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A Q&A with outgoing Rhode Island Foundation CEO Neil Steinberg

Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.Connie Grosch for the Rhode Island Foundation.

A major shakeup is coming for the state’s nonprofit community as Rhode Island Foundation president and CEO Neil Steinberg has given notice that he’ll retire next May.

That’s still a year away, but there is already plenty of buzz about who will succeed Steinberg in one of the most coveted philanthropic jobs in the state (if you have thoughts, e-mail me). The board is planning to hire an executive search firm.

After making his retirement announcement on Monday, Steinberg answered a few questions about his work over the past 15 years.

Q: You’ve been in this role for nearly 15 years. How has the Rhode Island Foundation changed in that time?


Steinberg: With our very dedicated and passionate team, we have grown the Foundation’s assets by more than three and a half times, and strengthened our position as the state’s leading philanthropic entity and a strong voice for civic leadership and systems change for the good of all Rhode Islanders.

We have raised over $600 million working with generous donors of all sizes and made grants of over $700 million to our nonprofit partners as the state’s largest funder. We also have lived our mission to be a proactive philanthropic and community leader dedicated to meeting the needs of all Rhode Islanders.

And we have strengthened our position as a strong voice for civic leadership and systems change for better education, health, and economic security in order to eliminate achievement gaps and health disparities; and for more inclusive and equitable opportunities.

Q: When I think of the Rhode Island Foundation, I think of credibility. When you put your name on something -- from health care and education to the Superman building -- it matters. How do you handle that responsibility?

Steinberg: We handle it with great responsibility, diligence, and humility. We try to get to the heart of an issue, convene stakeholders when appropriate to brainstorm solutions, then, when necessary, we are comfortable making bold, but informed, decisions that we believe will benefit Rhode Islanders. No guts no glory.


Taking rhetoric to action is key to getting things done, and our leadership supplements that of statewide leaders. We are also comfortable questioning plans and outcomes to ensure broad and inclusive success.

Q: You’ve always joked that everyone thinks your job is to say yes to funding requests all the time. Has there ever been anything you haven’t supported that you now regret?

Steinberg: Actually, not that I can think of. I am sure there are programs, initiatives, and organizations that we could have awarded more funding to, but our staff is great at understanding and supporting our grant-making. I encourage organizations doing work in many sectors to talk with us about good ideas and solutions for all Rhode Islanders.

Q: You’re too young to disappear to Florida. What’s next after you leave?

Steinberg: Thanks for the compliment! I look forward to spending more time with my family and exploring my next chapter. My love for Rhode Island and our cultural diversity as well as my commitment to the community will not change, and I am sure that will factor into my future.

I would also consider leveraging my past business experience by serving on corporate boards as well as to further my work in the nonprofit sector. Also, I look forward to working with leaders in the state when my experience and leadership can help move us forward.


This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.