Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

April 2, 2007

Changemaker faces critical changeover

The decision by Tom Ross to step down this summer as executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C., to become president of Davidson College is a big loss for philanthropy.

Ross, a superior court judge who six years ago succeeded Tom Lambeth on his retirement after serving as the foundation’s executive director for 22 years, simply deepened the organization’s legacy as an open-minded grantmaker and progressive change agent.

Philanthropy is diverse and includes approaches and strategies ranging from support for programs to address immediate needs to the funding of operations and the support of policy work to take on the underlying causes of deep-seated social and economic problems.

As North Carolina’s largest general-purpose funder with a statewide focus, the foundation for well over a generation has been diverse both in its programmatic and strategic focus.

Rooted in tobacco wealth, the foundation has funded organizations large and small that deal with a broad range of immediate needs, both local and statewide, while also taking on complex issues like poverty and racism.

As PJ reports, Ross has overseen big changes at Reynolds, including a reorganization of its grantmaking programs; development of online grantmaking that focuses on outcomes; and greater focus on helping nonprofits strengthen their internal operations.

Foundation executives occupy a privileged and pivotal role, looking for matches between nonprofits’ funding requests and the priorities of foundations’ founders and boards.

But their positions also can give foundation executives an opportunity to look beyond the foundation’s own grantmaking focus and play a leadership role in philanthropy and the charitable marketplace.

Thanks to its board, the Reynolds Foundation has been not only a committed grantmaker but also an important changemaker.

Under Ross, for example, the foundation has looked for ways to address urgent social problems like domestic violence.

As PJ reported at the time, the foundation two years ago launched a strategy for fighting domestic violence that included paying consultants to help a handful of nonprofits fighting domestic violence strengthen their fundraising, funding a study to find alternative funding streams for domestic-violence groups, and examining software for use in evaluating the cost of domestic violence to the state.

And Ross, like Lambeth before him, has served as a thoughtful, responsive and respected champion for the nonprofit world and voice for change and progress.

Ross helped spearhead development of what has become the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, and helped persuade other foundations to join the state’s Hispanics in Philanthropy Initiative.

Philanthropy is what donors and the stewards of their funds choose to make it.

North Carolina is fortunate for the leadership that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and leaders like Tom Lambeth and Tom Ross have provided.

Our state will be even more fortunate if the foundation’s next executive director continues that legacy of leadership.


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