If one were to put a green dot on a Greenville city map to mark each place impacted by the Community Foundation of Greenville, it would look like a pasture; hardly a block in the city hasn’t been touched. There would be multiple green spaces in the county, as well.
The six-decade-old organization has donated more than $100 million in funds to hundreds of Greenville projects and organizations since it was founded in 1956.
And to hear Robert W. Morris, the foundation’s president since 1999, tell the story, the work has barely begun: “We plan to grow our asset base to $100 million by the end of 2018. We’re currently at $60 million.”
In the last few years, the Community Foundation has collaborated with some of the area’s other large foundations. By pooling funds and resources, the organizations can have a big, collective impact, Morris said.
An example of the foundation’s future focus is OnTrack Greenville, a project that focuses on helping middle school students succeed and graduate from high school. The collaborative initiative is led by the United Way.
“They identified a social innovation fund grant, requiring other private contributors to support this strategy to help middle-grade students,” Morris said. “Then the federal government gave a $1 million grant per year for three years to the United Way for a coordinated process to support middle school students through high school with counseling and after-school enrichment programs.”
The Community Foundation and other private and corporate foundations stepped up to provide matching funds, raising a total of $6.6 million, divided evenly over three years. The Community Foundation’s commitment so far is $450,000, but this could grow to a total of $750,000 if the federal grant is renewed for two more years, Morris said.
The project was started a few years ago, so the funders don’t know if it will be a success, but so far there are positive signs of students improving their record of behavior, attendance and grades, he said.
Collaborations like the OnTrack Greenville project help to harvest the power of philanthropy, said Sue Priester, vice chair of the board of the Community Foundation.
“In Greenville you have a number of smaller funders, corporate funders and the big three of United Way, the Hollingsworth Fund and the Community Foundation,” Priester said. “They’re all helping Greenville citizens and investing their philanthropic dollars to good ends, but what if they could work in a coordinated fashion, devoting sufficient philanthropic dollars to really move the needle and get things done?”
These types of collaborative projects are what could help solve major community problems, she said.
Ambitious social collaborative projects might be a 21st century priority for the Community Foundation, but it doesn’t mean that the foundation has given up on small, grassroots efforts. In fact, those also are on the rise.
For instance, Clement’s Kindness Fund for Children was started as a grassroots project in which one family, motivated to do something good for their community after their son’s death, worked with the Community Foundation to raise more than $2 million to benefit the children’s day hospital at the BI-LO Charities Children’s Cancer Center of the Greenville Health System and the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System’s Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program.
The foundation has helped more than 200 projects that work this way: a person or small group decides to fund a signature project and asks the foundation for help in raising money for that purpose. Instead of starting their own nonprofit group, they can use the foundation’s infrastructure, pay a small fee and ultimately accomplish their goals.
Another example of the foundation’s signature projects is the sculpture of Dr. Virginia Uldrick, located at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, which she founded in the 1980s.
Greenville’s Community Foundation also has shifted its focus to projects that can have a big impact with smaller-sized grants, from $10,000 to $20,000 each. Every year, the foundation distributes a total of $120,000 in these small grants, and since 2013, the grants have been used to help organizations grow.
Called capacity-building grants, these grants fund things like technology upgrades and hiring outside consultants for long-range strategy planning.
“Capacity building is a phrase we use in the nonprofit world to talk about how you make your organization stronger,” said Jamie Moon, who has served on the Community Foundation’s capacity building grants committee. Moon also is the president of the Institute for Child Success, a local nonprofit that has benefited from the foundation’s largesse, receiving $75,000 in grants from the Community Foundation.
“These grants make that nonprofit better able to do the things it’s supposed to do,” Moon said.
“The overall philosophy is to have a large impact on a large number of organizations where a little extra funding could have a big impact.”
For example, there might be a nonprofit that provides people rides to their doctors’ appointments, but the group can’t get the word out because the website is so outdated. A $15,000 capacity building grant could help the organization revamp its website and reach more people.
“Or an organization might be thinking about expanding its facility and needs a capital campaign or feasibility study to see if it’s possible to raise the funds now,” Moon said. “It’s hard for a nonprofit organization to get access to those types of funds.”
The Community Foundation also is continuing the work it has done for 60 years, raising funds through legacy gifts from Greenville families who want to create an endowment fund or to give unrestricted funds to benefit any of the county’s nonprofit works. In 2014, the foundation received its largest gift to date from Margaret Linder Southern, a former schoolteacher. Southern bequeathed $8.4 million in her will to the foundation for the formation of an endowment to help the Greenville Humane Society and early child education and special needs programs, Morris said.
The Humane Society receives half of the funding. Other recipients have included the Meyers Center, A Child’s Haven and the Children’s Museum of the Upstate.
In 2014, the foundation received $3.4 million to help the homeless from the Jim and Kit Pearce Endowment, the foundation’s largest gift from a person still living. The Pearce money has benefited the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, Triune Mercy Center, United Ministries, Gateway House, Habitat for Humanity, Homes for Hope, Project Host, Harvest Hope and Greer Community Ministries.
A decade earlier, in 2004, the foundation received $3 million in unrestricted funds from Jean Harris Knight. Knight’s money made it possible for the foundation to honor its 50th anniversary with a $1 million gift to the construction of the Kroc Center, west of Academy Street. Knight’s donation also helped create the Lake Conestee Nature Park and benefited Greenville Women Giving and Community Works, which helps public school teachers become first-time homebuyers, Morris said.
“Shortly after we gave the grant to Community Works, a gentleman named William Marion Gilfillin said to me over lunch that he liked that grant and he’d make a gift to us in his estate,” Morris recalls. “When he died in 2014, he left us $1.4 million unrestricted, a very nice gift, and this year we’re using that in two ways: one is we’re supporting OnTrack Greenville, and, in honor of our 60th anniversary, we’re giving away $100,000 for each decade of our existence.”