At the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, we know that the nonprofit sector plays an essential role in our society, weaving together the social, cultural, environmental and economic fabric of our lives. The center is a statewide network for board and staff members, an information center on effective practices in governing and managing nonprofits and an advocate for North Carolina’s nonprofit sector.
We see every day the way that nonprofits create a better future for all of us through innovation and social change. To top it all off, nonprofits contribute $41 billion annually to the state’s economy and provide more than 1 out of every 10 jobs.
Thankfully, we have forward-thinking business and foundation funders, such as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, who recognize the importance of a vibrant, thriving nonprofit sector – so much so that the foundation helped us open our own doors 25 years ago.
But the foundation’s support of the sector reaches beyond its grantmaking. It invests in other programs and initiatives that are building the capacity of North Carolina’s nonprofit sector in innovative ways.
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For example, in 2011, the foundation established a Nonprofit Internship Program to create a pipeline for the next generation of young nonprofit professionals and provide opportunities for them to explore the sector. Each summer, this program provides college students with eight-week, paid summer internships at organizations the foundation funds across the state. The center was the happy beneficiary of one of these students this summer. It gave us increased staffing capacity, while giving our student exposure to the broad range of nonprofits and the work they do. That experience may help her decide on a career in the nonprofit sector.
The foundation also recognizes the importance of honoring the dedication and commitment of North Carolina’s nonprofit leaders. In 1991, the foundation instituted a sabbatical program, established as one of the first of its kind, awarding up to five veteran nonprofit leaders, every other year, an extended break from work. This time away allows these leaders to focus on their personal needs, growth, and self-revitalization so that they can return to their nonprofits with a rejuvenated spirit and renewed sense of focus.
To date, the foundation has invested $3 million in the sabbatical program and provided awards to more than 130 nonprofit leaders. Nonprofit leaders in North Carolina are indeed lucky to have this resource as no other state in our national network has anything like it.
Today, with Maurice “Mo” Green at the helm, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation is dedicated to continuing this tradition of bold, forward-thinking vision and action that is helping to support the sector.
Because the foundation is always looking to the future, it realized that it needed to take a step back to see how its current operations align with the ways in which the state is changing and can then determine how to best do its work moving forward.
In May, the foundation embarked on a yearlong strategic assessment to examine and evaluate its current approach to grantmaking and broader work. As part of the assessment, the foundation also launched Mo Wants to Know – a statewide listening and learning tour during which Mo, trustees and staff are hearing directly from state and local leaders and community members about trends and challenges, as well as opportunities, successes and ideas for making North Carolina a better place.
The next stop on the foundation’s tour is Sept. 27 in Raleigh.
What a unique opportunity this is for us to share our ideas and solutions for what North Carolina could look like five, 10, even 20 years from now. Let’s work together to envision a North Carolina where we have a healthy and robust nonprofit sector that undergirds the communities where we live, work and play.
Trisha Lester is acting president of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, based in Raleigh.