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North Georgia Community Foundation president retiring

GAINESVILLE — When Jim Mathis began as president and chief executive officer of the North Georgia Community Foundation, the nonprofit had one computer.

“When I came in 1998, the foundation was at 222 Brenau Ave. in 8,000 square feet of space we shared with other nonprofits,” Mathis told The Times. “...We had one computer, no accounting software and no investment software.”

At the time, the foundation had about $3 million in assets. Today, it has nearly $50 million in assets and another $174 million in assets under management.

Mathis announced Friday he will retire in December 2016 from the philanthropic organization he has led for 17 years.

He had two major tasks when he started as president all those years ago — to choose an accounting software and a better way to invest money.

Mathis recalled first purchasing Blackbaud accounting software, a top nonprofit accounting system today.

“I went to the first conference in the fall of 1998 in Miami, Fla., for the Council on Foundations,” Mathis said. “While there, I packed up three or four boxes of material and sent it home to learn how to be a good foundation manager.”

The foundation was founded in 1985 by former Times publisher Lou Fockele and other business leaders. It builds, manages and awards charitable grants from a pool of community funds.

Prior to serving as president and CEO, Mathis served as chairman of the board from 1986-87.

“Under Jim’s leadership, the foundation has enjoyed tremendous success in growing its investment portfolio and providing philanthropic opportunities,” said Strother Randolph, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, in a news release. “Jim is a strong leader, a visionary, and has guided the organization in an exemplary manner.”

Cheryl Vandiver, vice president of development for the foundation, said Mathis “will be very missed” when he retires next year.

“He has guided and directed the day-to-day movements and decisions that a foundation makes and led it to grow in the 17 years he’s been here more than anyone else could have done,” Vandiver said. “He knows the community so well and has been involved in so many things in the community. People respect him and his knowledge of the things going on, as well as the things that still need to be done.”

Mathis will mentor his successor and spearhead a major fundraising campaign to support the foundation’s initiatives over the next year and a half, according to the news release.

The board has formed a search committee and involved The Chason Group to help with efforts to find a new executive. Board chairman-elect Daren Wayne will lead the committee.

“We hope to attract candidates from a wide range of backgrounds with proven leadership experience, communication skills, financial expertise, vision and character,” Wayne said.

“Most importantly, we are looking for someone whose exceptional credentials and capabilities are matched by their passion for serving the community.”

Under Mathis’ leadership, the foundation became the first in Georgia to achieve the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations, based on accountability, transparency and continuous self-improvement. The organization was recertified in 2011.

Mathis, who will turn 70 next year, said he will spend retirement enjoying his five grandchildren, and he will continue to work with the foundation far into the future.

“I know I will see it continue to grow,” Mathis said. “More importantly, it will continue to help people be philanthropic. It helps them give money to good causes all around our area. And as it grows, our impact will grow, and as our impact grows, so will the nonprofit community of north Georgia.”