Building the world we want to live in

In 1914, the city of Cleveland launched the Cleveland Foundation, an enterprise that would transform how philanthropy worked in America. The brainchild of noted Cleveland banker Frederick H. Goff, the Cleveland Foundation reflected the prevailing spirit of reform and generosity by enabling any citizen of the city, no matter how humble or grand their means, to give back and build a stronger community. A community foundation enabled people of modest means to donate to an entity that could pool their donations with those of others to make a bigger impact.

It was a radical idea: Philanthropy didn’t have to be the exclusive privilege of the wealthy. Here was a foundation funded and managed by the community for the betterment of the community. And it was flexible enough to stand the test of time.

The idea caught on across the country and, five years later in October of 1919, the Winston-Salem Foundation became the 16th community foundation in the country and the first foundation of any kind — public or private — in North Carolina. With a $1,000 donation from Wachovia Bank President Colonel Francis Henry Fries, the Foundation began its first century of service to the community.

For the community

A community foundation was a natural fit for Winston-Salem. From its earliest days as an egalitarian Moravian town, where each person, regardless of age or gender, had a part to play, the city had a long history of citizens banding together to care for one another. As the city and county grew through the 19th-century blossoming of entrepreneurial enterprises, the idea that a community is stronger when everyone is involved in its growth and success took root.

In other words, the community foundation didn’t set Winston-Salem on a new path. It simply drew out and amplified the generous spirit that was already a part of the city’s character. And while the city has grown to more than 200,000 residents, it’s still small enough that those who give can see the fruits of their generosity. That has real power.

Adjusting to the changing times

Today, a century later, the Foundation manages $565 million in assets and has more than 1,500 charitable funds. These funds are established by individuals and groups who have a passion for enhancing the quality of life in Forsyth County — and beyond. Funds have been established for a variety of causes over time — from eradicating tuberculosis to building dog parks. Residents create funds to beautify their neighborhoods and the first scholarship was created in 1923 as a memorial to Reynolds High School student Leo Caldwell. The Foundation managed the fund and donations ranged from $1.50 (from an elementary school class) to $2,000. Funds come and go as the problems they were created to combat are eradicated.

The beauty of the Foundation is that the board has the ability to adjust strategies to meet the changing times. Issues that were once dire threats have faded away, while new challenges and opportunities have arisen — ones the founders in 1919 could not have imagined.

Over the years the Foundation’s understanding of the city’s needs has deepened, and initiatives like Everyone Can Help Out (ECHO), and a focus on diversity and inclusion, have built on those egalitarian roots to take the Foundation into its second century.

A generous city

The city of Winston-Salem led the way in 1919 and continues that legacy today. Among 750 community foundations in the United States, the Winston-Salem Foundation was 38th in size in 2018. That’s bigger than the foundations in St. Louis, Dallas, and Philadelphia. In fact, the Foundation is seventh in the nation in per capita giving.

“The community is full of generous families who gave back and encouraged others to do the same,” says Scott Wierman, president of The Winston-Salem Foundation. “The story of the Foundation is the cumulative effect of the people who have given over the years.”

Many of the generous souls who cared for Winston-Salem throughout their lives — more than 9,200 — are remembered in a “Book of Memory,” leather-bound volumes on display at the Foundation’s office. The books honor those who have been memorialized in gifts large and small. These gifts are felt far and wide, and the names in the pages of these books remind us that no one who seeks to help another ever acts in vain.

Over the next few months, as we approach the Foundation’s centennial in October, we will be sharing many of the stories of the generous people of Winston-Salem and what their generosity has enabled. We will look at the impact on Forsyth County, from scholarships and public education to programs that broaden philanthropy among our black, female, and youth communities, and to what the next century will bring.

Woven through all of these stories will be the powerful and open-hearted spirit of Winston-Salem, the home of the nation’s first arts council, a robust United Way campaign, and innovative private foundations. Winston-Salem believes in community, in collaboration, and in the dignity and value of each person who calls the city home.

“Winston-Salem is special,” Weirman says. “In many ways The Winston-Salem Foundation has shaped the community and the community has shaped the Foundation. People take a long-term view on giving back to community. The Foundation is just one of many ways people contribute to the growth and prosperity of our city.”

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