Friday, April 12, 2024

Power List 2023: Nonprofits & Philanthropies

Michael Blackwell
Elizabeth Brazas
Richard Brunson
William Buster*
Amy Cubbage
Keith Fishburne

Laura Gerald
Franklin Graham
Cecilia Holden
Lenora Jarvis-Mackey
Thomas Lawrence
Rhett Mabry

Brian Maness
Jim Melvin
Susan Mims
Mary Claudia ‘MC’ Belk Pilon
Julie Porter

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg
LaTida Smith
Charles Thomas
Bob Wagner
Jennifer Tolle Whiteside


New Hanover Community Endowment

It was a cross-state move, from Asheville to Wilmington, but William Buster, president and CEO of the New Hanover Community Endowment, remains on familiar turf — helping health care organizations make fundamental transitions in how they serve the public.

In the west, he was senior vice president of Dogwood Health Trust, which managed the proceeds of Mission Health System’s $1.5 billion sale to Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare, and on the coast, juggling the public’s share of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s $1.5 billion sale to Winston-Salem based Novant Health.

Named to his role a year ago, his mission is to improve health, education, safety, and economic opportunity for the region.

Buster, over a span of nearly a decade beginning in 2007, earned degrees in public policy and administration from N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, the University of New Hampshire and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

He put his education to work in positions such as executive vice president of community investments at the St. David’s Health Foundation, which works for health equity in central Texas; with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and as a program officer for the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem.

He’s been active all along in racial justice roles, including serving on the Minority Farmer Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


CEO | Baptist Children’s Homes

Under his 40 years of leadership, ministries and services have expanded to include North Carolina and parts of South Carolina. He has authored six books, some on the history of his institution, others on leadership in nonprofit organizations.

Favorite family tradition: Thanksgiving dinner 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Black Mountain

What do you listen to on your commute: Pandora. It gets the energy flowing and I sing along. 

Major inspiration: My wife, Catherine Blackwell, because of her enduring patience and infinite wisdom. 

Career highlight: Forty years as president/CEO of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. 

Favorite hobby:  Assuming my alter ego
of Big Daddy Cool. 

Best advice for industry newcomer: Be curious, compassionate, courageous, courteous 

Key industry change in next five years: More emphasis on foster care, adoption and foster care leading to adoption.


president, CEO | Community Foundation
of Western NC

Brazas joined the foundation following a career in wealth management at Wachovia/Wells Fargo and the Threshold Group. The Davidson grad has a law degree from the University of South Carolina. The foundation, with $400 million in assets, provides grants of about $10 million annually across 18 western North Carolina counties.


executive director | NC Baptists on Mission

Brunson has served in his current role for 30 years. The group is currently supporting Ukrainian refugees through volunteer teams in countries surrounding the conflict. He has degrees from Gardner-Webb University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


president | NC Partnership for Children

Cubbage was a teacher after earning a degree from Brown University. She went on to earn a law degree from Northeastern University. She gained her current position in 2020, overseeing Smart Start, North Carolina’s comprehensive system that prepares kids to enter school.


president, CEO | Special Olympics North Carolina

About 40,000 individuals with disabilities participate annually in Special Olympics  programs through the group he’s led since 1997. He joined the nonprofit in 1989. It has an annual budget of about $6.5 million and relies on thousands of volunteers.


president | Katie B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

After graduating medical school from Johns Hopkins University Dr. Gerald began her career as a pediatrician in her hometown of Lumberton. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University. She joined the Reynolds  trust in 2016. It makes annual gifts averaging $24 million and has more than $500 million in assets.


president, CEO | Samaritan’s Purse

The son of famed evangelist Billy and Ruth Bell Graham is a key voice among evangelical Christians. Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, with revenue about $900 million annually, provides food, medicine and other assistance to more than 100 countries through a variety of mission and disaster relief programs. It employs more than 4,000 on a full- or part-time basis. He has a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University.


CEO | myfutureNC

Holden was named myfutureNC’s first CEO in late 2019. The nonprofit’s clear goal is to help 2 million North Carolinians earn a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree by 2030. She holds degrees from UNC Wilmington and Duke University. She previously was chief of staff at the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Favorite family traditions: Beach time with family and friends, birthdays at my mom’s, and Thanksgiving with my in-laws.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Wrightsville Beach

What do you listen to on your commute: Gospel singer Emily Ann Roberts

Major inspiration: My faith and family keep
me grounded.

Career highlight: Some rewarding highlights and defining moments include:
(1) worldwide recognition for technology that fully automated Wake County’s criminal justice system; (2) global leadership for IBM technical support centers; (3) chief of staff at N.C. Commerce under the late Secretary John Skvarla III; (4) legislative director at State Board of Education and (5) leading the state’s charge to increase educational attainment alongside the myFutureNC team and our strategic partners.

Favorite hobby after work: Relax in front of a fire in the winter or on the front porch in the summer.

Best advice for industry newcomer: Stay grounded in your “why” and don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do.

