At the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Mo Wants to Know

This month's guest blogger is Maurice “Mo” Green, Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

As the new executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be part of an institution that has been committed to supporting charitable works in North Carolina for 80 years. Today, the Foundation invests in nonprofit organizations that are working to improve public education, preserve and protect the environment, promote economic opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds, engage more individuals in the democratic process, and elevate the dignity of all.

The Foundation recognizes the vital contributions of the nonprofit sector to the state’s economy as well as the positive social and cultural impacts nonprofit organizations have on our society. Because of this, the Foundation is intent on supporting the nonprofit sector in ways that reach beyond grantmaking.

For example, in 1991, the Foundation instituted a Sabbatical program. Established as one of the first of its kind, a sabbatical is awarded to up to five veteran nonprofit leaders, every other year, to provide them with an extended break from work. This time away allows these leaders to focus on their personal needs, growth and self-revitalization so that they can return to their nonprofits with a rejuvenated spirit and renewed sense of focus. To date, the Foundation has invested $3 million in the Sabbatical program and provided awards to more than 130 nonprofit leaders.

In 2011, the Foundation established a Nonprofit Internship Program to create a pipeline for the next generation of young nonprofit professionals and provide opportunities for them to explore the sector. Each summer, this program provides college students with eight-week, paid summer internships at organizations the Foundation funds across the state. Since its launch, five additional North Carolina foundations have signed on, providing additional resources to allow even more students the opportunity to learn about and experience the sector.

The Foundation also sees the importance of building capacity within organizations, which is intended to help strengthen and amplify the incredible work they are already doing.

For example, the Foundation sees the importance of providing organizations with the tools they need to tell their story and share their work more broadly. For the past few years,we have sent select grantees through a communications training program to help the organization increase its understanding of, and capacity for, implementing targeted, strategic communications.

In 2011, the Foundation launched a racial equity initiative, bringing grantees together to understand how structural racism impacts their work. From 2012-2014, through an initial round of technical assistance grants, ZSR helped 11 organizations deepen their racial equity analysis through customized training in the hope that each would be able to move forward in incorporating racial equity into its work. Then in 2015, the Foundation sponsored a series of racial equity labs aimed at increasing the capacity of 20 grantee organizations to understand how race impacts their work internally and externally in communities and to develop actionable strategies to address the impact of race in their external work.

The Foundation believes that supporting all facets of a thriving nonprofit sector are essential to achieving our mission of improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians. In May 2016, the Foundation embarked on a yearlong
strategic assessment (link to update) to evaluate our current approach to grantmaking and broader work. As part of the assessment, the Foundation also launched Mo Wants to Know – a statewide listening and learning tour during which Trustees, staff and I will hear directly from state leaders, local leaders and community members about trends and challenges, as well as opportunities, successes and ideas for making North Carolina a better place.

Though it is difficult to predict at this point what direction the Foundation will take as a result of the strategic assessment, we are proud to be a partner alongside so many of the state’s remarkable nonprofits and look forward to our continued work in this sector to build a more vibrant, sustainable and equitable state.

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