MDC has worked over five decades to expand opportunity, reduce poverty, and address structural inequities so that everyone in the South can thrive.
The twenties: working amid a pandemic
2020-present – MDC is creating the Passing Gear Philanthropy Institute, a network of at least 20 Southern grantmakers to be built over five years, that is helping participating foundations actively employ Passing Gear Philanthropy principles and deploy all their forms of philanthropic capital to address enduring systemic barriers and catalyze shared wellbeing for people in the South. The first cohort of four foundations began in 2020.
2020-present – MDC is building a learning and action network of organizations across North Carolina to learn more about the intersection of race, educational equity, and learning differences called "Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions," or LENS-NC. Supported by the Oak Foundation, selected organizations received funds to advance their work to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning differences and create learning environments where marginalized students with learning differences will thrive.
The Teens: Weathering the Great Recession
2018-present – MDC is supporting the Woodward Hines Education Foundation in its role as a statewide education leader committed to improving postsecondary attainment practice and policy in Mississippi.
2018-present – MDC created the Network for Southern Economic Mobility, a group of Southern communities committed to increasing upward economic mobility for youth and young adults in the lowest income brackets. Through on-site coaching, programmatic technical assistance, and facilitated peer-learning, the Network helps communities deepen, accelerate, and align policy and practice for systemic change that position these youth and young adults for economic success. The Network communities include: Athens, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla. Little Rock, Ark., Savannah, Ga., and Spartanburg, S.C.
2018-present – Creating an ecosystem to support family economic success, MDC is partnering with United Way of Greater Greensboro (N.C.) and community stakeholders to pilot the first Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) network in Guilford County, N.C., which is developing networks of nonprofit and public social services providers to empower families to achieve major economic outcomes. It is using the two-generation ISD approach to bundle, sequence, and deliver social services so community-wide networks can create efficiencies and produce outcomes that also improve social determinants of childhood development and health. MDC and its partners are planning to scale ISD Networks to more Southern communities.
MDC also is helping UWGG pilot ISD at physical locations—called Family Success Centers—to improve economic outcomes for families with young children using an adapted version of an MDC-developed scaling methodology called More to Most.
2018-2019 – MDC co-designed and facilitated committee meetings of the MyFutureNC Commission, in which leaders of North Carolina public education systems—including the President of the University of North Carolina, Acting President of the North Carolina Community College System, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction—partnered to create a statewide commission on educational attainment. MDC’s work was with committees on Pre-K to 12th grade, Workforce Development, and Postsecondary Education.
2018 – MDC marked its 50-year anniversary with the State of the South report "Recovering Our Courage," a look back at a region that made great strides during the 1960s and '70s— improving education, income, and health for its residents by removing many barriers to opportunity for African American and low-income residents—but is falling back. The report recommends solutions for moving forward to shape a South where all people thrive.
2017 – Published “Philanthropy as the South's Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise,” a report commissioned by the Southeastern Council of Foundations to update and revise MDC's 2007 State of the South report on “Passing Gear Philanthropy.” The updated State of the South report explores what has changed in terms of data, landscape, and philanthropic capacity and activity in our region and identifies opportunities where Passing Gear philanthropy can drive us far past the status quo.
2016-present —MDC is working with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust as the activating agency for its Great Expectations initiative. The Trust plans to invest between $30–40 million over 10–15 years to give the children of Forsyth County, N.C., the foundation necessary to succeed in school and life by the time they complete kindergarten, regardless of their family’s income. MDC, working in close partnership with the Trust, will coordinate multiple strategies that advance this goal.
2016 – Published “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity.” The report examined patterns of economic mobility and educational progress by geography and demography in North Carolina, focusing on the education-to-career continuum. That analysis was paired with a close look at eight areas across the state
2015-2016 – MDC collaborated with the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education to execute a strategic plan to clarify their role and strengthen the performance of Alabama’s community college system. MDC provided analytic research and engaged industrial, political, and business leaders to deepen commitment to the system’s three-fold mission of academic education, adult education, and workforce development.
