In many ways, The Winston-Salem Foundation’s first century has been a journey of discovery. Foundation leaders have come to learn about the community they seek to serve, how philanthropy works, and what the residents of Forsyth County are passionate about. Those interests range broadly — from the arts and education to public health and animal welfare — and over the years, donors have created funds to support organizations that reflect their passions and make the community a better place.
Some of these citizens have gone on to create funds to benefit specific nonprofit organizations, many of which have been receiving funds from The Winston-Salem Foundation for 80 or 90 years. Others wanted more flexibility and a direct connection with their giving, establishing donor-advised funds they could oversee to meet the changing needs of the community. Still, others have established or contributed to broader funds that are simply directed toward the betterment of the community. This last category — unrestricted funds — has enabled the Foundation to shape giving as the world has changed.
“Funds that were established 80 or 90 years ago with a specific focus, such as fighting tuberculosis, may no longer be addressing pressing issues,” says Layla Garms, program officer for the Foundation. “Unrestricted funds enable the Foundation to be flexible and to evolve in its approach and to remain relevant over time.”
The Foundation is currently utilizing a portion of its unrestricted funds to support a new, more proactive approach to grant making. In 2018, following more than a year of listening, researching, and deepening our learning about the community, the Foundation unveiled two strategic focus areas for its Community Grants program:
1. Building an Inclusive Economy and,
2. Advancing Equity in Education
Foundation staff is working alongside other organizations and community leaders to identify strategies to address the racial inequities that exist within our communities and schools. The Foundation continues to support the broader nonprofit community through its Capacity-Building grants, which help organizations strengthen their internal operations. The Foundation also makes several grants per year to support capital campaigns.
The strength of the community
Building a vibrant community where everyone is thriving is a complex process. If it were as simple as funneling money into areas of need, the persistent problems of generational poverty and racial inequity would have been solved long ago. But human beings — and the ways we interact with one another and our world — are much more nuanced.
And so are the solutions.
This understanding has been central to the way The Winston-Salem Foundation has operated since its founding. The idea of opening up philanthropy to the whole community rests on the notion that everyone has something to contribute, and all people can add value; they can make a difference.
This asset-based approach — building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the support of local institutions — draws upon existing community strengths to build a stronger community.
“Everyone has gifts, skills, and talent to bring to the table. We try to support that approach,” Garms says. “It’s more sustainable and people are more invested.”
An example of this type of community work is the Foundation’s partnership with HandsOn NWNC, formed in 2007 with the merger of NonProfit Connections and Volunteer Connections. HandsOn works with nonprofits in a couple of different ways: providing information, tools, and support to help them boost their effectiveness, and connecting them with volunteers who are looking for meaningful community service. HandsOn is one of three organizations in Forsyth County — the other two are Forsyth Futures and Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods — that receive operating support directly from the Foundation. All three organizations build on a deep understanding of and respect for the unique problems and strengths of the community, and invite citizens to be an active part of the solutions.
“The Winston-Salem Foundation is very forward-thinking,” says Amy Lytle, executive director of HandsOn NWNC. “They are interested in what our community can be and how we can help our community get there. They want to partner with nonprofits and not just be the people who write the checks. Yes, people still need immediate assistance but the Foundation also asks what needs to happen structurally in our community so that everyone can thrive.”
Scott Wierman, president of The Winston-Salem Foundation, agrees.
“Our work in the community is not about telling people what’s wrong with them. It’s about learning from people, understanding their needs, and listening to their ideas for solutions,” he says.
A true partnership
Another organization that exemplifies the Foundation’s approach is the Crosby Scholars program. The program actually started in the Foundation, which partnered with Sara Lee Corporation and the Crosby National Celebrity Golf Tournament to administer proceeds from the event to support drug abuse prevention programs. The Crosby Scholars program took that a step further, providing guidance to students who wanted to go to college but who may not have had the support and knowledge to pursue that goal. The program also provides Last Dollar Grants to help make up the financial gaps between family contributions and other scholarships.
Mona Lovett, president and CEO of Crosby Scholars, credits the Foundation for giving the program a strong start and enabling them to serve students in the community.
“We have never had to turn away anyone who wanted to be part of the Crosby Scholars,” she says. “The Winston-Salem Foundation housed this organization in its infancy. Our offices were located there; we had back office support and support in financial operations. This allowed us to establish ourselves. This was a place where people could feel safe investing, volunteering, and connecting.”
But Scott Wierman sees the relationship as being reciprocal.
“Crosby Scholars started with the Foundation, but we aren’t a long-term manager of programs,” he says. “We hold a number of funds for them and partner with them around student aid, but now it’s a partnership. They’re a great resource for us to learn about post-secondary education and how to prepare students. They have a powerful network and history to help guide the Foundation in our goals.”
This attitude of openness — not wanting to take full credit but rather seeking ways to strengthen the tools organizations need to develop solutions themselves — allows the Foundation to continue its journey of learning. And it sets the stage for the next century.
“I know what a unique situation we enjoy in Winston-Salem because of how the Foundation works with nonprofits and also how they work with other funders,” Lytle says. “It’s really unique that they’re willing to collaborate so closely for the betterment of the community. Because they know the collective action of nonprofits, the collective action of funders — that’s what it’s going to take to move the needle in our community.”