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Making progress: An essay, Part 2

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[Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the 2004 annual report of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C.]

By Todd Cohen

Embodying a legacy of public service and social progress, and flowing from wealth rooted in traditional industries like tobacco, textiles, furniture and banking, philanthropy in North Carolina for much of the 20th Century followed a steady and progressive path, supporting causes ranging from health and human services to education and culture.

Visionaries like James B. Duke, William R. Kenan Jr. and the Reynolds family created philanthropies to address urgent social and cultural needs throughout the state. They built hospitals, universities and museums, funded social services and provided assistance for people in need, and their philanthropies have seeded the state with ideas, programs and organizations that have taken root, bloomed and produced offshoots.

The evolution of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation underscores the expanding role philanthropy can play. Flowing from wealth created in the tobacco industry, the Foundation became the largest in the state dedicated to funding a broad range of needs.

In the 1960s, inspired by the vision of then-Gov. Terry Sanford, the Foundation joined the Ford Foundation in funding the startup of the North Carolina Fund, a pioneering statewide effort to tackle poverty and divisions rooted in race. That initiative helped sharpen and inform the focus and direction of the Foundation and spawned a new generation of organizations devoted to building communities and bridging gaps between North Carolinians who enjoy the American dream and those who suffer the American nightmare.

Those North Carolina Fund descendents, which continue to grow and generate offspring, include community development corporations throughout the state; Self-Help, the Durham-based nonprofit lender that makes loans to low-income individuals and businesses; and MDC, the Chapel Hill think-tank that focuses on economic and workforce development.

In addition to funding diverse programs in all 100 North Carolina counties, the Foundation has helped kick-start new social programs and invested in initiatives to tackle big policy changes in fields ranging from criminal justice, campaign finance and the judicial system to education, domestic violence and the delivery of social services.


Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Philanthropy, more targeted and strategic, works for change. 
Part 3: Philanthropy plows new ground to address critical problems. 
Part 4: Philanthropy expands to engage new markets.
Part 5: Philanthropy moves to help nonprofits gear for change.
Part 6: Philanthropy changes to help guide the ‘invisible hand’.

Part 7: Philanthropy without borders emerges as new model for change.

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