2015 – After initiating and incubating Made in Durham, a public-private partnership focused on enabling all Durham youth to earn a postsecondary credential and attain economically rewarding work, MDC spun off the initiative as an independent nonprofit and continued in an advisory role and as organizer of its youth network.
2014-2016 – MDC designed and sponsored the NC VetsCorps program to deploy AmeriCorps members with community-based organizations across North Carolina to build their institutional capacities to help economically vulnerable veterans and military families achieve greater economic stability. The program also developed and demonstrated new strategies for connecting economically vulnerable veterans and military families with legal, food, clothing, medical, utility, education, employment, and housing resources. Vets Corps recruited 1,922 volunteers to support the missions of their host site organizations and served 9,308 veterans and military families.
2014 – The State of the South report "Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the Next Generation" looked at the stalled economic mobility of young people and called on the region to develop and implement purposeful policies and systemic practices—an “infrastructure of opportunity”—to bolster the prospects for its 15- to 24-year-olds to achieve economic resilience as adults and a fulfilling social and civic life.
2013-2018 – MDC co-founded the North Carolina Navigator Consortium, which helped the state outperform its projections for the share of successful enrollments into health insurance plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace, as part of the Affordable Care Act. Over five years, MDC’s Health Care Navigators enrolled 751 households into Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Medicaid health insurance worth more than $5.2 million. The North Carolina Navigator Consortium has continued to help the state outperform its projections for the share of successful enrollments into health insurance plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The impact on households from receiving health insurance and financial assistance are greater than just the numbers. Research and practice show that expanding health insurance coverage improves health outcomes and reduces patient medical debt and hospital uncompensated care costs.
2013-2018 – MDC worked with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in its Healthy Places North Carolina (HPNC) initiative to find ways to incorporate community colleges as change agents in improving community health outcomes in distressed rural regions of the state.
2013-2015 – Starting with a $50 million endowment from the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund, CREATE foundation asked MDC to help a tri-county initiative in Northeast Mississippi build a career readiness system accessible to all students to spur workforce development.
2011-2013 – The Integrated Services Delivery Collaborative (ISD) was a partnership between the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, MDC, and United Way Worldwide. It aligned resources and organizations (i.e. community colleges, community-based organizations, and United Ways) to leverage knowledge and resources, find efficiencies to improve the service delivery system in a city, and the lives of low-income working families.
2011-2012 – Latino Student Success: MDC helped Lumina Foundation launch a four-year, $7.2 million nationwide effort to improve the postsecondary success of Latino students, the fastest-growing student population in America. MDC led community coaching as partnerships in 13 metropolitan areas developed a plan for implementing sustainable strategies that can have long-term success helping Latino high school and college students.
2010-2019– Every year, North Carolinians fail to claim more than $1 billion in resources available through tax credits, food assistance, health insurance and student financial aid. MDC launched The Benefit Bank of North Carolina© to make it easier for people to get the supports they’re entitled to receive, and helped South Carolina create its own Benefit Bank. This MDC-led initiative helped low-income North Carolinians claim more than $71 million in government-sponsored supports, including over $40 million in tax refunds and credits; more than $21 million in nutrition assistance; and over $10 million in health insurance.
2010-2013 – Partners for Postsecondary Success: A three-year demonstration project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create community partnerships in Southern cities to significantly increase the number of low-income youth who complete postsecondary credentials.
2010-2013 – Career Pathways for a Green South: A $3.8 million green jobs initiative under the U.S. Department of Labor's "Pathways Out of Poverty" program connected low-income and disadvantaged populations to economic self-sufficiency through good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. MDC is helped four community colleges in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia partner with employers and community-based organizations to clear the path for people in poverty to move from training to jobs.
2010-2018 – Center for Working Families® at Community Colleges and the Working Families Success Network: Working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other funders, MDC managed a network of 16 community colleges nationwide that adopted the Center for Working Families framework to help families increase their income through education, income supports, and financial coaching. That work evolved into WFSN, a holistic approach to help low-income students reach financial stability and move up the economic ladder. MDC provides coaching and technical assistance on the tenets of the WFSN strategy to community colleges, most recently for a major demonstration project through the Virgina Workforce System.
