The Rhode Island Foundation held its annual meeting last week, and among many of the standard attributes of such a gathering, the foundation highlighted three initiatives that reflect a stepped-up engagement in the state’s public life.
No longer content to fund social service agencies attending to the needs of the disadvantaged in Rhode Island or manage and distribute funds from individual foundations (two things the foundation does extremely well), The Rhode Island Foundation has carved out a niche in encouraging economic development grounded in the initiative and inventiveness of individual Rhode Islanders.
From the creation of its Rhode Island Innovation Fellowships to Make It Happen Rhode Island to its Civic Leadership Fund, the foundation under the leadership of President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg has taken on public-good support that in years past may have been done by government. The foundation’s involvement in this way is not just welcome, it’s necessary, given the lack of actionable ideas coming out of either the governor or the General Assembly even as the state continues to post exceptionally high unemployment.
On a separate but not unrelated track, the General Assembly is considering legislation that would keep nonprofits’ tax-exempt status safe from the prying hands of cash-strapped municipalities. Many of these nonprofits support the arts (and the artists who create the art), and as such as key parts of the Ocean State’s creative life. If municipal governments were to somehow levy a tax on them, the entities would be forced to cut back on programs, leaving the state the poorer, in both intangible and tangible ways.
Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector has never felt more vibrant, or more vulnerable. The state needs to maintain its support for the good of all. •