Kate B. Reynolds aims for deep impact

Karen McNeil-Miller
Karen McNeil-Miller

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM,  N.C. — The Winston-Salem-based Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, one of the largest charitable foundations in the state, is making a dramatic change in the way it makes grants.

With roughly $520 million in assets, up from a low of about $450 million during the recession, the foundation makes three-fourths of its grants to address the health needs of low-income people throughout the state, and one-fourth to address the needs of poor and needy people in Forsyth County.

Now, in an effort to be more strategic and have a greater impact, the foundation over roughly the next four years will move toward targeting half of its health-grant dollars on five or six of the state’s poorest counties, mainly rural, and half its Forsyth County grant dollars on making sure children are prepared for kindergarten.

“We have for many years taken a very broad view and tried to do a little bit everywhere, with success, but we still don’t see any significant improvement in the health status of the population we’re interested in,” says Karen McNeil-Miller, the foundation’s president.

The foundation’s new strategy, she says, will be “let’s do a lot, and let’s go deeper, geographically, and try to create and support some changes that will sustain and last over time, that will really change the health outcomes.”

With the remaining half of its grant dollars, both in Forsyth County and throughout the state, McNeil-Miller says, the foundation will continue to be responsive to requests for funding from other poor counties and urban areas.

Still, she says, in its health-care grants, which are awarded every six months and total roughly $18 million to $19 million a year, the foundation likely will tend to focus much of that funding on the state’s poorest counties.

As part of its new strategy, the foundation “will be very visible in the community,” McNeil-Miller says. “We’ll be working to try to link groups together who have some bearing on the health of the community.”

While the partners the foundation selects will vary based on the needs and existing programs in individual counties, typical partners likely could include local health departments, hospitals, school systems, and “very small grassroots organizations that don’t know us and we don’t know but that are deeply invested and know the community and its health,” she says.

The foundation likely will get involved with two to three counties this year, and the remainder in 2012.

It already is working with a handful of programs that likely will be among its partners.

All of those programs are “evidence-based,” with research concluding they “show sustainable results,” McNeil-Miller says.

Those programs include the Nurse-Family Partnership, a national program that teams nurses with pregnant women who will be mothers for the first time; and Reclaiming Futures, a national program that aims to address mental health and substance abuse among juveniles in the court system.

The foundation also will be looking for partners that traditionally may not be seen as health-related.

“If a barrier to people being out and active is that streets are dangerous, with criminal and drug activities, then maybe the partner we seek is a police department, or parks and recreation,” McNeil-Miller says. “Increased health is the outcome we want, so there are various means to that.”

The foundation also will be looking for local, state and national funding partners.

“We certainly do not have the funds to pull all of this off ourselves,” McNeil-Miller says.

She says the new direction for the foundation, which was created in 1947 through the will of Kate Gertrude Bitting Reynolds, will continue to reflect the founder’s vision.

Married to William Neal Reynolds, chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, “Miss Kate” wanted “to create better health outcomes in the state,” McNeil-Miller says, “regardless of socio-economic status.”

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