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Celebrating a year of community
By Chris Barnett / May 25, 2017 /   Loading Disqus...
Hundreds of community and business leaders, donors, grant recipients, and other partners gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center on May 24 for our 2017 Annual Meeting. Here are highlights of what our President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg told them.


What a wonderful and successful year we had in 2016. We received nearly $60 million from generous donors, including the single largest unrestricted gift in our history. We gave out a record $45 million in grants. Today, our assets are almost $900 million and our investment return on our endowment was 8.5 percent last year.

Our Centennial theme was community, and we wanted to give back to Rhode Island above and beyond our traditional grant programs. We started a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign for Roger Williams Park – which is now close to $8.5 million – to restore and maintain this state treasure. We held our annual meeting with 1,000 people at the Park and later that summer we brought the RI Philharmonic Pops concert back to the Temple to Music for the first time in more than 10 years. This free concert that attracted 5,000 people was to be a one-time event. However, I can now announce that we will host the concert with the Philharmonic again this year on August 4 and all of Rhode Island is invited. And we awarded $500,000 in community grants, for smaller projects in every one of our 39 cities and towns. They were so successful that a version of that program is also in place this year.

So, we believe in Rhode Island’s future and enter our second century with good momentum and focus and a solid track record of impact. However, we do this knowing that headwinds and challenges will require courage, leadership, commitment, and resources. We enthusiastically embrace our mission to be a proactive philanthropic and community leader dedicated to meeting the needs of the people of Rhode Island.

We will reinforce our vision and priorities for Rhode Island. For students to have access to good educational opportunities. That all residents have affordable and accessible healthcare. That economic security is attainable by all who seek it. And that a spirit of philanthropy grows and thrives in our state. We also celebrate and support the vibrant arts and culture sector, strong social service agencies that serve Rhode Islanders most in need, and a resilient and strong environment while striving to build capacity in the nonprofit sector. Together we will experiment, innovate, adapt, create, and foster an atmosphere of commitment, collaboration, and results.

Our goal is to achieve these results by balancing our efforts and resources across the sectors and across the state to focus on long-term systemic change while also not ignoring the needs outside our doors.

I do believe that the state is leaning in the right direction, with corporate leaders stepping up, our great colleges and universities engaged, and growing food, tourism, cybersecurity, marine trades, and advanced manufacturing sectors as examples. But, we still need a well-articulated longer-term vision and pathway that go beyond election cycles so that we can consistently have a real impact.

Our work together across the state impacts all one million people in Rhode Island and we embrace the changing demographics and cultural diversity as great opportunities. We will be a voice for all of Rhode Island, including the under-served who are not always heard.

Our robust and ambitious agenda seeks to leverage community and collaboration to create a pathway for success for all. And while we have bold ambitions, we humbly know that we cannot do it alone. In the face of great uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we partner with generous donors, hard-working nonprofit organizations, and community, business, and government leaders.

Having strong core values and beliefs, and then retreating to separate corners does not work. Respectfully and civilly discussing, debating, and negotiating and then meeting in the middle is not a sign of weakness. Working on solutions that then lead to compromise is a sign of strength. We know that we cannot do everything, but together we can do anything.

While we continue to build assets as a community leader, we know that real challenges are in front of us. Increasing income inequality, destiny determined by zip code, and lack of inclusiveness remain.

So, we have supported work on early childhood education and training teachers and principals. And in this the first year of the Carter Roger Williams Scholarship Fund, we awarded $100,000 to six high school seniors who embody the spirit of our state’s founder and will go on to college.

We have supported work to advance primary care and innovation in healthcare delivery. We have supported job skills training, we are advancing the resources for small businesses in the state and also recently worked with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston on the Working Cities Challenge.

We continue to champion innovation, including the Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship, in its sixth year supported by Letitia and John Carter. We have committed to a new initiative – impact investing – that will use our assets beyond grants to invest in local place-based projects and initiatives.

