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Inside Our New Framework for Grantmaking and Learning


For the past two years, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has been on an exciting, exploratory journey, as we have taken a step back to examine our own work and determine how we can best serve the people of North Carolina moving forward.

One thing we’ve learned is that this process of discovery and reflection will be ongoing and in many ways our learning, and the journey, is just beginning. It is in this spirit of ongoing learning that we recently announced the launch of All For NC: Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation's Framework for Grantmaking and Learning.

Our new framework reflects the foundation’s longstanding commitment to improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians and infuses what we heard during our statewide listening and learning tour about what is critical, and visionary, at this moment in time.

All For NC: ZSR’s Framework for Grantmaking and Learning builds from the strategies of our “emerging direction” and aligns with our mission and core values to:

Alongside these three main strategies, the foundation also has expressed its commitment to:

  • Augment our participation in our hometown of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County,

  • Use a racial equity lens to underpin all of our work, and

  • Continue to be a learning organization.

The intent of our Framework for Grantmaking and Learning is to provide different strategies that meet people and communities where they are, as well as to break down the silos of our traditional focus areas, allow more flexibility in our grantmaking, and provide multiple entry points for potential applicants. We recognize that not all the work that we fund will fit neatly into these three strategies; rather, there is work that lives in between them. Therefore, we want to remain flexible to foster those areas of intersection.

Below is more information about each major strategy.

ZSR’s State-Level Systemic Change Strategy

Over the past two years, we heard from individuals, organizations and communities that ZSR has a unique role as a statewide funder and should continue its support of state-level systemic change work. We developed our State-Level Systemic Change Strategy around a statewide vision for North Carolina that includes supporting work in and across four priority areas, with a focus on supporting grantee efforts to collaborate and align their efforts across sectors, issues and populations. The four priority areas include:

These priority areas do not span across the other major strategies.

We will not only help our grantee partners make deeper connections with one another, but also provide them with support to increase their internal capacity. We plan to learn alongside our partners at the state, regional and local levels in a shared journey toward a vision of a North Carolina where all people have the resources and opportunities to achieve their full potential and where each person’s worth and dignity is affirmed.

We will have an annual fall grant cycle of the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy. That cycle will be open to any eligible organization that is aligned with our core values, mission and state-level vision and is working on changing state-level systems. We also will have an annual spring grant cycle, which will be by invitation-only, to help fill in the gaps of the work we’re trying to accomplish.

ZSR’s Community-Based Strategy

Hearing that people want to connect with one another across lines of difference or geographical boundaries, we developed our Community-Based Strategy around two grant opportunities:

  • A Collaborative Problem-Solving approach that is intended to bring people together to define and tailor a path for creating positive change; and

  • A Community Progress Fund that is intended to support local projects by making time-limited investments in communities at key moments in time.

Applications for both grant opportunities will be offered once a year, beginning in fall 2018.

ZSR’s Exploratory, Visionary Ideas Strategy

North Carolinians told us that we need to be more flexible and take more risks to identify North Carolina’s best, brightest and boldest ideas. In response, we developed our Exploratory, Visionary Ideas Strategy. The work funded in this strategy will change regularly, but will initially focus on two initiatives: 

  • An All For NC Fellowship* that is intended to invest in the next generation of up and coming leaders in North Carolina, who have innovative ideas; and

  • An Inclusive Public Art initiative that is aimed at inclusive community processes that result in public art that recognizes and acknowledges North Carolinians, especially women and people of color, whose stories historically have gone untold. 

*The launch of the Fellowship is contingent on receiving IRS approval of the foundation’s proposed fellowship program.

In addition, we’re supporting the work of Race Forward’s Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) to work with select local jurisdictions in North Carolina. GARE is a national project that helps local governments apply a racial equity lens to their work.

The Exploratory, Visionary Ideas Strategy will not follow a traditional grantmaking approach and will not use specific grant cycles or a traditional grant application process. Instead, work funded in this area will continue to evolve and vary from year to year. Information and applications will be available when new initiatives are announced.

Rooted in the Past, Ready for the Future

As a more than 80-year-old, statewide, private, family foundation that only funds work in North Carolina, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has always strived to respond to the changing needs of the state. A shifting landscape in North Carolina – demographically, economically and technologically, to name a few – led us to this new Framework for Grantmaking and Learning. In addition, what we heard as we traveled the state is that North Carolinians are feeling great uncertainty about the future. We believe that during times of uncertainty, adaptability and flexibility are key. This new grantmaking framework is the way ZSR feels it can best meet its mission within the current, yet rapidly changing, context of North Carolina.

As we begin implementing this new framework, we anticipate a few bumps along the way; however, we pledge to do our best to make this as smooth of a transition as possible. Also, we are always open to feedback that will improve our processes.

We’re excited about the future, the opportunities, and the possibilities. We hope that individuals, organizations, and groups will continue to join us on this journey as we work to create a better North Carolina for all.

We will do it together – for ourselves, our families, our communities – and All For NC.

Maurice "Mo" Green is executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

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