NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Over a dozen nonprofits gathered in the Harrelson Center Tuesday evening to hear how much money would be allocated and criteria determined for the first round of grants the New Hanover County Endowment will be awarding by the end of the year.
CEO William Buster revealed the goal is to disburse up to $10 million from the $1.25-billion pot that was created from the sale of the county-owned New Hanover County Regional Center to Novant in February 2021.
It’s been a year and a half since the New Hanover County Endowment board began fleshing out parameters for this inaugural round of funding, according to chair Spence Broadhurst.
“We’ve been chipping away at this for about 18 months,” he said about the 13-member board who “knew very little about endowments and foundations and a little bit about nonprofits.”
“When William came on board, as I effectively said, we finally had an adult in the room that could kind of get us moving in the right direction,” Broadhurst added.
Buster was hired at the beginning of the year from Asheville’s Dogwood Health Trust, also tasked with creating an endowment from the Asheville Mission Health-HCA Healthcare deal in 2019. So far, Buster has been building his staffing team and 18-member Community Advisory Council, to hash out parameters for the endowment’s 2022 awards. He assured the process will be transparent, inclusive and a catalyst for transformative change.
“One of the things that we are being intentional about is making sure that we are reaching all aspects of this community,” Buster said at the meeting. “We do not want to be in a position where it’s one type of organization getting the resources.”
Referred to as “Cape Fear Opportunities and Needs Grants,” the cap on money given to each applicant this year is $250,000 or 25% of a nonprofit’s operating budget, whichever is less.
Applicants must hold a 501(c)(3) status; smaller organizations without the status would need to partner with a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor.
“I am a firm believer in helping organizations that are small grow and continue to do the work,” Buster said of grassroots efforts.
Yet, the organizations need to prove a two-year track record, and answer to how its work is being accomplished and show its impact on the community.
Fiscal sponsors representing smaller nonprofits can apply for an endowment grant as well.
“However, your organization has to be big enough to take on those grants,” Buster said, adding the 501(c)(3) is the authority of the funds. “Even though you are going to be subgranting, or giving money to another nonprofit, you are still responsible for that grant.”
Audited financial statements for the most recent fiscal year, two years of its operating budget, as well as an IRS form 990 are mandated as part of the process. Dylan Patterson from Theatre for All — a nonprofit that offers drama classes with a focus on scaling productions with people with disabilities — explained the organization doesn’t have audited financial statements.
“Do we need to scramble to get and pay for what might cost almost half what we would be awarded max, to pay someone to audit?” he asked at the meeting.
Buster confirmed two years of an operating budget would suffice.
“We’re trying not to be burdensome,” he said. “But we also need all the right information. And we want to make sure we’re supporting the correct organizations.”
Applicants will have to show money awarded will support immediate community needs within the four pillars of the endowment’s focus: community safety, health and social equity, education and community development. Buster encouraged organizations working in subcategories of the pillars to apply as well.
“We have not defined what education means yet for us; we have not defined community development — we are actually going through that process right now,” he said. “We’re relying on you as organizations to help us understand how you fit into one of those.”
Coastal Horizons, which has served the Cape Fear area since 1970 in crisis intervention, substance use and mental-health services, hits all of the four areas the endowment focuses on. Development director Elizabeth Redebaugh said the nonprofit will ask for the maximum amount of funding available.
“We currently have a team assessing our most pressing needs,” Redenbaugh told PCD Wednesday, ahead of applications opening Sept. 1. “If the tone and tenor of Tuesday’s meeting were any indication, the endowment will build bridges between people in our community.”
The nonprofit serves the tri-county region, with offices located in the county.
The endowment’s debut $10 million will be funneled into New Hanover’s philanthropic community, first and foremost, Buster confirmed. Nonprofits with offices in New Hanover that also serve outside the region remain applicable this cycle and will need to provide an address showing it operates in the county.
While the endowment will expand its reach in the future, the focus is to implement lasting change in the immediate area.
