Lots of foundations have been taking a grantmaking break lately to reevaluate their strategies and take a closer look at the most pressing community needs. However, few funders have kept the public as informed and up to date along the way as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We started covering this funder’s strategic assessment back in mid-2016, and have reported brief updates from the executive director, Maurice “Mo” Green, ever since.
Recently, the results of this planning process have been revealed, and we’re starting to get a better idea of what future ZSR grantmaking will look like. The foundation's emerging direction was shaped by a statewide listening tour that involved a wide array of conversations with people working in all sectors and living in all parts of North Carolina, rural and urban. This outreach is a great example of something we're seeing more of these days: Foundations making a point of getting out into communities to hear what's on people's minds and then incorporating such feedback into their grantmaking strategies.
There are three parts to ZSR's new strategy for North Carolina, but in a state that’s struggling with socioeconomic divides and conflicting politics, it’ll be another year or more until the new plans are actually carried out.
One of these strategies is to support structural and systemic changes at the state level in North Carolina. Topics of ZSR's interest include matching workers with good jobs, exploring how public education can evolve, and promoting access to information and data, affordable housing, mental health, and substance abuse recovery.
Another new strategy, here, is to support collaborative problem solving at the local level in its home region of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, to improve communities. In a press release about future plans, Mo Green wrote, “In particular, our community-based funding will not be driven by a set of focus areas, but rather by local voices seeking to find collaborative solutions to local problems.”
Finally, ZSR has adopted a somewhat vague and exploratory third strategy that’s all about high-risk investments. This funder has never shied away from risk, but now it’s taking that mindset to a new level. To do so, ZSR will likely need to work out some more creative and flexible approaches to philanthropy. We're not exactly sure what that will entail just yet.
But through all three of these strategies, racial equity remains at the heart of ZSR’s grantmaking. It has a well-established reputation as a socially progressive funder. Now, amid the Trump administration's crackdown on immigrants and sharp polarization within North Carolina on many of national flash points, ZSR's role in defending the values of equity and inclusion has become even more important.
Something else that ZSR reports hearing about when it reached out to the community is the desire for deeper human connections. Technology is great and all, but many North Carolinians are craving more of a connection to their communities and a greater sense of belonging. "People are sensing a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, and they want to find avenues to be in relationship with others in more meaningful ways," Mo Green wrote on the foundation blog. It will be interesting to see how ZSR addresses this need.
You can read more about ZSR’s strategic direction in Green's blog post. Green said, “The development and implementation of the three strategies will be on individual timelines, so each strategy is likely to roll out at a different point over the course of 2018.” Accordingly, the fall 2017 grant cycle will be by invitation only, but still based on the current focus areas. There will be no spring 2018 grant cycle.