And we are not ignoring issues right outside our doors. We supported Amos House, the Providence Center, and Crossroads to provide outreach workers for those in need in downtown Providence and Dorcas International, the Diocese of Providence and Progreso Latino to provide pathways to citizenship. All of this work, and much more does not happen on its own, it does not happen without a lot of hard work by many.

Civic leadership and civil dialogue have become part of our DNA, including research, convenings, and advocating around key issues of the day to help guide our state. So let’s all continue to expand our horizons and knowledge and confidence in the state. I urge you to read the paper, watch TV, listen to the radio, follow credible sources on-line, but please be informed.

At times we will try to anticipate and at times we will be forced to react. And at all times we will embrace change, we will be optimistic, and we will provide an objective, but positive, voice. But a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. E.B. White said: “I am still encouraged to go on, I wouldn’t know where else to go.”

So, again, thank you to our donors, our boots on the ground partners, and all of our stakeholders for supporting good work, doing important work, and leading strategic work so critical for a better Rhode Island.

While we rely on the contributions of many, we single out four of our most inspiring partners for special recognition: The Champlin Foundation with our Centennial Champion Award, the Center for Women and Enterprise with our Community Leadership Award, the R.I. Society of CPAs with our Harold B. Soloveitzik Professional Leadership Award, and the family of Frederick B. Wilcox with our Inspiring Partner Award.

And I hope you know how much the Rhode Island Foundation appreciates your generous support, great work in the community, civic engagement, and shared community purpose. It is not enough to wring our hands on the sideline in the face of challenging times. Rhode Island has many strengths and assets and we remain optimistic.

As we move forward, together, we will lead, transform, and inspire a better Rhode Island for all with hope and gratitude. So, whether we tackle improving education, the substance abuse crisis, better job and skills training, or budget cuts, we enthusiastically embrace our role as Rhode Island’s community foundation and civic leader.

We have been here now for over 100 years and we are built to last into the future. We are of Rhode Island, for Rhode Island, and by Rhode Island. So tonight please, let’s commit to a willingness to listen and learn and continue to talk with each other. To embrace our differences, not fight them. To be inclusive, not be divisive. We have all done good, now we all have to do better.

Many have heard this before, but I will repeat it. We urge you to embrace three points that distinguish our efforts and good work: Be positive. Look forward. Take Rhetoric to Action.

Michael Jordan said: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” As you know, we always try to make it happen. Let’s each and every one of us, together, make it happen all in our backyard in Rhode Island. The words of Jessica David, our senior vice president of strategy and community investments, elegantly describe our approach. “It's a small world and a short life, and things happen. Err on the side of kindness and generosity. We lose nothing and maybe gain much.” So, please join us – call, write, fax, text, or come see us so that we can work together.
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Featured Post

  • Rhode Island Foundation announces six recipients of college scholarships in the name of Roger Williams Posted last month
    The four-year, renewable scholarships are through the Carter Roger Williams Initiative, which was launched two years ago by philanthropists Letitia and late John Carter.
  • Rhode Island Foundation awards $285,000 to Newport County nonprofits Posted last month
    The grants, through our Newport County Fund, will underwrite a host of activities ranging from workforce training and after-school activities to preventing relationship violence and protecting vulnerable seniors.
  • $2.6 million awarded for behavioral health care Posted last month
    Six nonprofit organizations will use $2.6 million in grants to support primary and secondary prevention models and high-quality, affordable behavioral health care services across the state. The funding is the first from the Behavioral Health Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.
  • Vision and commitment Posted last month
    Hundreds of community and business leaders, donors, grant recipients, and other partners gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center on May 16 for our 2019 Annual Meeting. Here are highlights of what our President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg told them.
  • Rose Fund grants stimulate civic and cultural dialogue Posted 2 months ago
    The primary goals are to strengthen libraries and other civic, cultural and literacy-focused organizations and expand their role as community centers that stimulate dialogue around critical issues.
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