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Endowment CEO Outlines Strategic Plan Framework

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 17, 2023
There is more architectural detail on the New Hanover Community Endowment's framework, thanks to its just-completed planning process. On Friday, the endowment’s president and CEO William Buster outlined the three-year strategic plan that he and the endowment board have developed.

The endowment was created from proceeds of the 2021 sale of the once-county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health. 
 
The board of the $1 billion fund decided on giving $9 million to about 100 organizations in New Hanover County last year, the endowment’s inaugural grant cycle.
 
Officials had said that subsequent grant cycles would look different and reflect a strategic plan.

The objectives supporting each of the endowment's four areas of focus have been identified through a process of listening, Buster said Friday.

“I’ve been here exactly a year – I arrived in March last year – and began listening to all segments of the community,” he said. “What are the most important things on people’s minds, and what do they expect to have happen as a result of having the endowment?”

What surfaced, he said, was a desire for more economic opportunity, concerns about social and health equity, concerns about education and early childhood care, and the recognition of the need for safe, affordable housing and access to healthy food.

“I took all that and began working with the board in May of last year,” Buster continued, adding that board members found his impressions squared with what they had heard from the community as well. “We asked ourselves, which of these things are relevant to what we can do?”

Buster listed general objectives and challenges within each of the four areas of focus. Those included:

Health and Well-Being:
  • No differences in people’s health and well-being depending on who they are and where they live
Education:
  • Working closely with the public K-12 schools
  • Improving the quality of and access to pre-K education
  • Helping young people and others take advantage of the growth that’s coming to New Hanover County, preparing them for careers in the local economy.
Community Safety:
  • Communities that are safe and thriving, partnering with neighborhoods and other organizations to create safe and livable neighborhoods for all
  • Making sure that young people feel safe, especially in their school environment.
Community Development:
  • Creating an inclusive community and economy that provides full life benefits for everyone
  • Tying education to opportunities in the workforce
  • Finding ways to help the entrepreneurial economy grow
  • Looking to work across lines in all segments of the community to provide affordable housing
While he and the endowment board members have some definite ideas they plan to work on, Buster said, they want organizations and other entities in the community to provide their own ideas as well.

“We’ll be doing some work that’s very specific and prescriptive, but we think the best work will happen when organizations see themselves in the plan,” he said. “We want to give space for organizations to bring their ideas, but they need to align with our objectives.”

The county’s large nonprofit sector needs strengthening, Buster said. The endowment would like to see organizations improve their toolkits by working on their board governance, their fiscal controls and their capacity, especially through collaboration.

“Capacity-building is a thread that will be running through” the endowment’s work in the community, Buster added, saying that because there are so many nonprofits, there are many opportunities for them to join forces toward common goals. “How do you make your organization more amenable to collaboration ... realizing that working together improves the outcomes?”

He said that grant applicants will be asked who else in the community is doing what they propose to do, and if the applicant has talked with them.

Future grant cycles will match staffers with applicants to provide a single and consistent point of contact through the cycle and to develop relationships between the endowment staff and potential grantees. Buster said that he hopes that relationship would allow for the exchange of ideas, answer questions along the way and lead to stronger funded projects that address the four pillars.

“Once we get an application, that is the very beginning of the conversation,” he said. “No grants will be made without a full conversation. We’ll be more engaged and more visible as a staff.”
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