2010-2011 – The State of the South: After a "gilded age" that followed the dismantling of legal segregation and the brief rise of a broad middle class, two recessions exposed structural weaknesses in the region that had not been addressed. The report says the region must realign its educational systems, emphasize the importance of postsecondary credentials and their connection to economic wellbeing, and create new leadership and a renewed sense of connection among citizens.
The 21st Century: Advancing Equity and Opportunity
2009-2013 - The Developmental Education Initiative: An $18 million effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation to scale-up developmental (remedial) education innovations within 15 colleges and six states that are part of the Achieving the Dream reform network. The colleges and states expanded innovations and promoted policy reforms to help more students progress through developmental education more quickly—or bypass it altogether.
2008-present – MDC led a collaboration of community leaders who created "Made in Durham,” a public-private partnership focused on enabling all Durham youth to earn a postsecondary credential and attain economically rewarding employment by age 25. The work began with the report "Disconnected Youth in the Research Triangle Region," MDC's research report for the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation on the status of out-of-school, unemployed youth and young adults in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C. region. Growing out of the report, MDC incubated MID as a stand-alone nonprofit, having provided background research and mobilized an unprecedented cadre of top business, education, and community leaders to guide the organization. MDC continues advising and working with MID.
2008-2010 – MDC assisted the Danville Regional Foundation in developing a new, regional initiative aimed at improving the economic prosperity of citizens in three counties in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. The effort centered on developing a new generation of community leaders through an initiative called “Middle Border Forward” that is pursuing activities aimed at enhancing growth for all citizens of the region and creating an organizational structure that advances its mission.
2007 - The State of the South: Philanthropy as the South's Passing Gear: MDC's analysis of ways the region's philanthropic organizations can think more creatively and act more boldly to help the South address its self-limiting inequities and spur its competitiveness in a global economy.
2005-2007 - FEMA Emergency Preparedness Demonstration Program: A joint initiative of MDC and the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the demonstration program was supported by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help disadvantaged communities in six states and the District of Columbia prepare for disasters.
2004-2006 - Rural Leadership for Community Change: A program to develop leadership courses for students to become leaders and change agents in their own communities. This program was MDC's first contract with the federal Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), which supports innovative educational reform projects that can serve as national models for the improvement of postsecondary education.
2004-2013 - EITC Carolinas: A resource network that supported community volunteer groups to assist working families in reclaiming and retaining their income through the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and no-cost or low-cost tax preparation services.
2004 - State of the South: Examined the state of public education 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education. The report generated unprecedented demand for copies and presentations by MDC staff.
2003-present - Passing-Gear Philanthropy: MDC begins its work with place-based community and private foundations to help them refocus their program services to address the "upstream causes" of social inequities and performance gaps in education, employment, asset levels, and health using a signature methodology called Reflective Practice for Philanthropic Foundations. MDC has helped foundations across the country refocus more than $1 billion in philanthropic assets.
2003-2007 - Southern Network for Community Philanthropy: MDC was selected as managing partner for a Ford Foundation initiative to develop resources and community capacity in the South to promote social and racial equality.
2003-present - Latino Pathways: A demonstration project designed to increase job entry, retention, and advancement for Latino immigrants in two major North Carolina labor markets: Greensboro and Charlotte. The project was a response to the State of the South data on the occupational challenges facing Latino immigrants.
2003-2018- Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count: The Lumina Foundation for Education asked MDC to become managing partner for the national initiative to help more community college students succeed, particularly students of color and low-income students who have traditionally faced significant barriers to success. MDC then incubated the organization, oversaw development of a business plan, helped it spin-off into an independent organization, and provided support as a Founding Partner and through the Working Students Success Network.
2002 - State of the South: A follow-up to MDC's groundbreaking 1986 report, Shadows in the Sunbelt, which offered recommendations to spread economic progress into the region's shadows.
