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TOP STORY OF THE YEAR: Endowment Gets To Work

By Johanna F. Still, posted Dec 16, 2022
William Buster started in his role as head of the New Hanover Communit Endowment in March. (Photo by Madeline Gray)

The New Hanover Community Endowment officially formalized in 2022 and ended the year dolling out more than $9 million in its inaugural grant cycle.

Formed by the February 2021 sale of the once-county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health, the community endowment spent much of the year taking shape.

Bestowed $1.25 billion in hospital sale proceeds, the endowment gained its first leader in William Buster, the Asheville-based Dogwood Health Trust’s former senior vice president of impact. Buster got started in March, working with a 13-member board of directors.

After narrowing down grant criteria earlier in the year, endowment officials opened applications in September and reviewed nearly 300 grant proposals. 

More than 100 area organizations received one-time funds. Announced Dec. 9, grant recipients include representatives from a wide range of community organizations in the area’s nonprofit sector and public agencies. 

Incoming board chair Bill Cameron said at the announcement that the endowment’s role is to make existing organizations stronger and more effective. 

“My hope is nonprofits that received grants in this cycle are now better equipped to achieve transformational change within their individual spheres of influence in our community,” he said.

Grants address the endowment’s four buckets of community initiatives, established by New Hanover County: community safety; health and social equity; education; and community development. Each awardee was required to have physical office space in New Hanover County, have been in operation for at least two years and provide services in the county. Awards couldn’t exceed 25% of an organization’s operating budget or $250,000, whichever is less. 

Each year, the endowment intends to administer funds via up to two grant cycles. It can disperse up to 4% of its total market value annual. 

Initially, the fund started off at around $1.25 billion, but after this year’s tumultuous market, it tumbled about 10% to $1.1 billion. Endowment officials tapped BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, as its sole investment adviser in October. Fund representatives said they intended to diversify the endowment’s portfolio and invest in assets in alternative private strategies that are less dependent on public market conditions.

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