By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, one of the largest foundations in North Carolina, has invested roughly $350 million in serving people in need over the past 60 years.
Now, after 18 months of study, the $543 million-asset Trust is making sweeping changes to ensure it has an even greater impact.
Over the next three to five years, it will focus more grant dollars on a handful of critical problems, aiming to address both immediate needs and root causes.
By the rules of its charter, the Trust will continue to spend three-fourths of its grant dollars on health-care for vulnerable and financially-needy populations throughout the state, and one-fourth on programs serving financially-needy people in Forsyth County.
But it no longer will make grants mainly in response to a broad range of requests from nonprofits, and instead will ask nonprofits to seek grants to address priority needs it has identified.
In health-care grantmaking, for example, disease prevention and wellness programs will receive more emphasis than in the past, while more of the poor-and-needy grants in Forsyth County will focus on helping people help themselves through programs that provide supportive housing, job training and education.
And in the face of escalating social problems and shrinking resources, the Trust will work to help nonprofits operate more effectively and will move beyond its own grantmaking to team up with other funders and play a more active advocacy role on public policy issues.
“We’re trying to broaden ourselves and make a move from grantmaking to change-making,” says Karen McNeill-Miller, president. “This whole strategy is around how we can matter more.”
Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders are upbeat about the new strategy at the Trust, which ranks fifth in the state in annual giving and is one of the largest funders of programs for the poor in Forsyth County.
The Trust typically makes grants each year totaling at least 5 percent of its assts, divvied up between health-care funding statewide and poor-and-needy funding in Forsyth County.
Ron Drago, president of United Way of Forsyth County and a member of the advisory board that advises the Trust’s Poor and Needy Division, says the Trust aims to make outcomes and collaboration more central to its decision-making, and move beyond grantmaking to address critical issues.
“The reality is that in an era when the needs are growing at an even faster rate than available resources, all of us need to realize we need to restructure and adjust our grantmaking and related processes to produce the greatest results,” Drago says.
Gene Cochrane, president of The Duke Endowment in Charlotte and a member of the advisory board that advises the Trust’s Health Care Division, says “going deeper” on health issues by moving beyond treatment to prevention, can have a great impact but also represents a bigger risk.
Addressing prevention is “more challenging and more difficult,” he says, because it is “hard to figure out what is succeeding and harder to evaluate and understand the results you’re getting.”
In the Trust’s Poor and Needy Division, 50 percent to 60 percent of grants will focus on “supplying basic needs” through programs in Forsyth County that provide food, shelter and health care, especially health care.
And 40 percent to 50 percent of poor-and-needy grants will focus on “increasing self-reliance” through programs that provide “decent, supportive housing,” job training, and education.
In the Health Care Division, which favors efforts that serve populations such as the uninsured and underinsured, children and youth, the frail elderly and residents of rural, low-wealth counties, 35 percent to 40 percent of the grants will focus on “supporting prevention,” especially disease and illness prevention, and health promotion and wellness.
The emphasis on prevention is designed to invest more money than the Trust has given it in the past.
And 60 percent to 65 percent of health-care grants will focus on “providing treatment,” especially access to primary medical care, advancing mental-health services, and diabetes care and management.
While three years was the maximum period for which the Trust has awarded grants, self-reliance grants will be for up to five years, and health-care prevention grants will be for up to seven years.
“Those are areas in which you really have to be in it for the long haul to see it take root and have results,” says McNeil-Miller.
The Trust also plans to expand a strategy it has used in recent years of identifying particular problems, such as infant mortality or the need for dental services, and then seeking proposals to address them.
The Trust, which this year suspended new grant requests for both its divisions but has continued paying existing grants, will resume acceptance of applications for health-care grants next March and for poor-and-needy grants next July.
But the Trust already is moving ahead with other new initiatives, such as talks with other funding agencies about creating funding partnerships, McNeil-Miller says.
“We recognize that the need far outstrips our resources,” she says. “For us to have impact and make a difference, we need to get together with other people, whether foundations or other organizations and systems, and work with them.”
In addition to modeling the behavior they often demand of their grantees, she says, collaboration among foundations can expand their impact and perspective.
The Trust also wants to play a greater role in education, advocacy and convening people and groups on philanthropic and public-policy issues, and do more to build the capacity and leadership of nonprofits through training, technical assistance and other support.
“The only way for the Trust to achieve its mission and impact is through other organizations,” she says. “We want all of our agencies to be wildly successful and effective.”
The Trust plans to visit nonprofits to better understand their needs and the communities they serve, and will count on them to identify what they need to strengthen their operations, McNeil-Miller says.
And it will ask some grantees to evaluate the impact they are having with the grants they receive.
The Trust also plans in the next six months to convene experts from throughout the state to talk about best practices in health-care prevention, and to convene local agencies in Forsyth County to talk about self-sufficiency.
And this winter or early next spring, it will sponsor a session to brief state lawmakers on the results of its five-year, $10 million initiative to prevent chronic disease through strategies that combine nutrition education, physical activity and tobacco-cessation.
“Grantmaking is still going to be the central tool we have in change-making,” McNeil-Miller says, “but there still are so many other things we can do than grantmaking.”