2001- 2007 - Program for the Rural Carolinas: A five-year development project in North Carolina and South Carolina, funded by The Duke Endowment. The program supported seven communities in large-scale collaborative projects to spur economic and community revitalization. It also supported 13 of The Endowment's eligible grantees in smaller-scale projects to promote economic opportunity in their communities. MDC provideed technical assistance, coaching, and skills and knowledge development opportunities for the grantees.
2000-2003 - Partnerships for Education and Economic Opportunity: MDC served as the convenor and facilitator of a learning network of a set of 12 Hitachi Foundation grantees across the U.S. focused on fostering economic opportunity for youth through mentoring, entrepreneurship, and workforce training, helping under-served and isolated communities prepare their young people for the 21st century. These ranged from Our Piece of the Pie, in Hartford, CT; Puente High School Project, Oakland, CA; and Forward in the Fifth in Berea, KY. The organizations’ work grew stronger and deeper as a result of MDC coaching and peer learning opportunities. MDC published the final report for the initiative entitled Creating Economic Opportunities for Every Young Person. The report offers 16 distinct lessons that, when taken together, provide insight into how some communities succeed in offering genuine opportunities for young people, and how their success can be replicated.
2000 - Connecting People to Jobs: MDC and the Center for Community Change collaborated to move low-skilled Southerners into skills training and higher-wage employment. Charlottesville, VA; Charleston, WV; and Columbia, SC. Supported by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation , the project had three sites: At each site, a grassroots organization, a community college, and employers collaborated to help disadvantaged adults get and keep decent jobs. In Columbia, the program focuses on occupational advancement for Latino workers.
2000 - State of the South: An analysis of the impact of globalization on the Southern economy, with an analysis of trends in business mix changes, trade, foreign direct investment, occupational mix changes, immigration, and workforce readiness.
The Nineties: Institutional and Community Change
1999 - MDC's founding president, George B. Autry, passed away. David Dodson, MDC's executive vice president, became MDC's second president. MDC created the Autry Fellowship as a living memorial to George Autry.
1998-2003 - Southern Grassroots Leadership Development Learning Program: As part of their Grassroots Leadership Portfolio, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation invested in a cohort of 17 grantees to build their capacity to cultivate grassroots leaders through a learning initiative. Organizations spanned the entire South and included grassroots community organizing groups, statewide advocacy organizations, and direct service organizations. The work ultimately led to stronger living wage policy, cleaner rivers in coal camps, more affordable housing, inclusive early childhood development, and more. During the initiative, organizations grew and strengthened their practice on leadership development in general as well as on racial equity, evaluation and curriculum design. MDC produced Fertile Ground: Reflection on Grassroots Leadership Development as a summary report.
1998-2003 - Vision to Action in Africa: MDC was invited by the Ford Foundation to internationalize the Rural Community College Initiative by spreading its principles to Namibia, to help the country's national university develop a new rural campus on the Angolan border.
1998 - The State of the South: An analysis of 30-year trends in population, jobs, income, poverty, and education in the South, concentrating on how various segments of the region's population are faring, with special attention to gender, ethnicity, and education levels. The report includes recommendations for the region's policymakers.
1998 - Building Community by Design: An MDC resource guide for community change leaders based on MDC's 15 years working at the grassroots level in comprehensive community change efforts. The full guidebook, at more than 350 pages, includes both explanations of the theory behind MDC's approach and the tools, activities, and resources MDC uses in working directly with community groups, including MDC's Moving from Vision to Action strategic planning guide.
1996 - The State of the South: The first edition of MDC's signature publication was a state-level analysis of 30-year trends in population, jobs, income, poverty, and education, along with projections to the year 2010 and recommendations to the region's leadership.
1994-2001 - Rural Community College Initiative: A major demonstration, managed by MDC and funded by the Ford Foundation, to show that rural community colleges in the most persistently distressed areas can help low-income people and communities move toward economic independence by increasing access to higher education and boosting local economic development.
1994-1996 - Workforce Alliance in Mississippi: As part of the Pew Delta Initiative, MDC built the capacity of leaders in seven Delta communities to redesign education and training systems to connect poor people to jobs.
1993 - A New Form of Philanthropy: A case study funded by the Lilly Endowment on the creation of the Foundation for the Mid South. The study was developed from MDC's perspective as a consultant in the creation and first years of the foundation.
