What's Up With Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation's Strategic Assessment?

Based in Winston-Salem, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation is a locally focused funder that aims to improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians. This is a funder that’s been on the philanthropy scene for nearly 80 years. In May, the foundation embarked on an internal strategic assessment to examine and evaluate its approach that is expected to take a full year. The spring 2017 grantmaking cycle has been suspended to concentrate efforts on the strategic assessment.

The timing for Z. Smith Reynolds to take a step back couldn’t be better. The North Carolina landscape has changed dramatically in recent years in terms of the demographics of the state's population, the economy, and the expansion of cities at the expense of rural areas.

Up until now, Reynolds has supported public education, the environment, social justice and equality, community economic development, and efforts to strengthen democracy. Traditionally, it has accepted requests of up to $35,000 per year for up to two years as part of its small grants program, while all other requests were considered for strategic grants. This funder has also recently shown interest in nonprofit capacity building efforts, and both general operating support and project support have been regularly awarded.

We don’t expect to see substantial details about Reynolds’ new grantmaking plan until May 2017, but it has been conducting a “listening and learning tour” across the state to talk directly with state and local leaders and community members about challenges and opportunities for improvement. This effort is called “Mo Wants to Know,” and the man behind it is Maurice “Mo” Green, the foundation’s new executive director.

Green recently provided an update on how this strategic assessment is going and few key things stuck out to us. Mo has met with hundreds of people already at community gatherings in Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Asheville, Durham, and Raleigh. These are some of the topics coming up so far in these discussions:

  • Alternatives to school discipline
  • Restorative justice efforts
  • Children with rare diseases
  • Challenges for veterans
  • Challenges for Latino communities
  • Childhood mental illness
  • Clean water
  • Affordable housing
  • Substance abuse recovery
  • STEAM education        
  • Teacher training
  • Breaking the cycles of poverty

Those are a lot of issues that are all across the board, so Reynolds really has its work cut out for it to narrow down the biggest local needs and craft a funding plan around them. Additional “listening and learning sessions” will take place in other parts of North Carolina in the months ahead.

Grantseekers in North Carolina can learn more about this year of pause on the Strategic Assessment FAQ page. To put your two cents into Reynolds’ reevaluation process, anyone and everyone is invited to share thoughts and ideas on the funder’s website and via social media.

This is a great example of a foundation taking an inclusive and transparent approach to strategic planning.