Rhode Island’s Largest Funder Has Been Growing. Here’s a Quick Look

PHOTO: JIM SCHUBERT/SHUTTERSTOCK

PHOTO: JIM SCHUBERT/SHUTTERSTOCK

Community foundations across the U.S. have experienced strong growth in recent years amid a booming economy and stock market. A good example of this is the Rhode Island Foundation (RIF), the state’s largest and most comprehensive funder. In 2018, RIF raised a record $114 million from donors and awarded a record $52 million in grants. The foundation also award grants to a record number of organizations last year, more than 1,800—the most in the funder’s 102-year history of giving.

What has contributed to this foundation’s impressive recent growth?

One new and significant partner to note is the Jewish Federation Foundation, which became a supporting organization of RIF last year and created a $55 million fund there. Other individual gifts to RIF were as high as $6 million, driving up the funder’s giving capacity. Not to be overshadowed, small gifts to community foundations really do add up as well. In fact, RIF donors made almost 1,500 individual gifts under $250, which demonstrates to local residents that even modest donations are important and welcome, and make an impact.

“Partnering with nonprofit organizations to support their important work, engaging generous donors, and providing leadership around key issues for our state all contributed to this outstanding growth as we strive to meet the needs of all Rhode Islanders,” said RIF president and CEO, Neil Steinberg, in a press release.

So, where have all of these grants been going lately?

First of all, it’s important to note that about 70 percent of last year’s grants came from from donor-directed funds. Meanwhile, about 30 percent of grants were directed by the foundation itself. This means that the individuals, families, organizations, and corporations who have created their own RIF funds hold the bulk of the power. But 30 percent control is still significant for a community foundation of this size.

The foundation’s three top priorities are educational success, healthy lives, and economic security, and so this is where most of the grants have been flowing lately. However, arts and culture, environment, housing, and basic needs efforts also see this foundation’s support as well. Recent RIF grants include $675,000 to the Woonsocket School Department, $90,000 to Fuerza Laboral of Central Falls, and $80,200 to Visiting Nurse Home & Hospice of Portsmouth.  

Like many community foundations, RIF isn’t just moving more money; it’s stepping up its civic leadership role. RIF raised a record $600,000 for its Civic Leadership Fund last year, resources which help the funder go beyond its traditional grantmaking and get more involved in civic dialogue with Rhode Islanders. This involves efforts like face-to-face conversations with the public about critical and emerging issues over free family-style meals. These types of connections could be the key to helping RIF discover new funding opportunities in the early stages of need and diversifying the types of support it provides in the future.

The deadlines for RIF’s strategic initiative grants and responsive grants are ongoing, but there are specific dates to know to request grants for specific topics or for specific communities. At the close of 2018, the Rhode Island Foundation’s assets reached approximately $970 million. This is all pretty impressive for a state with a population of just a little over 1 million people.