By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Race is going to be a driving and ongoing focus at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.
The $406 million-asset foundation still is studying how to build race into a larger overhaul of its support for nonprofits that it will announce after Feb. 1, its next deadline for grant requests.
But based on a $1 million race initiative that funded 23 local projects throughout the state over the past year, the foundation has decided to make race an ongoing priority.
An evaluation of the initiative by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro found that tackling racism is a long-term job that must be rooted in local efforts to help people of different backgrounds trust one another, a strategy also key to addressing other social problems, says Tom Ross, the foundation’s executive director.
“Issues of race are critical to our success,” he says. “Unless people can communicate well and trust each other, you can’t sit down and solve a problem.”
The foundation in 2000 funded a broad range of approaches to addressing racism, hoping to find effective strategies in some communities that might serve as models for others, he said.
A grant to the Randolph Arts Guild in Asheboro, for example, helped people use their own photographs to talk about race, while a grant to the YWCA of Forsyth County in Winston-Salem supported work by 100 teenagers on a variety of projects to bridge racial gaps.
But the UNCG evaluation led the foundation to conclude that a “cookie-cutter” approach would not be effective because racial strategies depend on individual communities’ local cultures, Ross says.
Instead, the foundation decided it should build issues of race throughout its funding and programs.
“It’s an issue we have to be conscious of in all of our grantmaking, not separate it as an issue you look at in isolation,” Ross says. “It cuts across all the work that people do and all the work our grantees do, no matter what the field.”
The foundation in the past has asked nonprofits seeking grants to disclose the racial makeup of their boards and staff, and has encouraged them to be more racially diverse.
Now, in addition to considering the racial implications of all grants – whatever new grantmaking priorities it announces in February – the foundation may offer more technical assistance to grant recipients on racial issues.
That assistance could range from board development and training on cultural diversity to measuring the impact of grants – assistance that UNCG provided to all groups funded by last year’s race initiative.
At its meeting Nov. 15-17, the Reynolds board approved 147 grants totaling nearly $7.8 million. Those grants, based on a record-high 568 requests totaling $52.3 million, brought to more than $305 million the foundation’s total grants since it was founded in 1936.