“It’s a pivotal time”: a billion dollar endowment for the sale of a hospital wants your ideas

The New Hanover County Community Endowment, Inc. is soliciting input from the public through two listening sessions to obtain information from the community in order to define their criteria for awarding grants. (Photo / daily file of the port city)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– For the first time since the approval of the hospital sale, the public is invited to share their wants, needs and goals for the New Hanover Community Endowment, Inc.

The nonprofit tasked with overseeing $ 1.25 billion in proceeds from the sale of the county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health is seeking public comment, which will be used to define its award criteria grants.

RELATED: The endowment fund for the sale of the hospital takes shape, the main activities of the past year are described

This private council has the potential to make life-changing decisions that could change life in the region if it embodies an effective grant-making strategy.

He will have access to up to 4% of the total market value of the endowment each year, or approximately $ 50 million in the first year. Market conditions and the investment strategy will influence the share of access to which the board has access; the total fund cannot drop below its initial infusion, according to regulations set by New Hanover County last year.

On Monday, the 13 members of the foundation will meet publicly for the first time – but the focus will not be on them; it will be on the public.

On the first of two listening sessions, members of the public are invited to sign up to talk in three-minute increments. Participants can register in person and written comments will also be accepted.

Foundation members will not make a presentation, but a moderator will be on hand to ensure the smooth running of the meeting. “The goal is for us to listen,” said Spence Broadhurst, chairman of the endowment fund. “I hope we have so many people here that we have to stay late.”

Broadhurst said the welcome comment is fully open. The invitation should not be confused with the solicitation of information on specific grant needs – which will come later, expected in September 2022. “We are asking questions about community needs… What do we need to focus on? ? ” he said.

“It is a pivotal period.

Formulation of grant award criteria

Mandated by Attorney General Josh Stein as part of his approval of the $ 1.5 billion transaction, the endowment fund must hold two listening sessions before finalizing its criteria for granting grants.

A Community Endowment Advisory Committee, a subgroup to be formed also required by Stein, will review the comments shared during the listening sessions to help guide the formation of the granting criteria. This committee will develop a draft criteria that it will recommend to the foundation for final approval scheduled for July 2022.

“That first… we don’t know if we’ll have five people or 50 people or 100 people,” said Hannah Gage, endowment co-chair, of the next listening session. “We hope there will be a lot of voices.”

Gage said there is no expectation for who will come or what will be presented. “We are really trying to figure out what it will take for us to build a more equitable community,” she said.

Carefully crafted this year by the entire board of directors, the endowment’s mission statement is “to improve the health, education, safety and economic opportunities of every person in our community.” »The other tenants of his guiding principles focus on equity and inclusiveness.

“We hope to hear: what should we do in public education? Said Gage. “What things would improve our systems? What do we need to build a healthier community and have access to affordable health care? Do we need more green spaces in certain neighborhoods? What type of affordable housing are they considering?

Meeting every two months, the Board of Directors has engaged in frequent training sessions led by leaders in the philanthropy industry. As one of the largest foundations of per capita health legacy in the country, members have drawn on the expertise of leaders from across the country to deliver an effective program.

One lesson Gage has already learned from these sessions is to be prepared to fail: “If you don’t fail about 20% of the time, you aren’t pushing the limits of what you can do. ”

She also heard from an industry expert: “Don’t look up. If it’s an organization that hasn’t been around for a long time, that doesn’t have a lot of resources, if it has a great idea, then jump. Find a way. ”This advice will be relevant in New Hanover County, where most nonprofits are used to seeking small grants, many of which lack six-figure experience and beyond.

In listening sessions, Broadhurst wants to hear cutting edge ideas. “I’m looking for something I don’t know,” he said. “I hope there will be members of the community who bring things, ideas, even just ways of looking at it, perspectives that I may not have right now.”

The first grants are expected to be issued by November 2022. For now, most of the endowment money has been parked in an index fund, a reserve that “mirrors US Treasuries,” Broadhurst explained. – “the safest and most secure investment in the world.”

If anything, the endowment’s initial investment strategy, still under construction, will be too conservative, Broadhurst said.

“It’s going to be some time, maybe several years, before this money is fully invested, fully generating returns and putting us in a position where we can give the kind of grants we talked about. – 40 grants of $ 50 million.

Gage stressed that the audience’s contribution does not stop at the listening sessions.

“We don’t forget for a single minute who owns this money or why we are here,” she said. “And what we do, we build in the service of the community. So having this two-way street all the time is what we’re going to need to focus on the things that we decide are the most important to pursue. “

Plan ahead

The listening session will take place on Tuesday, October 26 at the Wilmington Convention Center starting at 7 p.m. A second listening session will be held on Wednesday, December 1 starting at 4 p.m. at Ashley High School.

Learn more on the New Hanover Community Endowment.

Send advice and comments to Johanna F. Also at [email protected]

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