By Ret Boney
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Tom Ross, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, will leave his post by the end of July to become president of Davidson College, his alma mater.
His departure opens up the one of the most powerful and influential jobs in North Carolina philanthropy — leading the state’s largest general-purpose grantmaker, which has assets of about $440 million and distributed grants totaling more than $16.7 million last year.
Ross joined the Winston-Salem-based foundation in 2001, succeeding Tom Lambeth, who retired in 2000 after leading the funder for 22 years.
“It’s very hard because I have loved the foundation, and I love the staff and board,” says Ross. “They have been wonderful to me, so it’s very hard to leave. But I feel called to do this.”
He plans to start at Davidson on August 1.
During his six-year tenure, Ross has overseen significant changes at the foundation, including reorganizing its grantmaking into five distinct categories; transitioning to an online grants process that focuses on outcomes; and increasing its emphasis on building the capacity of nonprofits throughout the state.
At the same time, he has provided leadership to North Carolina’s grantmaking community as a whole by helping develop a network of grantmakers and by encouraging funders to take part in the state’s Hispanics in Philanthropy initiative.
Prior to joining the foundation, Ross served as a superior court judge and, for two years, as director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Ross says the foundation is fully-staffed, with engaged leadership from its board of trustees, and thus well-positioned for a leadership transition
The foundation will continue its focus on the state’s most pressing issues, he says, including tax reform, energy usage and protecting air and water quality, and housing and infrastructure.
The challenge will be finding the right leader.
“What is needed is someone who has the ability to work with all different kinds of people,” says Ross, “someone who can work across political lines, philosophical lines, who is a problem solver and has a vision about where the state ought to be going and how we ought to be grappling with those issues.”
Ross expects the foundation’s trustees to name a search committee in the next few days or weeks.