Golfing for Grants: Kelly Family Knows the Art of Giving

By Sandy Semans Ross

Some folks get testy or cling to their wallets if a charitable gift is suggested. Nags Head businessman Mike Kelly just brushes off his golf clubs.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kelly Hospitality Group Charity Golf Tournament, the fundraiser that supports the Kelly Family Fund, part of the Outer Banks Community Foundation. Scheduled this year for Monday, October 21 at Nags Head Golf Links, all proceeds from the golf tournament are donated to the charitable fund.

The Outer Banks Community Foundation manages more than 100 charitable funds for various families, businesses, and organizations across the Outer Banks, and the Kelly Family Fund, established in 1994, was its first donor-advised fund. While some Community Foundation donors set general criteria for their funds and ask the Community Foundation to select grant recipients, the Kelly family makes their own recommendations about where and how their charitable donations are handled.

Kelly held his inaugural golf tournament in October 1993. “When we reached $50,000 in the fund in 1997, we began to give grants,” said Kelly.

The first grants were to the Dare County Youth Center, the Dare County Arts Council, and the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge. Since that time, the Kelly Family Fund has awarded grants to a broad spectrum of nonprofits, ranging from the Boy Scouts and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, to the Dare Education Foundation and the Community Care Clinic.

“I was involved with the Community Foundation and learned a lot about the needs in Dare County,” said Kelly. “The idea sort of got planted in my head, and I wanted to create something so that the money stays in this area. As the county began to grow and prosper, outside charities began to fundraise here and then take the money out of the area.”

In addition to Mike, fund advisors include his wife Willo, his daughters Juliane Kelly of New York City and Elizabeth Reilly of Nags Head, and Elizabeth’s husband Ben.

Since its first tee-off in 1993, the golf tournament has raised more than $300,000 for the Kelly Family Fund. In turn the fund has already distributed $200,000 in grants — usually ranging in amounts from $500 to $5,000. Only a portion of the fund balance is awarded each year; the Community Foundation invests the principal of the fund for growth so that the fund can make grants into perpetuity.

Mike Kelly said that it is rewarding to help the area’s many nonprofits.

“In the beginning, our grant to a nonprofit may be giving it life and, later on, help it continue to grow.

“Working with the fund has kept my daughters involved in the community and aware of needs. You begin to tune in and pay more attention. For instance, I was at a Nags Head meeting one time when Gail Leonard gave a presentation about Room at the Inn and asked for a donation of $500. I had never heard of it and, following the meeting, I visited with her about it and I told her how to make a request from our fund. Since then, we have given to them annually.”

He also hears more about the needs of the community at Rotary Club meetings. “We’ve also begun to ask more questions about the best way to help nonprofit organizations.”

“The Outer Banks Community Foundation has done a great job managing our money for a nominal fee and providing the accounting we need,” said Kelly.

Kelly said that anyone can help fill the needs of the community. “Those who want to give don’t have to pull it out of their own pocket,” he said. “They can just come up with an idea for a fundraising event.”

But for those who do want to give, or at least play some golf on October 21, it’s not too late to sign up to play or sponsor the event. Teams and individual players can sign up online at (follow the link on the right for the golf tournament).

This year’s early sponsors include Atlantic Sewage OBX, Ben Franklin, Coastal Impressions, Midgett Insurance Agency, Nags Head Inn, Outer Banks Chevrolet Buick, Outer Banks Hospital, Sunny Day, and Sysco Foods. There are plenty of sponsorship opportunities still available; call Becky Miller for details at 252-256-2007.

For more information about donor-advised funds or other charitable giving options, call the Outer Banks Community Foundation at 252-261-8839.