Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation


* Assets: $21,495,547 (2018)
* Grants Received: $21,819,059 (2018)
* Grants Awarded: $17,055,945 (2018)

The Zachary Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSRF) was established in 1936 as a namesake memorial to the youngest son of Richard Joshua Reynolds (who started the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1875). Described by the Capital Research Center as “an emotionally volatile playboy and adventure-seeker,” Zachary died under mysterious circumstances in 1932, at the age of twenty. The Foundation bearing the young man’s name was subsequently created by his brother and two sisters—R.J. Reynolds Jr., Mary Reynolds Babcock, and Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley—to fund “charitable works in the State of North Carolina.”

Committed to “improving the quality of life of all North Carolinians,” ZSRF today “invests in statewide, regional and community-based organizations that are dedicated to building an inclusive, sustainable and vibrant State.” In its hiring and leadership-development policies, the Foundation strongly emphasizes “diversity and inclusiveness”—on the premise that “organizational performance is greatly enhanced when people with different backgrounds and perspectives are engaged in an organization’s activities and decision-making process.”

In order to qualify for ZSRF grants, an organization must have some connection to North Carolina. Over the course of its history, the Foundation has awarded grants to groups based in every one of the state’s 100 counties. ZSRF director of communications Shaheen Syal contends that his Foundation “does not support ‘political causes’ but rather supports community building and research, education, dialogue and advocacy on issues of importance to North Carolina and its communities”—and indeed many ZSRF grantees are ideologically neutral entities such as schools, hospitals, and community-development groups. But many others are left-wing activist organizations. As the Capital Research Center notes, “[ZSRF’s] giving makes clear the foundation would like to change North Carolina, once reliably Republican red, into a reliably Democratic blue state.”

ZSRF’s grantmaking programs focus on five major areas:

* Community Economic Development: On the premise that “pervasive racial and gender wealth gaps too often deny … North Carolinians a meaningful opportunity to fully participate in the state’s economy,” this program supports organizations and projects that promote “systemic change” geared toward creating “a just, equitable, and sustainable economy” that redistributes wealth from middle- and upper-class families to “disenfranchised and lower-resourced families and communities.” Particular emphasis is placed on “increasing, protecting, and stabilizing” the incomes and assets of “women and communities of color.”

* Environment: ZSRF’s grants in this area support organizations dedicated to the promotion of “less carbon-intensive, renewable energy resources” that “prevent human-caused climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” And in an effort to advance the cause of “environmental justice,” the Foundation finances projects that aim to help “low-income communities and communities of color”—who “shoulder a disproportionate share of environmental hazards”—receive preferential “access to the advantages offered by the emerging green economy.”

* Public Education: This program is devoted to supporting and building “the public will to sustain” North Carolina’s early childhood and K-12 public school systems, as well as “high-school based pathways to post-secondary education for students from low-resource families.” In addition, grants in this area are geared toward “developing the leadership capacity” of school administrators; recruiting and retaining qualified teachers; and promoting “racial, ethnic, and economic diversity” within the teaching profession, “especially in low-wealth schools or school systems.”

* Social Justice and Equity: Viewing the United States as a nation awash in racism and sexism, this program funds progressive groups that profess a desire to eliminate: (a) the “prejudice and cultural divides” that plague American society; (b) the “discriminatory rules, policies, and practices which perpetuate the disadvantageous treatment of individuals in some communities and disproportionally advantage individuals in other communities”; and (c) the “structural inequities that detrimentally impac[t] people of color, women, immigrants, [LGBT] people, and the economically disadvantaged.” Steeped in a commitment to identity politics, ZSRF deems it vital to support “coalitions of identity groups and allies” that are engaged in “broader movement-building efforts.”

To address specifically “the economic and racial disparities in the criminal-justice system,” this ZSRF grantmaking program advocates “eliminating or reforming the death penalty”; “reducing collateral consequences of criminal conviction,” such as “barriers that prevent successful re-entry of people previously incarcerated”; and “addressing systemic issues leading to the over-incarceration of people of color.”

ZSRF also calls for statewide public-policy efforts to maximize “reproductive options” for all women—i.e., taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. Moreover, the Foundation invests heavily in “immigrant assistance organizations” that work not only to “advance the integration of immigrants into the civic and social fabric of North Carolina,” but also to help immigrants access “important government and direct services.”

* Strengthening Democracy: This grantmaking program is focused on “reducing the influence of money on politics,” “ensuring transparency and oversight of government activities,” “reducing structural barriers that limit the ability of underrepresented people” to participate in government, and “funding work that increases the participation of traditionally underrepresented voters (women, people of color, young adults, new citizens and low-income people).” For instance, the Foundation has given large sums of money to groups that oppose Voter ID laws.

Among ZSRF’s most noteworthy grantees are the American Civil Liberties Union, Blueprint North Carolina, the Common Cause Education Fund, Earth Share, the Environmental Defense Fund, Health Care for America Now, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of Conservation Voters, the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Urban League, the Nature Conservancy, the Peace Action Education Fund, Planned Parenthood, the Tides Center, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Wilderness Society.

ZSRF has also given: (a) hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Third Reconstruction Institute—money earmarked specifically for the Industrial Areas Foundation‘s organizing network in North Carolina; (b) well over $100,000 to the Wellstone Action Fund, which describes itself as the “largest training center for progressives in the country”; and (c) hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Durham-based Center for Responsible Lending, described by Foundation Watch reporter Michael Volpe as a “left-wing housing policy clearinghouse” that was “involved in pushing implementation of the affirmative action scheme known as the Community Reinvestment Act, which was a critical catalyst of the national meltdown in the housing market” in 2008.

To view a list of additional grantees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, click here.

Since 2008, ZSRF’s executive director has been attorney Leslie J. Winner, who served as a Democrat in the North Carolina State Senate from 1993-98, general counsel to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education from 1998-2000, and vice president and general counsel to the University of North Carolina from 2000-07.

A notable former trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation was the late Smith Bagley, who also spent many years as president of the Arca Foundation. Mr. Bagley’s daughter—current Arca Foundation president Nancy R. Bagley—has served on the ZSRF board since 2001.

For additional information on ZSRF, click here.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

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