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Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Non-Conformists are entrepreneurs, innovators, and social change-makers -- living and working in the Cape Fear region. They are the people forging new paths with their ideas, innovations, and actions. This series gives readers a glimpse into their thinking, habits, and insights about originality and entrepreneurship.

Melissa Spain: Changemaker and CEO of Community Foundation North Carolina East.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Melissa Spain's passion for philanthropy began almost 30 years ago. As a Lobbyist for North Carolina-based non-profits both on a state and national level, her charitable work spans hundreds of charities. In her role as CEO, of the Community Foundation NC East has grown to over 100 funds and assets that total over 45 million dollars as planned gifts. As well as overseeing the Foundation's endowments, she also serves as a significant partner with key business leaders in eastern North Carolina and is a powerful advocate and voice for the non-profit sector in NC and Nationally. She is, without a doubt, a changemaker and Non-Conformist.

In your opinion, what is the most innovative & original ideas or thoughts you've seen in the Cape Fear region?

There has been tremendous new growth in the Cape Fear Region over the past 5 to 10 years. Without a doubt, one of the most significant is the development and utilization of our Cape Fear River waterfront. The expansion of multi-family housing, entertainment facilities, including the new amphitheater, increased lodging, and first-class dining options. This has also resulted in a record number of people relocating and choosing to make the Cape Fear region their permanent homes.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me begins with early morning caffeine, a dog walk with my golden retriever, and early morning reading of the financial markets and business news. Then, I allow a half hour to get business emails out to prioritize my client meetings and scheduling. I am typically moving at all times with travel between my two Foundation offices, including Wilmington and Greenville, NC. I have the luxury of being in-person for 95 percent of my client meetings daily, which often involves breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings, along with maybe somewhere around 50 to 75 calls per day. Various charity events and site visits with business and client partnerships across the eastern region of North Carolina. Evenings are always work with a glass of wine, dinner and much appreciated visits with my adult children. A workout at the gym is a luxury these days, but a walk or bike ride in the evenings, along our beautiful Inter Coastal Waterway, is the highlight of my day when I am blessed enough to get the time.

What's the most original idea you've had?

It's difficult to pinpoint the "one" as there have been many in my 30-year career. At the present moment, I feel the best answer would be the creation and launch of my new private company. It is the result of a desire to create something original by taking my knowledge and expertise in the philanthropy business and relationship business and turning that into a life-changing, inspiring global company. Providing my partners an opportunity to pay it forward. This is a direct result of an original idea that began over three decades ago.

What is the biggest risk you've taken?

That I rarely take no for an answer.

What do you think it takes to stand out these days?

You have to find your greatest passion and become empowered to find your path. Everyone has something significant they can accomplish in life, but to stand out and shine and set yourself apart, that will come from nothing other than self-determination and a relentless spirit to get you there. Nothing in life comes easy, and wisdom will prove that at the top of every mountain will be the bottom of the next one. Faith, prayer, and determination.

How do you bring your ideas to life?

I am and have always been a visionary. Once I've envisioned what my desire, goal, or end result truly is, nothing stops me from making the vision a reality. Personally and professionally, I thrive when I'm working to take a vision and make it a reality. But nothing brings ideas to life outside of tireless hard work and working smart. People we choose to surround ourselves with are undoubtedly essential for bringing ideas to life.

What is one trend that excites you?

The way Philanthropy and giving back has become a part of culture. On many levels, the mindset of giving back has been incorporated into both the corporate and private

sectors. This is truly a mindset that is so significant. We must always believe that we should leave everything better than we found it.

What is a habit of yours that makes you productive?

I respond to every inquiry I receive, whether by phone, email, text, or letter. As a result, no one ever wonders if they'll get a response from me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Work on the ability to let go. Don't let the things you cannot change prevent you from moving forward!

What's the best advice you've received that you actually followed?

It is ok to say no! Make more time for my health and enjoy the beauty of every day.

Tell us something that's true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

I do actually rest and have downtime on occasion.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I place emphasis on the value of strong, personal relationships. Having spent most of my life in business, where building and maintaining solid and personable relationships is vital, I know that this has resulted in the most crucial part of the story of growth and success. Numbers are not everything. Growth is a must, but business and success do not come without long-term relationships built upon integrity and trust.

What is one failure you've had, and how did you overcome it?

The inability to delegate and turn things over to others. I have worked tirelessly to overcome this, and I've been more successful in later years.

What new project are you working on at the moment?

A life-changing program for veterans in North Carolina. Suicide rates are at record numbers amongst veterans who have served and given their time to protect our country. Many suffer from traumatic brain injury and PTSD after numerous deployments, and when they return home, they are suffering to the point of taking their own lives. I've been working alongside state legislators and United States Congressional Members, along with some brilliant physicians and partners in North Carolina, and we have just received state funding to help provide HBOT Therapy to these many deserving veterans. We are extremely pleased to be involved with this at the present time.

What is the best $100 you spent recently?

A donation to a local Girl Scouts Troop, selling their Girl Scout cookies. These 6 young girls had been selling cookies all day outside of a local Harris Teeter Market in Wilmington, NC, on what happened to be a bitterly cold snow day. I happened to walk up at the end of that long day as they were about to pack up and go home, and

the "big" donation was their largest sale of the day. It took me back to my younger years when I was always the aggressive girl selling something on the weekend, or one day after school, and nothing made me feel better than "getting the sale" or, as we refer to it today, as "closing the deal."

What is one piece of software, app, or gadget that you use that is essential?

My phone is my lifeline because it gives me the ability to work effectively and timely from anywhere, anytime. My favorite app at the moment is Calm Radio, which is fabulous for downtime.

What are you reading now?

Typically I'm always reading 2 to 5 books, and my desks, night tables, and briefcase are always filled with the most current issues of magazines and periodically that I live and breathe by. I am currently reading the book "Wine Simple," and "Leadership Hero Code". Current Periodicals are Conde Nast Traveler UK Edition, The Gold List 2022, Wine Spectator, The Economist, and NC Business.

What is the one book that you recommend our readers should read?

"The Traveler's Gift"by Andy Andrews. Such a profound story of life lessons and how every decision we make affects our lives. Nothing happens by accident. The people we meet, the timing of events, and how we choose to respond to those circumstances we find ourselves in determines how we write the story of our own lives.

What is your favorite quote?

"God's Greatest Opportunities are Often Brilliantly Disguised as Impossible Situations."


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