety, we really are, because we have the luxury of being able to do that,” Broadhurst said.

Broadhurst and Gage will talk more about the endowment's next steps at the Dec. 14 Power Breakfast. Info: wilmingtonpowerbreakfast.com
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