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OPINION: Transformation Starts With The First Step

By William Buster, posted Jan 24, 2024
William Buster
We live in a world of sprinters, but philanthropy is a slow and deliberate process. The secret is once you take a step, don’t stop. 

Last year, we made our first strategic step when the New Hanover Community Endowment deployed more than $53 million in philanthropic support in New Hanover County over the next three years. The $53 million will be invested in 19 strategic grants in New Hanover County focused on improving the health care workforce pipeline, enhancing early childhood education and addressing health access.

It's true these grants went to large institutions. 
 
And each one supported folks who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to fulfill their dreams. Take for instance the support for the community college and the school system to help fill our nursing gap. About 40% of students in Cape Fear Community College’s nursing program fall short because they lack a car or reliable child care. These obstacles force them out instead of training for their dream job. Our grant invests in wrap around services to overcome these challenges because postsecondary education shouldn’t be a luxury.
 
But we can’t just invest in large organizations. The Endowment also awarded $1.4 million to 14 organizations with one-year, nonrenewable grants that support programs such as elder care, literacy and youth violence prevention. 
 
Our hope is these one-year grants grow into multi-year opportunities and eventually solutions because in 2024 it is imperative we support smaller nonprofits. These organizations play a vital role in providing personalized, community-specific support. But they lack the ability to scale their solutions. If we’re going to make an impact, we must leverage every good idea. That starts with us creating a space where our partners can share best practices and find pathways to solutions. 
 
Grant dollars are just one tool. To achieve transformational solutions, we need to use every tool at our disposal. We’re going to convene around issues like affordable housing and sectors like health equity in hopes of finding ways to leverage the work being done in our community. We want to bridge the strengths of both large and small nonprofits for a more comprehensive and inclusive community development strategy, in addition to helping build capacity so the best ideas can scale.

The 2023 grant cycle was a big first step in a county that hasn’t historically benefitted from big philanthropic giving. But in the overall scheme, this is just the first step. Transformation demands patience, intentionality, collaboration and trust-building. We’re still in the beginning of the beginning, and we have the resources and talent to overcome any challenge together.

And we’ll do it, one step at a time.

William Buster is the first CEO and president of the New Hanover Community Endowment, a $1 billion-plus fund created from the sale of county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health. Prior to joining the Endowment, Buster spent 20 years in various leadership roles within the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Dogwood Health Trust, the St. David’s Foundation and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

Editor’s note: The Business Journal runs Op-Eds about topics of local news interest. To submit an opinion column for consideration, email [email protected].
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