By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, has been named president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation in Denver, effective September 1.
Allen Smart, vice president of programs at the Reynolds Trust, will serve as interim president, starting September 1, while Wells Fargo, the Trust’s sole trustee, leads the search for a new president.
With $585 million in assets, the Reynolds Trust is one of North Carolina’s largest foundations.
Formed in 1947 through the will of Kate B. Reynolds, the widow of a chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the foundation focuses one-fourth of its assets on the poor and needy in Forsyth County, and three-fourths on health programs and services throughout North Carolina.
Its poor-and-needy grants total roughly $6 million a year, and its health grants total roughly $20 million a year.
The Colorado Health Foundation, with $2.3 billion in assets, awarded over $112 million in grants and contributions in 2014 to improve health and health care in Colorado.
McNeil-Miller joined the Reynolds Trust as president in January 2005 after working for 16 years at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, where she served as vice president for corporate resources and, for six years in the 1990s, headed its office in Colorado Springs.
She was raised in Spindale in Rutherford County, the daughter of a carpenter and a weaver in local mills. A former special education teacher and head of The Piedmont School, an independent school in High Point for children with learning differences, McNeill-Miller is the first non-banker, woman and African American to have headed the Reynolds Trust.
Making an impact
During her tenure, she says, the Trust has shifted from “a charity model and investing in activities to a change model and investing in impact.”
While it previously might have funded efforts to increase the number of people enrolled in programs to train them to manage their diabetes, or to treat people who already had a disease, for example, its investments now focus on how many people enrolled in diabetes-management programs actually lower their blood-sugar rating, or on preventing disease rather than treating it.
A key focus of its health investments is “helping people understand how to eat better, the value of exercise, movement, diet, the built environment, walking trails, as opposed to making sure people can get to dialysis treatment or could get their medicine after they already have chronic illness,” she says.
The Trust, which has 14 staff members, nearly double the total when McNeill-Miller joined the foundation, also has undertaken two big initiatives to give people with little or no income greater opportunities, respectively, to improve their health and their learning.
Both efforts aim to produce systemic change through community-based strategies that are designed for individual communities and count on state and national partners and “best practices” from multiple disciplines and sectors, in addition to local partners and those in health and education.
The Trust’s Health Care Division is investing $100 million to $150 million, or roughly $10 million a year, to improve health in 10 to 15 of the state’s most economically-distressed and health-distressed counties.
And its Poor and Needy Division is investing $30 million to $45 million, or roughly $3 million a year, to make sure every child in a family with financial need is ready for kindergarten and school, and meets every developmental milestone by the end of kindergarten.
That spending, which will grow over time as the Trust’s assets grow through income on investments, McNeil-Miller says, represents roughly half the funds each of the two divisions makes in grants each year.
The big challenges for the Trust, she says, will be “to sustain those efforts, learn as we go, and make appropriate mid-course corrections, and really be able to evaluate our results and tell that story, not only for our own organization, but also for the benefit of communities, legislators and other funders.”
During McNeil-Miller’s tenure, the Trust also:
* Expanded Federally Qualified Health Clinics throughout the state to ensure financially disadvantaged residents, especially in rural areas, had access to quality health care.
* Enlisted local funders after computer problems blocked access to food assistance for hundreds of local families, an effort that led to a new coalition of local food funders to look at more effective ways to provide food to families in need.
* Established an effort during the economic downturn to provide basic operating funds to community organizations with small budgets in Forsyth County.
* Invested in major capital improvements in Forsyth County at Family Services, Samaritan Industries and Winston-Salem State University, and across the state at rural playgrounds, schools and community centers.
‘Vision and leadership’
“Karen’s outstanding vision and leadership are shaping how, why and where the Trust invests for years to come,” Sandra Shell, senior vice president and chief operating officer for philanthropic services at Wells Fargo, says in a statement.
“Karen joined the Trust at a time that its work needed focus and creative thinking, and Karen delivered,” Shell says. “Thanks to her leadership, the Trust is making smarter, more thoughtful investments in communities with an eye on long-term impact.”