“I’ve heard from all over the state,” Buster said. “Everybody now has an initiative that they want to come down and help us with. But we’re pausing them; we’re telling them, ‘Hold up. We want to talk to the folks here who are based here and work directly in our community.’”
For the nonprofit WARM N.C., the money could mean keeping locally marginalized populations in their homes. The organization, founded in 1996, works with volunteers who make safety repairs on houses for those on limited incomes.
“Because housing impacts every area of life and every area of life impacts housing, we have a lot of options in the endowment’s impact area,” executive director JC Lyle told PCD.
Primarily, it falls under community development and health and social equity.
“The repairs we perform help preserve affordable housing and build generational wealth for families in our community,” Lyle said. “After the repairs are made, the improved conditions in the home can also contribute to improved health for the family living in the home.”
The endowment’s award committee is made up of four people, including Buster, who will go through all proposals, make initial determinations, and do an internal review October through November. Buster will turn over their top grant evaluations to the board who make the final determination through the team’s recommendations. Decisions are anticipated by Nov. 30, with award notifications going out Dec. 1.
“I’m expecting there to be over a 90% success rate,” Buster said.
Though not final, the endowment is leaning toward cutting checks in one lump sum by the end of 2022. Organizations would have a year to spend the grant funding, Buster said.
“Now, if you’re gonna get to the end of next year [with] a few dollars left over, that’s fine,” he added. “Don’t panic. We can talk about extensions.”
That being said, nonprofits will have to clarify in the application where the funding will go and to what program or area it would serve. Buster explained needs like a new van, computers or desks to facilitate the work are OK, but larger capital campaigns that take years to fund would not be applicable in this first round of grants.
“I hope you understood the difference between this process this year and a more strategic process going forward,” Broadhurst said at the meeting. “Some of the requests for the bigger capital campaigns: There’s a time in the day for that and we’re looking forward to that. It’s not this year.”
The same can be said for utilizing funding to pay for new positions or programs. The first course of nonrenewable funds considered will be for expenses that don’t require future sustainability from the endowment, Buster indicated.
“We don’t want people hiring folks and having to lay them off because we gave you a grant,” he said. “We don’t mind the expansion of programs, but we’ll be asking questions about what you’re going to do after this year, if you’re going to start something that you’ve not done before.”
There is no minimum amount awarded, nor is the grant all or nothing. Negotiations may take place if the committee notices a nonprofit has requested more money than its budget indicates should be needed. He said additional conversations can be expected as part of the process, whether it’s the team asking, “Can you reduce it by 10%? 5%?” or requiring follow-ups for more information.
“But we’re not here to not give grants; we’re here to give grants,” Broadhurst assured.
The application also will include a request to list all the nonprofit’s board members. Buster said it’s not to contact them, per se, but to understand who they are and the degree in which they engage in community work.
“We want to make sure we are establishing relationships with organizations in our region,” he said.
Partners and other collaborators can be brought on to help with a program that receives an award even after the money is allotted, Buster described.
All questions listed on the application are clear and simple, not as bogged down as a federal grant process — very “common sense,” Broadhurst said. But those who have inquiries or questions about required documentation for the grantmaking criteria can schedule a meeting with the team members on Sept. 8, 8 a.m. to noon, and Sept. 22, noon to 5 p.m., both held at the UNCW CIE – Rising Tides.
“We’re not trying to exclude people,” Buster said. “We’re trying to make sure that everyone has access to these resources.”
Appointments can be made additionally by reaching out to the endowment. Applications can be submitted through the website, starting Sept. 1 and closing Sept. 30.
Organizations not funded in the first round will be provided an opportunity to hear feedback on barriers that prevented access to the resources and what can be improved upon for the next round. By 2023, when the endowment is moving into year two of operations, Buster said he expects the grant cycle to take place twice a year.
“These grants may not solve all the problems that we’re facing, but I do believe they’ll at least give us a sense as an organization of what’s happening, but also more importantly, create the relationship that we can begin to kind of build upon moving forward,” Buster said.
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