Recent Trends and Insights into North Carolina Grantmaking

Although there are 11 Southeastern states that are part of this region’s grantmakers’ association, Southeast philanthropy has largely been driven by foundations in North Carolina and Georgia. To learn more about local grantmaking in one of these key states I recently scheduled a chat with North Carolina Network of Grantmakers’ executive director, Ret Boney.

Ms. Boney was kind enough to provide some insights on how funding works here and where it’s been going. Based on that conversation and others with prominent local funders, here are some conclusions we’ve drawn about North Carolina grantmaking.

The Top Local Need in North Carolina: Education

Given the political landscape in North Carolina lately, a ton of the funding focus is on education. There’s been a lot of momentum in early childhood education funding, but also in higher education, so there’s a good amount of support on both ends of the education spectrum. Among the issues funders are worred about are how expand the pipeline of new, quality teachers, and how to keep teachers in North Carolina.

How North Carolina Funders Approach Health Funding

Health is the next big topic, and there are quite a few very involved health funders on the scene. Although this has always been a big issue area for local funders, we’ve been seeing more talk about the social determinants of health and the intersection of positive health outcomes related to education and poverty. This means that health grants aren’t just for traditional health nonprofits anymore in North Carolina. Foundations that have traditionally stuck to education and social justice outcomes, for example, are seeing the interconnectedness of health and how things like hunger and homelessness affect their key issues as well.

One huge local trend in health funding in North Carolina is the emergence and growth of health legacy foundations. Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, we’ve been seeing lots of healthcare merger and acquisition activity around the country. The proceeds of these transactions often end up endowing philanthropic foundations that serve the areas they were based in.

Ms. Boney shared that at least seven of these were created over the past four or five years in North Carolina, although there are others in the state that have been around for over a decade. This is an exciting development for the state’s philanthropic scene because there are many brand new foundations that are developing quickly and establishing grantmaking practices from the ground up.

Reaching the Rural Areas

Right now there’s a big push to bring philanthropy to the rural areas of North Carolina, and this is really where the hearts and minds of local funders are these days. A significant portion of the big money in North Carolina comes from the heyday of the tobacco industry, and places like the Golden Leaf Foundation are putting that fortune to good use. Established from the proceeds of a national tobacco settlement, this funder works in the state’s poorest counties that once depended upon tobacco to boost their economies in healthy and sustainable ways.

The Major Philanthropic Players in North Carolina

It’s always challenging to narrow down the top influential funders in a region because there are some that are just inherently well-known and in the public eye. But one funder that really stands out for local giving in both North and South Carolina is the Duke Endowment. The Z. Smith Reynolds is a big general purpose statewide funder, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation has a strong local focus too.

On the rural funding front, the North Carolina Community Foundation in Raleigh has really taken the lead, thanks to the dozens of affiliate foundations it supports all over the state. Other local foundations to watch include the Triangle Community Foundation, the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. But of course, this is just a sampling of who’s making waves over here, and we can’t wait to learn more about all of them here at IP.

Advice for North Carolina Grantseekers

When I asked Ms. Boney for a piece of advice that she’d offer grantseekers in North Carolina, she said that one thing grantseekers don’t often realize is how approachable most foundations here really are. She encourages nonprofits to reach out to funders to ask whether what they’re trying to do would be a fit, because most funders would rather determine this right away than have organizations spinning their wheels. As a whole, North Carolina funders are striving for accessibility because foundations can’t achieve their missions without the work that local nonprofits do.

Final Thoughts

The North Carolina Network of Grantmakers has a very active News & Press section, which makes it easy to keep up with recent happenings in statewide funding. Here at IP, we continuously cover, critique, and speculate about everything going on in local philanthropy, so follow our new Southeast local blog for more insights like these.