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The New Hanover Community Endowment reviews applications with an eye for bigger, bolder strategic grants

The strategic plan also outlines the vision, mission and values of the NHCE.
The strategic plan also outlines the vision, mission and values of the NHCE.

The New Hanover Community Endowment, funded by a billion-plus dollars from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, is currently reviewing applications in its second round of grants.

Last year, feeling pressure from the public, the New Hanover Community Endowment dispersed over $9 million dollars to over 100 organizations, even though it had no strategic plan and almost no staff. This year is different, according to Lakesha McDay, executive vice president for programs and operations.

“Having more time — right? — to get to know the community was really different. But it really was the board with a strategic plan [...] So that was, I think, the largest difference, was being able to call out some specific strategies that we are wanting to fund,” McDay said.

One benefit of having more staff has been the opportunity to interact with the nonprofit community, and the public, more frequently. McDay said staff had held over 100 community meetings — and that line of communication goes both ways, some meetings were requested by community members and groups, and some were set up by the Endowment to help learn more about the issues and possible solutions in the community. Staff have also had time to work with the Endowment’s Community Advisory Council, which was largely left out of the first grant round.

Another benefit has been education around the Endowment’s grantmaking process and philosophy. After the first round of grants, many non-profits told WHQR the process was occasionally confusing.

McDay said, with more time and more staff, there “was an opportunity for us to really clarify our process and help reduce some of the anxiety around the system.”

Another difference this year is the type of grant-making.

Last year, the Endowment offered ‘responsive’ grants: funding for a single year, capped at either $250,000 or 50% of an organization’s operating budget, whichever is lower. This round, the Endowment is still offering those, and McDay said the majority of the more than 200 applications they received are for responsive grants.

But this year the Endowment is also offering ‘strategic grants’— these are bigger, bolder grants that involve more funding, multi-year projects, and partnerships between organizations in an effort to address one of the key areas the Endowment has highlighted.

Those ‘strategic grant opportunities’ are workforce development for healthcare, early childhood education and are, and K-12 educators, as well as improving healthcare access, preventing youth crime and community violence, and addressing the region’s affordable housing crisis.

McDay said they had received “ambitious and exciting” proposals along these lines, but couldn’t offer more details.

Something both McDay and Endowment CEO William Buster have spoken to community groups about is making sure everyone has a “seat at the table” — and also removing as many barriers to the grant process as possible.

That can mean helping people who might never have written a grant before start a conversation with the Endowment. Grant writing is somewhat of an insular world — with its own conventions, trends, and jargon.

“It’s a skill, and it’s not a skill everybody has to have,” McDay said.

The Endowment has recently hired a ‘network officer’ and may hire more in the future, in part to help with this type of conversation.

“Our network officers are going to be key to those conversations, because moving forward, those ideas, we can support what those ideas get formed into in regards to a grant proposal or an application,” McDay said. “So how can we also support folks in that process, so that when that idea does come to the endowment for consideration, for funding, it’s at its best.”

The Endowment's second grant application window was open from September 1 to 22. McDay said staff are currently working through applications and, where necessary, reaching out to organizations for follow-up conversations. Ultimately, the Endowment board will have final approve of what gets funded — which McDay said will be announced by the end of the year.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.