Attention, Charlotte! The Nonprofits Are Now in Charge

Charlotte's traditional business leaders are busy watching the bottom line and testifying before Congress. Which means the nonprofits are running the city. Here's your illustrated guide to the new pecking order

By Richard Thurmond
Photographs by Chris Edwards


Bob Morgan
Charlotte Chamber

Bob Morgan President, Charlotte Chamber


On an early March day that felt like the first day of spring, Ken Thompson called to order the annual meeting of the Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC). When the crowd realized it was the former Wachovia CEO speaking, a hush fell over the audience of more than 1,000 business and nonprofit leaders. He kept his remarks brief before turning over the podium to FFTC President Michael Marsicano and Executive VP Laura Meyer.

The handoff was apt.

At almost the same time, a major Bank of America shareholder group sent a letter to the bank's lead director asking for CEO Ken Lewis's removal. Two days earlier, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers made the rounds on national talk shows to protest the latest economic plan from the Obama administration.

Yes, that was the ground you felt shaking. Charlotte's power structure is in the midst of a major upheaval. Traditionally, corporate bosses have run this town. But for the time being, the Ken Lewises and Jim Rogerses are fighting for their jobs, testifying before Congress, and staring at shrinking bottom lines. Which leaves the nonprofits in charge.

Organizations like FFTC and the Charlotte Chamber and the Arts & Science Council and Crisis Assistance Ministry are pushing Charlotte-centric agendas, even as funding threatens to dry up. They're doing it by using a web of connections to work together. The Chamber, Charlotte Regional Partnership, and Center City Partners meet regularly with Wells Fargo execs to sell them on Charlotte. FFTC and Community Building Initiative are running Crossroads (with funding from the Knight Foundation), a multipronged project designed to get the community to take ownership of Charlotte's future. People who never thought they'd need aid are showing up at the door of Crisis Assistance Ministry, seeking help paying the rent or utility bills. The Arts & Science Council is preparing for the new cultural campus on South Tryon Street even as it retools for the new economy.

Of course, nonprofits can't run the city by themselves. "The suggested death of the private sector is way, way exaggerated," says Chamber President Bob Morgan. "At the end of the day, our country is going to survive if the private sector is productive." But right now, it's not.

"There's some really big questions out there," says Dianne English, executive director of Community Building Initiative. "And our business community … may not be able to address them in the same way. The nonprofit sector can say here are some important questions in terms of where we can look."

On the following pages is an illustrated guide to the most powerful nonprofit players in Charlotte. We show you who they are and how they're connected. Included are CEOs, key executives, and top donors, as well as business leaders who play important roles in the nonprofit community. We did not include healthcare, government, or education leaders. Instead, we focused on smaller, more nimble groups that have missions related to the community at large.

Cyndee Patterson
President, Lee Institute and Duke Mansion
A go-to organization for facilitating and children's issues

Carol Hardison
Executive Director, Crisis Assistance Ministry
Bad economy and United Way troubles mean increased sway for the well respected Hardison

Dianne English
Exec. Director, Community Building Initiative
Feel-good outfit brings together a broad swath of players

Patrick Graham
President and CEO, Urban League of Central Carolinas
Graham has pushed an aggressive agenda in the urban community

Sally and Russell Robinson
Old money Charlotte and beloved, respected philanthropists

Leon and Sandra Levine
With recent gifts to Urban League and Critical Needs Fund, they are spoken of in hushed tones in nonprof community

Jane McIntyre
Executive Director, YWCA
A turnaround specialist with access to old money = United Way CEO candidate?

Andy Calhoun
President and CEO, YMCA of Greater Charlotte
The Y continues to have tremendous reach

Michael Marsicano
President and CEO, Foundation for the Carolinas
Almost all major civic initiatives flow through FFTC, which is connected to old and new money

Laura Meyer
Executive V.P., Foundation for the Carolinas
No. 2 at FFTC gaining clout as Marsicano spread increasingly thin

Susan Patterson
Charlotte Director, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Major funders of FFTC projects, new Knight Theater

Ruth Shaw
Chair, Carolina Thread Trail
Former Duke exec is now a leading environmental player

Jennifer Appleby
President and Chief Creative Officer, Wray Ward
Marketing guru for ASC, CCCP, and a leader on the rise

Mac Everett
Interim CEO, United Way Central Carolinas
Ex Wachovia exec and current golf tourney director has been a leader at every major nonprof in town

Michael Smith
President, Charlotte Center City Partners
How will he restock uptown?

Lee Keesler
CEO, Arts and Science Council
Former Wachovia exec stepping down this summer after five years helming ASC

Bob Morgan
President, Charlotte Chamber
Post-crash, the chamber has become an incredibly important institution, for recruiting and networking

Ronnie Bryant
President and CEO, Charlotte Regional Partnership
Working closely with the chamber to bring companies to town

Robert Bush
COO, Arts and Science Council
Gaining sway with Keesler's looming departure

Tim Newman
President and CEO, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
CRVA's work needed more than ever in down economy

Steve Luquire
CEO, Luquire George Andrews
Put the Charlotte Regional Partnership on his back as board chair; UW turned to him in recent crisis.

Tom Gabbard
President, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center
With ASC searching for a new chief, Gabbard, who controls the Blumenthal empire, is top arts leader.

Douglas Young
Director of Theatrical Programming, Blumenthal PAC
Gabbard runs the show, but Young books the venues

Phil Kline
President and CEO, Mint Museums
Kline leading Mint to new home on South Tryon; Mint still has major sway with old-money CLT

Angeles Ortega-Moore
Executive Director, Latin-American Coalition
Still the go-to person for issues in the Latino community

Categories: Feature, The Buzz