Sabbatical Program


The most creative and inspirational leaders in the nonprofit sector are extremely committed to the work they do. However, because of this selfless dedication, they can reach a point of burnout, where they have completely expended their personal energy. A break allows them time to re-energize in order to return to work with fresh ideas and newfound momentum.

Since 1990, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has honored North Carolina’s nonprofit leaders for their dedicated service and commitment to the sector by awarding sabbaticals. Up to five sabbaticals, which had previously been offered annually until 2016, are now offered every other year.

Three to six month sabbaticals offer individuals the opportunity to focus primarily on their personal needs and devote themselves to self-revitalization. The awarded compensation ($30,000) and $10,000 to each organization for planning and transition expenses, provides the financial support necessary for sabbatical recipients to temporarily leave their place of employment. Please note: Of the $10,000, at least $5,000 must go toward activities that will enhance the recipient’s entire organization. For example, staff retreats, team building exercises, mentoring opportunities, and/or other activities to support the staff.

Sabbatical recipients use this time to engage in non-professional development activities of their own choosing to aid in personal renewal and growth. While on hiatus, award recipients travel, study, read, reflect, rest, and/or explore interests unrelated to their field of work. It is the Foundation’s hope that sabbatical recipients will return recommitted to the challenges and rewards of public service and thus prolong their tenure in the nonprofit sector.

Listen to audio profiles of past sabbatical recipients to better understand how time away helped them return to their organizations with a renewed sense of focus, purpose and commitment. Also, the Foundation held a Renew and Refresh Retreat for all current and former Sabbatical recipients in March 2019. Philanthropy Journal attended the gathering and recorded a podcast to capture conversations about the program and the impact it has had. 


Individuals in paid, full-time executive level positions, who have served their North Carolina nonprofit organizations for at least three years (two of which in an executive level position), are eligible to apply for a sabbatical. For the 2021-2022 Sabbatical application year, the Foundation is allowing applications from eligible applicants who are experiencing a reduction in work due to COVID-19, but have still worked at least 35 hours/week (full-time) during the 24 months prior to March 2020 and have been employed with the same organization for the past three years. Preference is given to individuals with at least five years of experience with their organization. This program is not intended for public school, college, university or government employees, hospital administrators or full-time clergy.

Selection Criteria and Process

Up to five sabbatical recipients are selected based on a number of selection criteria, including the applicant’s professional accomplishments, evidence of the need for a sabbatical, potential for future contributions in his/her chosen field of work, and the difficulty of his/her work environment. 

Initial applications are screened by a Selection Committee composed of representatives of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s Board of Trustees, staff, former Advisory Panel members and former sabbatical recipients. Ten finalists will be selected to meet either virtually or in person with the Committee in January/February and awards will be announced in February. Recipients must begin their sabbaticals before April after the year of selection.

Before applying, applicants are encouraged to view Sabbatical Program FAQs and a sample application.

We invite you to contact LaRita Bell, Sabbatical Coordinator, with any questions.

The next opportunity to apply for a 2024 Sabbatical will be in Fall 2023.