1993-1996 - Partners for Educational Success: A school reform initiative funded by the Metropolitan Life Foundation that combined corporate and community efforts to raise student achievement for low-income and minority youth.
1993 - North Carolina Competitiveness Commission: MDC served as staff to the Commission, charged with establishing nonpartisan goals and benchmarks for addressing the long-term educational, economic, environmental, and social needs of the state.
1993 - Building a New Workforce for a New Century: An MDC report, commissioned by a group of Mississippi business leaders, which analyzed Mississippi's workforce training needs. The report led to passage of the Mississippi Workforce Act of 1994, which created a unique system of one-stop training centers tied to the state's community college system.
1992 - Greater Expectations: An MDC report, funded by the Pew Foundation that documented the extent and nature of the gap between the skills of the current Southern workforce and the requirements of the new economy, and identified the steps necessary to close the gap.
1992 - Alliance for Achievement: A major demonstration funded by the Pew Foundation, Bell South Foundation, and DeWitt Wallace Foundation to raise educational achievement, especially for low-income and minority students, in five Southern communities by forging partnerships among middle schools, high schools, and community colleges. Prepared for the initiative, the MDC report, Walking the Talk, synthesized strategies for raising student aspirations and offered case illustrations of how to help middle and high school students recognize that postsecondary education is a necessary, affordable, and accessible option.
1992 – Coming Out of the Shadows: An MDC report on the changes in economic development policies and practices five years after the publication of MDC's Shadows in the Sunbelt.
1991 – Pew Delta Initiative: MDC was hired by the Pew Charitable Trusts to recommend strategies to address poverty in the Mississippi Delta. MDC developed a successful plan to create the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta (a finance intermediary) and a demonstration to improve worker readiness, the Workforce Alliance. Today the Enterprise Corporation is a national model for financing enterprises in rural areas.
1991 – Let's Do It Our Way: an MDC manual that uses case study examples of how local schools, parents, and community groups can include at-risk kids in the campaign for excellence. This manual was included in a multi-video and print package developed to facilitate local action on issues raised by America's Shame, America's Hope.
1991-1996 – Indiana School Guidance and Counseling Leadership Project: A major school guidance reform initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment and designed to raise the educational achievement and college-going rates of all students. The program drew on MDC's recognized capacity in leadership development and our success at galvanizing attention to the needs of youth through America's Shame, America's Hope. It became a prototype for the multi-year foundation funded demonstration projects that are the core of MDC's current business model.
1991 - Realizing America's Hope: a multi-video and print package based on America's Shame, America's Hope to assist local efforts to address problems of at-risk youth. The package was produced in cooperation with South Carolina Educational TV, Public Affairs Television, Inc., the Education Commission of the States, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National School Boards Association.
1991 - Rural Futures Program: A Guide for Trainers: an MDC publication designed to broaden the program's reach. The Guide is now used as the basis for economic development in rural areas from Georgia to Oregon to New Hampshire.
1990 - Redesigning the North Carolina Employment and Training System: MDC consulted and provided staff support for the North Carolina Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Workforce Preparedness. The Commission report led to the creation of the Governor's Commission on Workforce Preparedness – a single state-level council to review, monitor, and develop workforce policies and initiatives for the state.
1990 – Foundation for the Mid South: MDC helped conceive of the Foundation and served as the initial staff for the first tri-state community foundation in the country. FMS addresses the causes of poverty through long-term philanthropic investment.
The Eighties: New Directions – Rural Development, Youth, and Education
1988-present – Rural Futures Program: A program designed and delivered by MDC to help communities in the rural South reach across lines of race, class and geography to develop leaders committed to broad-based approaches to local economic development.
1988 - America's Shame, America's Hope: A special MDC commission chaired by noted social scientist Kenneth B. Clark issued a report documenting the educational plight of at-risk youth and its damaging effects on the nation. This MDC report became the basis for a nationally televised Bill Moyers PBS TV special in 1991.
