The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation raises private funding for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Nonprofits & Philanthropies

Industry consolidation has left many North Carolina cities with fewer corporate executives empowered to offer civic leadership. In their place, leaders of nonprofit groups such as the Foundation For The Carolinas in Charlotte and Asheville’s Dogwood Health Trust are taking key roles in guiding local communities. Proceeds from the tobacco industry continue to fill a philanthropic duty in the state through the Duke Endowment and Reynolds family-related foundations.

ELIZABETH BRAZAS

president, CEO | Community Foundation of Western North Carolina

Asheville

A Davidson College and University of South Carolina School of Law graduate, Brazas oversees more than $15 million of annual charitable giving. She previously worked in the financial-services industry for Wachovia, Deloitte and Morgan Stanley.

AMY OLIVER COOKE

CEO | The John Locke Foundation

Raleigh

The supporter of free markets and limited government took her post in 2019 after leading a similar public policy group in Denver. Her husband, John, is a Colorado state senator. Cooke, 57,  has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and a master’s from the University of Northern Colorado.

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LAURA GERALD

president | Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

Winston-Salem

Gerald has led the $530 million asset trust since 2016. After earning a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s in public health from Harvard, she was a pediatrician in Robeson County for nine years. She is a former state health director.

RICK GLAZIER

executive director | North Carolina Justice Center

Raleigh

A Penn State University and Wake Forest University School of Law graduate, Glazier joined the nonprofit in 2015 after 13 years as a Democratic state representative. He’s a former chair of the Cumberland County school board. The center’s mission to promote economic and social justice.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM

president, CEO | Samaritan’s Purse

Boone

The Appalachian State University graduate has become an evangelical leader and missionary, following the path of his father. Graham has led the relief group since 1979 and is also CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is expanding its Charlotte museum. Samaritan’s Purse has assets of more than $750 million.

MAURICE “MO” GREEN

executive director | Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

Greensboro

Green, 54, who has bachelor’s and law degrees from Duke University, came to the private family foundation in 2016. He’d spent the previous seven years as superintendent of Guilford County Schools. The foundation has invested more than $650 million since its start in 1936. It has assets of more than $300 million.

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BRIAN HAMILTON

Founder | Brian Hamilton Foundation

Raleigh

Since selling his financial software firm Sageworks to Accel-KKR in 2018, Hamilton, 57, has focused on helping build his Inmates to Entrepreneurs nonprofit. His investment firm acquired a Canadian videoconferencing company in January.

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MARY HOLMES

executive director | Cumberland Community Foundation

Fayetteville

The foundation she’s led since 1997 topped $100 million in assets last year, which board President Kelly Puryear called a key community milestone. Holmes was a banker before joining the organization. She has a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and a UNC Chapel Hill MBA.

THOMAS LAWRENCE

president | The Leon Levine Foundation

Charlotte

The foundation formed in 1980 by the Family Dollar retail chain founder is among Charlotte’s most active philanthropies supporting education, health care, human services and Jewish values. Lawrence is a University of Richmond graduate who joined Leon Levine’s family office and the foundation in 2002. 

PAUL LESSARD

president | High Point Community Foundation

High Point

Lessard was hired as the founding president in 1998 and has overseen growth in assets from $5 million to more than $120 million. He has a bachelor’s degree from High Point University and a master’s in fine arts from UNC Greensboro. 

RHETT MABRY

CEO | Duke Endowment

Charlotte

The Duke University master’s degree graduate joined the organization in 1992 and became president in 2016. Since J.B. Duke started it in 1924, the endowment has distributed more than $4 billion to higher education, health care, child services and rural churches. It had assets of $3.8 billion as of 2019.

MICHAEL MARSICANO

CEO | Foundation For The Carolinas

Charlotte

Marsicano, 65, joined the foundation in 1999 after a decade leading the Charlotte Arts & Science Council. The Duke University graduate has helped grow its assets to $3.1 billion from $250 million. He was named No. 1 on Charlotte Magazine’s 2017 50 Most Powerful People in Charlotte list. In 2018, NonProfit Times named him one of the top 50 U.S. nonprofit executives.

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JIM MELVIN

CEO | Joseph M. Bryan Foundation

Greensboro

Long called “Mr. Greensboro,” the former mayor and retired banker has been involved in funding the Gate City’s downtown base-
ball stadium, massive industrial sites and many other projects. The UNC Chapel Hill
graduate, 87, joined the foundation as CEO in 1996. He had previously led 1st Home
Federal Savings and Loan for a decade.

SUSAN MIMS

interim CEO | Dogwood Health Trust

Asheville

The trust, which was created with $1.5 billion from the 2019 sale of Mission Health, named Mims as interim CEO after the departure of Anthony Chiang. She is a veteran leader in Asheville area health care at Mission and Buncombe County. She has medical and master’s degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.

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LORI O’KEEFE

president, CEO | Triangle Community Foundation

Durham

With a bachelor’s and MBA from the State University of New York, O’Keefe joined the nonprofit in 2005 and became its president and CEO in 2012. Assets have grown to more than $250 million during her tenure.

MARY CLAUDIA “MC” BELK PILON

president and board chairwoman | John M. Belk Endowment

Charlotte

The Roanoke College graduate, 47, worked for her family’s department-store chain for 12 years before joining the endowment named after her father. She has helped shift the group’s strategy to focus on postsecondary education. In 2020, she received the I.E. Ready Award, the highest honor bestowed by the State Board of Community Colleges.

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LISA PURCELL

interim president | Winston-Salem Foundation

Winston-Salem

Purcell, a University of Georgia and University of North Texas graduate, had been the $620 million asset group’s executive vice president since 2006. She became interim president last fall after longtime leader Scott Wierman joined Hilton Head Island, S.C.’s foundation. She previously worked for Hanesbrands. 

HENRY WALKER SANDERS

president | Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro

Greensboro     

A Sewanee: The University of the South graduate, Sanders, 55, has led the group since 1999. Formed in 1983, it has assets of $300 million and granted $35 million last year.

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JENNIFER TOLLE WHITESIDE

president, CEO | North Carolina Community Foundation

Raleigh

Since 2007, she has led the $290 million asset group that supports foundations in smaller N.C. communities. The group was initiated by former First Citizens Bancshares CEO Lewis “Snow” Holding. Tolle Whiteside previously was executive director of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

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