By Todd Cohen
Mary Mountcastle, a great-granddaughter of Winston-Salem tobacco baron R.J. Reynolds and a forceful player in North Carolina philanthropy, is about to take a leading role for the main trade group for U.S. grantmakers as it grapples with growth and change in the foundation world
Set to become the next chairman of the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., Mountcastle says a top council priority will be to encourage collaboration and information-sharing within the large and growing network of groups that have emerged in the past decade to support the work of grantmakers.
The council “needs to figure out how to have productive collaborations that are mutually beneficial to the larger field,” says Mountcastle, president of the Center for Community Self-Help in Durham and a trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations in Winston-Salem.
At its annual conference in Chicago on April 29-May 1, Mountcastle is expected to be elected to a two-year term as the council’s chairman, succeeding Bill Richardson, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich.
Mountcastle, believed to be the first third-generation trustee of a family foundation who will have chaired the council, will help guide it during a critical period when its focus will be on mapping its future in the face of dramatic growth in the foundation world, says Dot Ridings, the council’s president.
Mountcastle is well-suited to tackle change, said Tom Lambeth, a senior fellow at the Reynolds Foundation and its retired executive director.
“She believes strongly in the use of philanthropic dollars to encourage new ventures, to inspire and support new leadership and to challenge traditional ways of doing things,” he says.
Collaboration and social change have been continuing themes in Mountcastle’s career as a nonprofit leader and foundation trustee.
Ten years ago, the council honored Mountcastle for a Reynolds-funded initiative that aimed to integrate social-service programs for families by encouraging local government, public schools and industry to work together in 16 North Carolina counties.
With Mountcastle on its board, Babcock for the past seven years has invested $25 million to help strengthen and connect groups and communities throughout the South working to bridge gaps of race and class.
And Reynolds, with Mountcastle as board vice-president, is embarking on a new grantmaking program to support groups addressing critical social issues it has identified as priorities.
Reynolds also is helping to build an informal network of North Carolina foundations that Mountcastle hopes can spur efforts to create greater efficiencies among nonprofits in the state, and is contributing $500,000 to an initiative to raise $16.5 million from national, state and local foundations to boost Latino groups serving nonprofits.
“She never accepts the status quo,” says Martin Eakes, CEO of Self-Help, a $700 million-asset community development lender. “I assume she will challenge people’s thinking in ways little and large.”