R.I. Foundation leader Steinberg to retire in May 2023

Updated at 3:25 p.m.

NEIL D. STEINBERG will retire on May 1, 2023, as the Rhode Island Foundation's CEO and president. / PBN FILE PHOTO/DAVE HANSEN
NEIL D. STEINBERG will retire on May 1, 2023, as the Rhode Island Foundation's CEO and president. / PBN FILE PHOTO/DAVE HANSEN

PROVIDENCE – In about a year’s time, the leader of Rhode Island’s largest nonprofit funder will call it a career.

Neil D. Steinberg announced Monday that he will retire as Rhode Island Foundation’s CEO and president on May 1, 2023, after leading the century-plus-old organization for 14 years. Steinberg, 68, told Providence Business News Monday that he recently started taking stock of his time leading the foundation, and a potential transition for both himself and the foundation.

He says he feels privileged he has the opportunity to retire at a time when the foundation is having ongoing success.

“It was a good time to make the transition,” Steinberg said. “The foundation is on good footing. For me, it’s a good time to take a step back and explore some other things, spend more time with my family.”

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Steinberg also said expects to continue committing “significant time and energy” to the community and Rhode Island as a whole after he leaves the foundation. Steinberg said he’s “leaving it open” as to what he wants to do post-retirement.

“It could be [serving on] some boards; it could be new projects. It could be helping other people,” he said. “But at this point … it will be focused on the community and what can I do, whether it’s for-profit or nonprofit. This provides me the time to explore those alternatives.”

He also said the ongoing COVID-19 challenges did not play a role in deciding to retire 12 months from now. “We’re [the foundation] getting through it like everyone else,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg arrived at the foundation in 2008 after serving as vice president of development at his alma mater, Brown University. Prior to that, Steinberg worked for about 30 years for FleetBoston Financial. There, he rose to the rank of chairman and CEO of Fleet Bank Rhode Island at the time.

In an emailed statement, Steinberg said being the foundation’s CEO and president has been “been the best job I have ever had, and has allowed me the opportunity to work – as hard as I ever have – in service to the community.”

Under Steinberg’s leadership, the foundation has become a major financial source for local nonprofits, with millions awarded in grants to support various needs, including operations. Grantmaking at the foundation has gone to record levels, as well.

The foundation during Steinberg’s leadership has awarded more than $700 million since 2008. Over the last two years, the foundation has distributed approximately $167 million in grants to local organizations, including a record $87 million in 2020 when the Ocean State was mired in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with grantmaking, the foundation, under Steinberg’s direction, worked on various initiatives in order to improve education, health care and racial equity in Rhode Island, among other programs.

During Steinberg’s tenure, the foundation’s total assets grew from $433.2 million at the end of 2008 to $1.4 billion at the end of last year, according to PBN data. Steinberg credits the foundation with significantly increasing its fundraising and “a good stock market” for having the organization’s assets total triple in that time.

The foundation in October 2021 released its recommendations on how the state should spend the American Rescue Plan Act money, including spending $405 million in ARPA funds on housing; $255 million for behavioral health; $205 million for workforce development; $100 million for small business; and $50 million each for neighborhood trusts and immediate relief. At the foundation’s annual meeting May 12, Steinberg told attendees that Rhode Island is “at risk” of not having the workforce it will need in a decade if Rhode Islanders fail to urgently address “unsatisfactory” education outcomes, crisis-level mental health and substance abuse needs, deal with low birth rates and an aging population, and solve the affordable housing problem.

“We do not want to be here in five years asking whatever happened to that $1.1 billion. We need to invest wisely, not widely. Our leaders should not ask for hope; they need to give us hope and inspire positive change. The social and economic will for change must outweigh the political will. That is up to all of us,” Steinberg said at the meeting.

Steinberg said Monday the foundation plans to continue its long-term planning with “key constituents” on both education and health, including providing funding, as well as holding state decision-makers accountable in order for the state to avoid an employment calamity in the coming years.

Foundation board Chairperson Dr. G. Alan Kurose said in a statement that Steinberg has been a “transformative leader,” both for the organization and the state. “He has assembled a management team at the foundation that has consistently performed at a very high level, particularly during the pandemic,” Kurose said.

Kurose and the foundation said the board will engage an executive search firm to conduct a national search for Steinberg’s successor. Steinberg, the foundation said, will continue to lead the foundation’s operations and offer transition support during the search.

(UPDATES throughout with comment from Steinberg, background.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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