The History of the Foundation
A letter from Jim Morgan
“It was during my year as President of the North Carolina Jaycees and three terms in the North Carolina General Assembly that I first began to hear about the community foundation concept. As I traveled around the state, I would see the good work these organizations were doing in their respective communities. It was quite clear that community foundations were providing a vital financial safety net for communities by serving donors and meeting needs of local nonprofits.
“What made these organizations so successful? Community foundations are designed to be run by a local Board of Trustees made up of established local leaders who contribute leadership, experience and wisdom. Community foundations also are built for permanence, providing a flexible financial vehicle that can help donors with a variety of philanthropic needs. And, most of all, they reflect the heart and soul of the communities they serve by providing financial resources that impact important community issues for generations to come.
“Today, the High Point Community Foundation is a well-known, respected and robust organization that has had a truly transformative effect upon our community. But there was a time when it didn’t exist and then, for many years, lived mostly in the hearts and imaginations of a select group of our community’s finest leaders.
“The Foundation’s origins began at the Duke Power Scholarship interviews that took place in Winston-Salem in 1990. Jim Millis Sr. and I were invited to help in the selection process and, as a result, we met a remarkable man, Bob Sailstad. Bob was the Director of Development at Davidson College who, over the years, had been closely involved with the establishment of community foundations. Bob believed in the concept so strongly that he was, in a sense, an evangelist for community foundations and made it his mission to help other people envision what they might do for their communities. During our conversations, we learned a lot about how community foundations worked and we both agreed that it was time for High Point to have one.
“For eight years after its incorporation in 1990, Jim and I worked tirelessly to bring the High Point Community Foundation idea to life. Our work soon attracted the help of others, and funding slowly began to move through the fledgling entity and into the community.
“In 1998, I experienced one of those moments of divine intervention. While working late on a Friday afternoon, Jim Millis, Sr. called to say that he and his wife, Jesse, had decided to make an unrestricted gift of $5 million to establish an office and staff for the High Point Community Foundation. All I could get out was one word: “Wow!”
“Later that year, the Foundation’s first Executive Board began to meet. Soon, the High Point Community Foundation hired its first Executive Director, Paul Lessard. We immediately hit the road to visit other area community foundations to find the best ideas in management, grant sourcing and operations for use in our young organization. We also began making presentations to other organizations in High Point to educate, inspire and raise money. In addition, Paul and Bill Horney began making development calls with potential donors and, before long our asset level was growing by leaps and bounds.
“The High Point Community Foundation established its first Annual Grants Program in 1998, distributing funds to 20 nonprofit organizations in the area, including a literacy program for three area elementary schools that were struggling with EOG scores and getting ready to be taken over by the state. The grants not only saved the schools, they also resulted in the development of a new county program. When the results were presented to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, the Board allotted an additional $2 million to implement a literacy program throughout all of Guilford County Schools, widely known as the High Point Literacy Project.
“To date, the Foundation has given away more than $3 million in unrestricted funds and more than $28 million through our Donor Advised Funds to countless nonprofit groups, schools and municipalities throughout the greater High Point area and the world.
“In 1999, Jim and Jesse Millis were honored with the Foundation’s first Philanthropist of the Year Award. This award is given to those who have made significant contributions of leadership and resources that have impacted the Foundation as well as the greater High Point community. We also established the Spirit of the Foundation Award to recognize those who provide exceptional service to the Foundation and the community.
“By 2003, thanks to the generosity of High Point philanthropists, as well as the guidance and oversight of the Investment Committee, the Foundation’s assets surpassed $11 million. In 2004, we suffered a terrible loss when Jim Millis, Sr. passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Jim died the way he had lived — with passion and faith. Jim and Jesse had decided before his death to roll the family’s private foundation into the High Point Community Foundation. This momentous move inspired others to give, and over the years the Foundation has surpassed the $55 million mark. It continues to grow stronger every year.
“Throughout the life of our Community Foundation there has been one enduring constant: The strength and vision of our Board of Trustees, who have brought their collective wisdom, work ethic and generosity to this great endeavor that began quietly as a conversation between two dreamers.
“Today, the dream has become a dynamic and successful reality, pumping ever more energy, resources and vision into our community. Most of all, it has become what Paul likes to call “A Reservoir of Hope” that touches the lives of many and will continue to be shaped by the best efforts of each new generation of community leaders.”