1988 – Workforce Literacy in the South: a report for the Sunbelt Institute on the increasingly negative implications of low levels of literacy in the workforce.
1988 – What Y'all Ought to Know: Taking advantage of the first-ever Super Tuesday presidential primary, MDC wrote this primer to educate candidates on the special economic problems facing the South.
1987-1989 - Commission on the Future of the North Carolina Community College System: MDC served as staff and advised the Commission in reshaping its vision and preparing the system for the 21st century.
1987 - North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center: MDC participated in the design and served as early staff of the Center, a quasi-state agency created to promote and support rural development as outlined by the Commission on Jobs and Growth. Today the Center is a national model.
1986 – The Ford Foundation granted MDC's request for support to examine its mission and business model in light of declining federal support for employment training intermediaries. MDC's board refocused the organization's agenda to address economic development and workforce development in the South, building on the momentum generated by Shadows in the Sunbelt.
1986 - Shadows in the Sunbelt: an MDC study that challenged the value of industry recruitment to rural economies and encouraged more broad-based approaches to economic development.
1985-present – Learner-Teacher Program: was designed by MDC to help federal job training centers spread creative programs and provide technical assistance to one another.
1985 - North Carolina Commission on Jobs and Growth: MDC helped staff the commission and pressed the need for special attention to rural counties in a changing economy.
1985 – Who's Looking Out For At-Risk Youth: An MDC report, commissioned by the Mott Foundation, on how the campaign for excellence in public education was affecting disadvantaged youth.
1983 – Independent Assessment of the Job Training Partnership Act: MDC did a systematic review and evaluation of the state systems and programs produced by the JTPA, the successor to the CETA program of the 1970s.
1982-1983 - Women in Electronics: A program designed by MDC in partnership with private business to prepare unemployed women with limited prior education and training to enter and advance in jobs in the electronics industry in Research Triangle Park.
1982-1983 - Analysis of Early School-to-Work Programs: MDC evaluated early efforts to forge federal programs into school-to-work links for disadvantaged youth.
The Seventies: Expanding the Reach of Workforce Development
1977-1981 – National Youth Program Monitoring and Analysis: MDC monitored and evaluated President Carter's Youth Initiative, launching a long-term commitment to youth employment and training issues. Evaluation and monitoring of federal and state programs becomes a major business for MDC.
1976 – The Conference for President Ford's National Commission for Employment Policy: MDC convened this Atlanta conference as a starting point for intensified research and development on policies and programs for youth employment.
1972 – The North Carolina Manpower Council: Designed by MDC at the request of N.C. Gov. Scott to enable North Carolina to coordinate federal and state training programs and relate them to strategic workforce development goals. The state council, one of the first in the nation, resulted from MDC's earlier report to Gov. Scott on training needs and programs in North Carolina.
The Sixties: Addressing Poverty and Work in North Carolina
1969-1974 – The Management Awareness Program: Designed by MDC and offered to businesses whose front-line supervisors sought help in understanding and managing a newly integrated labor force.
1969-present – The Human Resources Development Program: A flexible pre-employment training program that serves as a springboard to jobs and educational opportunities for men and women unprepared for the primary labor market. MDC designed and demonstrated the effectiveness of the program and then spun it off to the NC Community College system where it has served more than 100,000 participants since 1972.
1967-1973 – The Mobility Program: An experiment to change migration patterns that were crowding unskilled men and women in urban ghettos of the North and upper Midwest. MDC helped poor, displaced farm workers and farm families with annual cash incomes of less than $1,000 move to jobs closer to home in small Southern cities.
1967 – MDC was founded in collaboration with the Office of Economic Opportunity and the National Association of Manufacturers. Its original mission was to design job training programs to help poor and displaced workers in the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy and from a segregated to an integrated workforce. George B. Autry was MDC's founding executive director, Luther Hodges, Jr. founding board chair.
1964 – NC Governor Terry Sanford established the North Carolina Fund to address the systemic causes of poverty in the state. Supported by the Ford Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, among others, the Fund directly addressed issues of economic inclusion, racial discrimination, and community engagement. One of the Fund's legacies was the creation of MDC.