by JC Lyle, MBA, Executive Director
All eyes are on the New Hanover Community Endowment, created by the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to “improve the health, education, safety, and economic opportunity of every person in our community.”
With $1.25 billion, the Endowment has the financial means to transform our community through strategic grantmaking.
A good question has been raised: Are local nonprofits ready for all that money? *
I’ll provide my answer in two parts.
Are individual organizations ready to effectively administer Endowment funds?
Probably not. And I’m proud to say so. Because we are lean. Nothing is wasted.
We don’t have extra accounting people sitting around waiting for money to count, carry more insurance than we need, or have a parking lot full of vehicles that aren’t used. We keep infrastructure to a minimum.
To administer significantly more money efficiently and effectively, we need to build up our infrastructure. I speak from experience.
After Hurricane Florence, WARM received a flood of applications for home repair and, fortunately, a windfall of disaster recovery donations and grants from all over the country. We were as ready as we could be. We had grown by an average of 14% for over a decade. We had outstanding expertise on our staff and a strong volunteer base.
But we didn’t have the capacity to administer all those disaster funds quickly. We had to build it... Quickly!
Within a few months, we hired four more construction professionals, a homeowner services coordinator, and an accounting assistant. Then, we equipped them with tools, trailers, trucks, training, and computers. We rented a second office building, set up more advanced reporting and analysis systems, and helped establish disaster coalitions throughout our service area.
It felt like we were building a bridge as we were trying to cross it. That is the nature of nonprofit growth. Our team stretched every dollar and helped hundreds of families return to or stay in their homes.
We are now in sustainability mode to maintain and effectively utilize our new capacity through donor and volunteer stewardship, program evaluation, strategic partnerships, and expansion into new counties that don’t have a permanent home repair nonprofit.
To make Hurricane Florence resources a step up -not a spike- takes creativity, collaboration, and commitment. I know it can be done with Endowment funds, too, because those three words describe every local nonprofit leader I know!
Is the New Hanover County nonprofit ecosystem ready to help the Endowment fulfill its mission?
To be truly ready for the Endowment, which will start its grantmaking process this fall, we must think about more than funding our own organizations. We must be bold enough to dream big, leave our comfort zones, and engage in meaningful collaborative efforts that address the root causes of social problems.
In the past few years, we have made strides to become more connected.
The disaster coalitions I mentioned above are good examples. We make referrals and share best practices, reducing the chances of duplication and using resources more efficiently. Even in the earliest days of our formation, it was clear we would one day shift from disaster recovery to solving chronic problems together.
Another example is the Healthy Opportunities Pilot Program, a Medicaid-funded initiative involving dozens of local agencies designed to study the Social Determinants of Health, the impact of non-clinical services on health and health care costs.
Beginning in May, the program will pay for services in the areas of housing, transportation, mental health, and food security, then study the effects on patient health. In addition to teaching us about holistically addressing unmet needs, this program could influence health care policy for generations!
We have been preparing for the Endowment for years, whether we knew it or not. This is our time to realize our wildest dreams for the health, safety, and well-being of the whole community. Let’s get ready!
*Certainly, other types of organizations, such as schools, may be eligible for Endowment funds. But I will stick to my area of expertise: nonprofit leadership.