Beyond Good Fundraising: Why This Community Foundation is Growing So Fast

Downtown charlotte, NC

Downtown charlotte, NC

We’ve known for a while, now, that the Foundation for the Carolinas is a Southeast funder to watch, and not just because of the impressive amount of money it oversees. Earlier this year, the community foundation topped $2.1 billion in assets, which elevated its position to sixth in the country among at least 800 community foundations in the U.S.

Sixth place is certainly something to brag about, but what’s equally impressive is how quickly the funder has grown in a very short amount of time.

“It took us 55 years to reach the first billion, but thanks to our donors, it only took four years to reach the next,” the foundation’s CEO Michael Marsicano told the Charlotte Observer, noting $1.5 billion came in just the last three years alone. “This is a testament to the philanthropic spirit of our region.”

It's also a testament to the vast pools of new wealth that have emerged in America during the past few decades, and not just in places like New York City and Silicon Valley. One of the key traits of our second Gilded Age is the remarkable amount of wealth creation that's occurred in many places—with major implications for philanthropy and nonprofits. Charlotte, with its strong financial services sector, is one these hotspots. It's not surprising to see the local community foundation now booming as a result. 

The recent growth of grantmaking institutions in the South is especially important, given the entrenched socio-economic problems of this region, and how foundations here have historically been smaller, with fewer resources. The Foundation for the Carolina made some 17,000 grants on behalf of donors totaling $312 million in 2016, which is double the total of five years ago. It's also a level of grantmaking that puts this funder on par with some of the major independent foundations in the U.S.

The Foundation for the Carolinas has surged, in part, because it's shown a strong ability to make the most of the new wealth that exists in its region. Its subsidiary, Community Investments Foundation, has coordinated the interests of retiring baby boomers who want their money to go to causes they care about long after they’re gone. According to the Charlotte Observer, these types of arrangements added up to at least $97 million in foundation assets in 2016.

However, the foundation’s success goes beyond fundraising. Like other top community foundations we write about, such as the Boston Foundation, the Foundation for the Carolinas wields influence locally by its wide array of involvements and the role it can play in convening key stakeholders to address important issues. This civic leadership role has lately included a public-private partnership to address homelessness, collaborative work to address aging issues in Charlotte, cross-sector work to improve education, and more. Perhaps most notably, following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott last summer and the violent protests that followed, the foundation played a key role in coordinating and funding an Opportunity Task Force to address some of the underlying issues driving social tensions in the Charlotte area. 

Although based in Charlotte, this funder serves a 13-county region and it hosts some 2,500 donor-advised funds from individuals, nonprofits and corporations. Local grantseekers should keep an eye on the Foundation for the Carolinas' newsroom page, because this is where grant opportunity announcements are posted for specific counties.