11 States in 11 Months: Southern Philanthropy in... North Carolina

Note: This post is the eighth in a series that will run throughout our 50th Anniversary year. Each month, we'll focus on philanthropy in one of the 11 states in the SECF footprint, using both current and historical data while highlighting a variety of voices. This month's state: North Carolina.

North Carolina Philanthropy Snapshot

First SECF Members: Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Foundation for the Carolinas (Founding Members – joined 1969-70)
Newest SECF Member: Herschel and Cornelia Everett Foundation (joined May 2018)
Number of SECF Members: 35

Learn more about North Carolina foundations from SECF’s Southern Trends Report!

Voices from North Carolina

Danielle Breslin
Vice President, Operations and Learning
Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina

What are the most significant ways the philanthropic landscape in North Carolina and the Southeast has changed during your time in philanthropy?

I came to North Carolina 23 years ago seeking a place to call home and to raise a family. I’ve now lived here longer than anywhere else and, while I know I’ll never truly be considered a Southerner – having lived the first 18 years of my life in New York – I care deeply about the people and the issues of my adopted home state. It wasn’t until I started my career in philanthropy in 2003 (after six years on the corporate side at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina) that I began a journey that would lay bare the troubling realities of a broken health care system and, in more recent years, the understanding that health is so much more than health care. The thinking of many health funders, my organization included, has evolved as we are increasingly concerned with, and taking action on, issues of housing, transportation, and economic stability as well as equity and systemic racism.

My entire career in philanthropy has been with the Blue Cross NC Foundation, a corporate foundation created and funded by the state’s largest health insurer in 2000. As a relatively young grantmaker, we don’t have the length of experience or the large budgets of the many well-established and highly respected private foundations in our state. Yet over time we have forged strong relationships with other funders in North Carolina regardless of age, size, type, and, increasingly, areas of focus. These relationships are, in my opinion, one of the greatest strengths of the philanthropic landscape in our state. Relationships among foundations and relationships between foundations, government, social service organizations, and community members are critical to making progress on tough issues.

Despite daunting challenges and broken systems, our state is buoyed by dedicated partners, engaged residents, and a growing understanding of where real change must occur – a charity approach to meeting immediate needs remains important, yet a long-term perspective focused on systems change is essential. We have an opportunity to shift the power, to fix the brokenness in our systems, and to bring together new and different voices, all to the improvement of the health of the people living in North Carolina. I am proud to be part of an organization and a sector that, although not without its flaws, is committed “To be, rather than to seem” – the motto of the state I call home.

Marcy Green
Program Director
Impact Alamance

What do you expect to be the biggest opportunities and challenges facing your organization and/or North Carolina philanthropy in the next 10 years?

I believe one of the sector’s largest opportunities is to take on the role of the community convener to engage multiple sectors of our community around social determinants of health such as education and health equity. Often in communities, it is difficult for nonprofits or government entities to lead collaboratives around these issues due to politics, lack of resources, or inadequate support. Foundations are in an ideal space to be a neutral convener and have access to resources that can move forward the multi-sector work required to address these complex and pressing issues.

A growing challenge both locally and statewide is the increasing number of nonprofits and decreasing amount of private, state and federal dollars to sustain their operations. Capacity-building support provided by foundations is key to assist nonprofits in thinking strategically about how they will diversify their funding streams in order to maintain and grow their services. Foundations can also help nonprofits providing similar services think through how they can combine resources to best serve their community while also creating an operations structure that is sustainable.

At Impact Alamance we find ourselves consistently serving in these roles. We have discovered in our community that in order to move change forward, we have to go beyond grantmaking and investing.  We realize that our place is at the table beside our community partners focused on innovative solutions and sustainable change.

Philanthropic Phactoid

Thank you to former SECF President & CEO Martin Lehfeldt for providing this and other "phactoids" about the history of philanthropy in the region!

The first community foundation in the Southeast (still in operation) was The Winston-Salem Foundation. It was launched in 1919 – 100 years ago – by a $1,000 endowment gift from “Colonel” Francis Fries, a banker and railroader, whose wealth was derived primarily from the textile mill that he built on the banks of the New River in Grayson County, Virginia, in 1903.


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Mission: SECF strengthens Southern philanthropy, welcoming our members to listen, learn and collaborate on ideas and actions to help build an equitable, prosperous South.