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A Solid Foundation

It has an impressive success story that any business would be proud to claim. However, the Cumberland Community Foundation’s true success lies not just in dollars and cents but in the number of people and causes that it has helped, because CCF is in the business of philanthropy.

Since it was established in 1980 with a single gift of a half-million dollars, beneficiaries have included children and senior citizens, the arts and museums, the botanical garden and the environment, the CARE Clinic and Fayetteville Urban Ministry, the homeless and the hungry, and an array of other worthwhile causes in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

The foundation began through the vision and generosity of the late Dr. Lucile Hutaff. A Fayetteville native, she worked as a professor at Bowman Gray Medical School in Winston-Salem. There, she observed the work of the Winston-Salem Foundation, the first in the state, and how it had benefited that community.

After retiring and returning to Fayetteville, she wanted a similar program for her hometown. Through wise investments, Hutaff’s initial gift of $576,840 is now worth more than $1 million. It has generated $1.6 million in grants in this community.

Her gift has been followed by many others, large and small, giving the local foundation assets now of $40 million.

Mary Holmes has been executive director of CCF for 11 years. She likens the foundation’s success to the recipe for “stone soup.”

The story goes that a weary stranger came into a famine-stricken medieval village and asked for food. The villagers responded that they themselves were starving and had nothing to offer. The stranger said he would make a pot of stone soup to share. He placed a simple stone into a cauldron of boiling water as the townspeople watched in anticipation. As it bubbled, he tasted the broth and proclaimed it good but that it would be much better if he could add an onion. One of the villagers said he could provide an onion. The stranger then said it would be even better if he had a carrot. One by one, the villagers produced vegetables they had stored away, a bit of meat, a little salt, a little pepper and some spices, until there was a delicious pot of soup that was enjoyed by all.

The moral of the story: When people work together, each contributing even a small amount, a greater good is achieved.

Some people have the idea that you have to have a million dollars to be a contributor to the foundation, Holmes said. The most frequent amount given is $25 with 78 percent of gifts less than $250 each. “Some have hams,” she said, “most have a carrot.

“Our job is to improve the community through philanthropy and to act as good stewards of donations. … This is a wonderful resource and a safe harbor for charitable giving.”

There are various ways to give to CCF. Donors may contribute to an existing fund or establish a new “named” fund. The foundation manages more than 350 funds that range in size from $5,000 to more than $2 million. A number of the funds have been established in memory of loved ones. But donors may also choose a charity or an area of interest such as children’s health or college scholarships. Each year, the foundation awards more than $1.5 million in grants from restricted funds.

“Whatever you care about, you can create an endowment,” Holmes said. “We don’t tell you what you care about, the donor tells us.”

Unrestricted gifts may be used as the foundation sees fit for the good of the community. Iris Thornton created the unrestricted James. M. Thornton Memorial Fund in memory of her husband.

“Fayetteville has been good to us, and we needed to be good to Fayetteville and give back some of the resources we have gained by owning and running a business here,” she said. The fund, she said, is something that will live on forever, “and I’m very pleased about that.”

Some remember the foundation in their wills, including Ella Smith Downing who left more than $1 million to be used for scholarships for students attending colleges special to her – Methodist University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hundreds of students have benefited from Downing’s bequest.

For 15 years, the Summertime Kids Endowment Fund has supported programs that provide not only recreational and learning opportunities for children but in some cases nutritious meals as well. Holmes describes the program as a “safety net for kids in the summer.”

A thousand children were involved in this year’s programs, and a fund-raising effort is underway with hopes of doubling that number in 2009.

Overseeing the work and investments of CCF is a board of 20 directors, all donors to the foundation and community leaders.

The current chairman is Sammy Short.

“I’ve been on the board for nine years,” he said, “and I’ve gained a lot of confidence in the foundation and Mary and the staff. ... It makes me confident as a donor.”

Fayetteville is one of 700 community foundations in the country and was the second to be certified in North Carolina.

It has earned the National Standards Seal, signifying that it has met rigorous demands and demonstrated its commitment to financial security, transparency and accountability. Administrative endowments take care of operating costs so that 100 percent of a donor’s gift goes to charity.