President , The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina
Elizabeth Brazas credits her mother as being the most influential person in her life. “Mom is a feminist,” says Brazas. “She is an intellect and unbelievably well-read. When all four of her kids were in school, she went back to school and then back to work. She played bridge and tennis and was committed to her book club (and still is). She does the NYT crossword puzzle in ink. She remains active in politics at all levels. She understood when I quit the Brownies and joined Indian Guides.”
Brazas’ path to her position of president of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) includes practicing law for four years and working in the financial services sector. Born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey, she is in her eighth year with CFWNC.
“After being in wealth management for my entire career, I kept finding myself drawn to the philanthropic part of that work,” she remembers. “I reached out to a mentor who was working at the Pew Charitable trust as I considered this transition. She was the one that connected me to the recruiter that specialized in nonprofit positions and was doing the Community Foundation search.
“Being in wealth management for my entire career, I kept finding myself drawn to the philanthropic part of that work.”
“When I was working out West, each family I worked with either had its own foundation or was working with their local community foundation. I became familiar with both models and focused my job search accordingly and geographically (either North Carolina or Virginia). The stars aligned for me, given the timing of my search, the Great Recession, and the narrowness of what I truly wanted.
“My role at CFWNC draws on my professional experience and has given me an opportunity to learn and grow. We work with incredibly generous individuals who care deeply about this region. We’re funded differently because we don’t really do direct fundraising. Our work is based on relationships—both with our fundholders and the nonprofits we support.
“I enjoy the relationships that are the cornerstone of our philanthropic advisory services. We manage more than 1,000 funds, and some of those fundholders work closely with us as advisors. Because we sit at the crossroads of regional needs and resources, at times we can match a project with a funder or help a fundholder identify a project or organization that meets their philanthropic goals.
“It’s the unique role that community foundations play in the regions they serve that I find rewarding because, to me, these trusted relationships hold the most long-term promise for meeting local needs. And, the people choosing to work with us in this way are always passionate, caring, and working to make a difference.”
What are the most challenging parts of her job? She notes that Western North Carolina, like much of the country, faces many challenges.
“We do not have enough funds to meet our regional needs. So, we have to prioritize. Secondly, in this line of work, we often develop close relationships with people that we end up losing. It’s an honor to carry on the charitable legacies of these fundholders, but, of course, it hurts to lose someone with whom you’ve worked closely.”
Brazas enjoys traveling, reading, eating, gardening, and sitting on her porch—especially when it is cool enough for a fire. When asked what advice she would give to a younger version of herself, she replied, “Care less about what people think. Eat dessert first.”
The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina inspires philanthropy and mobilizes resources to enrich lives and communities in Western North Carolina.
Number served annually
CFWNC manages more than 1,000 charitable funds, and
that includes individual donors, families, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that have funds with us. CFWNC facilitates more than $18 million in grants and scholarships annually. We are the largest source of philanthropic resources for Western North Carolina.
how do you get funding?
We focus on endowment, although not all of our $284 million in assets is endowed. Our assets grow as generous donors place funds here to support specific causes or to help CFWNC respond to unanticipated needs in the future.
Year nonprofit was founded?
We cover the 18 counties of WNC. Asheville is our only office, but we have nine affiliate funds, and with those funds we have local volunteer advisory boards, who help us raise money and make grants in those geographic areas. Those affiliates: Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund, Cashiers Community Fund, The Fund for Haywood County, Highlands Community Fund, The McDowell Endowment, The Fund for Mitchell County, Rutherford County Endowment, Transylvania Endowment, The Yancey Fund.
Board Members With Titles
2017 – 2018
Chair: A.C. Honeycutt, Jr.
Vice-Chair: Stephanie Norris Kiser
Secretary: Laurence Weiss
Treasurer: G. Edward Towson, II
Maurean B. Adams
Joanne H. Badr
James W. Baley
Guadalupe Chavarria, II
Lowell R. Pearlman
Sarah Sparboe Thornburg
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