Key industry change in next five years: Use of artificial intelligence and data will play a transformative role in most industries.


president, CEO | River City
Community Development Corp.
Elizabeth City

The Elizabeth City State University graduate has led the nonprofit for 30 years. It serves northeastern North Carolina with programs focused on job development, youth engagement, and wellness. Last year she was named to the foundation board at her alma mater. In 2021, the university awarded her an honorary
doctorate degree.


president | The Leon Levine Foundation

The former Arthur Andersen staffer has worked at the foundation since 2002. Its assets total nearly $600 million, with annual grants of about $25 million to charitable interests in Charlotte and beyond. The University of Richmond graduate previously worked in family wealth planning. Leon Levine, who died April 5, founded the Family Dollar discount-store chain. 


CEO | Duke Endowment

The Greensboro native joined the 99-year-old foundation in 1992, becoming the top executive in 2016. It had assets of $5.9 billion in 2021 and provides nearly $200 million in annual grants. Mabry earned a bachelor’s degree at UNC Chapel Hill and a master’s of health administration at Duke University.


president, CEO | Children’s Home Society
of North Carolina

The UNC Greensboro MBA joined the society in 2002 and became CEO in 2014. During his tenure, he has helped expand the society’s mission of helping foster and adopt children to a variety of programs focused on strengthening families.


president | The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation

Greensboro’s mayor from 1971 to 1981 eventually earned the informal title “Mr. Greensboro” for his decades of civic leadership. The retired banker joined the foundation funded by a Jefferson-Pilot Corp. executive and heir. His latest coup was helping to recruit Toyota’s massive electric battery plant to nearby Randolph County.


CEO | Dogwood Health Trust

Mims was named interim CEO at Dogwood in 2020 and permanent CEO and president in 2022. Dogwood formed after the 2018 sale of Asheville’s Mission Health and has $1.5 billion in assets. It has approved multiyear grants of $102 million. Mims holds a medical degree from UNC Chapel Hill. She held executive posts at Mission Health before its sale.


president, board chair | John M. Belk Foundation

The Roanoke College graduate has made the $450 million foundation a force in N.C. educational improvement efforts since 2012. She previously worked in retail management. She is the granddaughter of William Henry Belk, who founded the department store chain, and daughter of Claudia Belk and former CEO and Charlotte Mayor John Belk.


president | DreamKey Partners

Porter has led the nonprofit housing group, which was formerly named Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, for 10 years. She graduated from Wichita State University. She left the banking industry in 2000 to start working in community development in the Kansas City area.

Favorite family tradition: Annual trout fishing vacation

Major inspiration: Grassroots organizations that advocate every day to bring resources to their communities to improve the quality of life for ordinary residents.

Career highlight: Being trusted with the reigns of DreamKey Partners.

Favorite hobby after work:  The commute home. It’s when I decompress and reflect on “what’s next.”  

Key industry change in next five years: An overhaul of how subsidy works.


president, CEO | El Centro Hispano

Since 2009, Rocha-Goldberg, 55, has led El Centro,
which provides health, advocacy and economic development to Hispanic/Latinx communities throughout the Triangle. She was previously a nutritionist at Duke University Medical Center. 

Favorite family tradition:
Getting together for Thanksgiving.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Bald Head Island

What do you listen to on your commute: NPR

Major inspiration: My mom, because she was a strong, dedicated woman.

Favorite hobby after work: Folkloric dancing

Best advice for industry newcomer: Set up time for yourself to be able to manage the stress.

Key industry change in next five years: More inclusion of community members in general.


president | The Winston-Salem Foundation

Smith became the first woman and person of color to head the 104-year-old foundation in 2021. She has a degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s from Ohio State University. The foundation, with assets
of $500 million-plus, focuses on inclusivity and equity in education. She had been president of the Pennsylvania-based Moses Taylor Foundation.


director | Knight Foundation

A photographer with a Duke University economics degree, Thomas joined the Knight Foundation as director in 2016 after leading Queen City Forward, an entrepreneurial collective, for six years. The Knight Foundation supports democracy and free expression through programs in cities where the Knight family once published newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer.


executive director | Mountain True

The Wake Forest University grad came to the environmental group 10 years ago after 12 years with Habitat for Humanity, where he supervised house-building programs in Africa; and a nine-year stint with the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. Mountain True champions resilient forests, clean waters, and healthy communities in the Southern Blue Ridge.


president, CEO |
North Carolina Community Foundation

Whiteside became CEO in 2007 and since that time has led the organization to doubling its assets and grant-making. She previously led Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Whiteside is past chair of the N.C. Child
Fatality Task Force. 

Favorite family tradition: Both sides of my family love enjoying a good sunset with a cocktail and dry-roasted peanuts.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: In my backyard with my family and three dogs.

What do you listen to on your commute: My husband’s radio show show, “Under the Influence.” It previews musical acts coming to the Triangle and airs on community radio station WCOM (103.5FM).

Major inspiration: North Carolinians who work
with us every day to build community through philanthropic giving. 

Career highlight: Becoming the second CEO/president of the North Carolina Community Foundation and getting to lead this organization during a period of growth.

Favorite hobbies after work: Walking my dogs or paddleboarding on a nearby lake.

Best advice for industry newcomer: The work is not about you — it is about the mission and how you support others to be successful and contribute to the mission. Also, hire people who know more than you and then get out of their way.

For 40 years, sharing the stories of North Carolina's dynamic business community.

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