The Steinberg era of the Rhode Island Foundation is coming to a close, leaving behind a legacy of unprecedented growth and success for RI’s leading philanthropic foundation. On June 1, Neil Steinberg, whose impact in the community is known broadly, will officially step down as the president and CEO. Foundation Board Chair Dr. G. Alan Kurose noted that “Neil has been a truly transformative leader for the foundation and for the entire state. He has assembled a management team that has consistently performed at a very high level, particularly during the pandemic. He also established civic leadership as an enduring priority for the Rhode Island Foundation.”
Under his leadership, the RI Foundation has grown its assets more than three and a half times to $1.1 billion. Of the over 900 community-based philanthropic agencies in the country, the RI Foundation is now in the top 20. But what has endeared him so much to our community is that he has achieved this success with a sense of grace, openness, and humility that is almost as rare as his skillset.
With a distinguished career in banking and fundraising, Steinberg’s professional background was well-suited for the role when he was hired in 2008. “I have been fortunate to have worked for three iconic Rhode Island institutions: Fleet Bank, Brown University, and the Rhode Island Foundation,” he explains. Steinberg further elevated the RI Foundation’s status by assembling an impressive team, which includes “experienced investment advisers, long-term investment advisers for continuity, and a full management team of dedicated professionals to provide and follow through on the oversight and implementation of our grants and donations – remember over two-thirds of our grants and awards come from individual donor-advised funds.”
What makes Steinberg’s tenure so impressive are the many new programs he’s initiated, including launching the foundation’s Civic Leadership Fund more than a decade ago to respond in real time to challenges and opportunities that can arise suddenly. Another program, started just a few years ago, is the Equity Leadership Initiative to address issues of equity and inclusion and, in particular, the recruitment and training of up-and-coming leaders of color to help them move into influential positions in the community. It’s a particular favorite of his as he gets personally involved in facilitating many of the networking opportunities.
Perhaps the most publicized initiatives were his large-scale Make It Happen planning efforts to spur economic development and small business support as the state rebounded first from the 2008 economic crisis and then from COVID in 2021, when the foundation, under Steinberg’s leadership, gathered community input and experts together to offer strategies to help state leaders determine how best to allocate RI’s $1.1 billion share of the American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
As he leaves the foundation, Steinberg admits there are some unfinished challenges that trouble him. “This is a state where teachers, policemen, firemen, and nurses were always the traditional backbone of our communities,” he says. “Now we’re having difficulty in terms of applicants passing drug and written tests to get these jobs. We need to deal with this, and with the trades, too.”
For parting thoughts, Steinberg offers his biggest dream and greatest fear. “I hope the day will come when drivers crossing the state line will pass a giant sign that says ‘Welcome to Rhode Island: The Healthiest State in the Union,’” shares Steinberg. As for his fear: “That the day also may be coming in the not-too-distant future when we might not be able to do what’s necessary to create a capable workforce to fill the available jobs.”
As he started for the door, he stopped. “I have a dream for you, too. You and I both still believe in the importance of local newspapers. We need them at the foundation to disperse information about our programs, so here’s my suggestion – why not expand your business and take a few floors at the new Superman Building? Maybe call it The Daily Planet!”
And with that Rhode Island’s favorite local Superman gracefully went out the door with a single bound. Can’t wait to see where he lands next.
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