By Kellie Gentry Hussmann
It’s no surprise that most of us want to leave this world better than we found it. If nothing else, we want to know that our time on earth made even the slightest of difference for future generations. The Cumberland Community Foundation has been helping the people of Cumberland County do just that for almost 35 years.
The foundation was started in 1980 by Dr. Lucile Hutaff with a gift of $576,840. Now, it manages over $72 million, which is made of more than 450 funds created by the individuals and families of Cumberland County that support their favorite local charities.
Organizations that contribute to Fayetteville’s unique culture, such as the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, the Center for Economic Empowerment & Development and the North Carolina Civil War History Center Foundation are funded by donations made through CCF.
Dr. Hutaff’s nephew, Henry Hutaff, remembered the beginnings of the Foundation. “I was with the original committee. My aunt Lucille asked if I could serve and we were all volunteers. I was on the board for a long time. We hired Mary Holmes… and that was a wonderful day for us. She’s made it a wonderful, wonderful thing for Fayetteville,” he affirmed.
“We are a charity, but we are a charity with the mission of improving the quality of life in all areas by helping people give in a permanent way,” said Mary Holmes, the executive director of the Cumberland Community Foundation.
She explained that the collective effort of the Foundation through the fable of the stone soup: a stranger comes to a desolate town with the intention of feeding its hungry people. He begins by asking for a big cauldron to boil the stones and a townsperson obliged. He tastes the soup and decides it could be better with half of a carrot, to which another townsperson offered, little by little and with the help of all the individuals of the town, the soup turns into a feast big enough to feed everyone.
“Our most common gift is $25, people making a gift in honor of someone’s birthday or in memory of someone who has passed, but all together, people are doing great things,” Holmes said.
The foundation allows people with any size donation to support thousands of local charities.
“If you want to fund local organizations, you want people who know who those local organizations are and understand what they do and know what their strengths and areas of improvement are,” said Libby Daniel, a current member of the CCF board with a background in banking.
“I’ve been so impressed with the way this organization runs; it’s very efficient and beautifully managed and the money is spent effectively,” Daniel said.
Donations made through the Foundation are set up as endowments with the purpose to enhance our community and are invested so that the impact will last forever.
“By doing it that way, that money is perpetual, it never runs out,” Daniel said.
Money that comes from Cumberland County tends to stay in Cumberland County and one hundred percent of the donations goes to the cause, she adds.
“We’re all about trust,” Holmes said. “People come here and give us money to manage when they’re no longer here, so everything we do has to be completely transparent.”
Cornelia Bullock Wilkins, a teacher from Autryville, is one of several people who left a meaningful legacy by donating her estate through the Foundation to support the causes she cared about. Her original donation of $2.7 million in 2009 continues to fund healthcare, education, senior citizen programs and the Cape Fear Botanical Garden each year.
“Cornelia Bullock Wilkins lived here and she wanted to leave her money here, but she didn’t have any family here to oversee the giving, so she entrusted it to the Community Foundation,” Holmes said.
“And every year, we invest her gift and we make grants in her name to support the things that she wanted to support. She planned that gift through her life but it happened through her estate. She will never be forgotten at the garden.”
Ry Southard, the executive director of the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, notes the importance of Wilkins’ gift. “It’s one of many gifts from community-minded donors who are interested in the long-term and continuous sustainability of the garden,” he said
“The truth is, this gift combined with all of the other gifts, is a sizable amount of money, which would not be possible without the donor advised funds,” Southard said. “Currently, we have 12 endowment funds through the Cumberland Community Foundation, and those are really important to our annual operating budget.”
Southard said the funds are mostly used for the general operations of the garden, however, they are always looking for new projects that keep the garden relevant to its patrons. More than 5,000 school aged children visit the garden each year. He and his staff are currently in the planning stages for a canopy tour at the garden.
“Our vision is to build a children’s garden that is universally accessible with one of the largest tree house in the United States, so kids of all abilities can experience fun and learning in the outdoors,” he said excitedly.
Endowments through the foundation and an upcoming campaign will fund the project, he said. “The Cumberland Community Foundation is our most important partner in terms of building the legacy of philanthropy and helping the nonprofits learn about sustainability.”
While unrestricted gifts give the CCF board discretion on which local organizations to fund, the Foundation awards over almost $700,000 in grants each year. Nonprofits must apply for those grants, which means they are not guaranteed.
The Foundation strongly encourages nonprofits to grow their own endowments in order to become more sustainable. These investments allow nonprofits, such as the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, to start each year with money in the bank. “I think the ability to steer nonprofits toward long-term thinking is something that is visionary and CCF does it exceptionally well,” Southard said. The Foundation staff is not only encouraging nonprofits to plan for the future, but is planning for the future of CCF as well.
Strengthening local nonprofit organizations via its 2020 vision strategy is one of six goals the CCF board will focus on short term. Other goals include: growing philanthropy and local giving, growing sustainable support for local nonprofit organizations, increasing college access and affordability, improving education outcomes and improving quality of life for all.
Thirty-five years of growing our community is no small accomplishment, but Holmes and her staff are keeping their sights set on the future.
“The 35th anniversary year is really about reconnecting with all of the people that helped make the Foundation happen, all of our volunteers and the nonprofits we’ve been working with, and connecting with anyone who wants to come together and improve this community,” Holmes said. “That will guide our work for the next 15 years.”
What kind of community do you want to live in? Tell the Cumberland Community Foundation by visiting their website at www.cumberlandcf.org.