State-Level Systemic Change Strategy Frequently Asked Questions

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation believes that all of North Carolina benefits when every North Carolinian has the resources and opportunities to achieve their full potential and when each person’s worth and dignity is affirmed. 

Our vision is that all North Carolinians have access to high-quality education, benefit from a healthy and sustainable environment, enjoy economic opportunity under just and fair rules, and are able to engage fully in civic life.

1. What does the Foundation's State-Level Systemic Change Strategy include?

We recognize that there are systemic and structural barriers in place, particularly regarding race, that disadvantage some North Carolinians, even as they advantage others, making our vision (stated above) more difficult to realize. Therefore, the Foundation, consistent with our core values, seeks to partner with others to help change state-level systems in ways that overcome those barriers and thereby help improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians. In particular, we believe that working together across issues, approaches, populations, and constituencies is necessary to create lasting systemic change. Each organization has a role to play as an agent of change, and it is our collective work and the willingness to work together that helps sustain change.

Under this area of work, we will support state, regional and local organizations, coalitions, or collaboratives working to achieve systemic change at the state level within and across the following priority areas:

  • Advancing Public Education
  • Fostering a Healthy and Sustainable Environment
  • Promoting Social and Economic Justice
  • Strengthening Democracy

We will support grantees using one or more approaches, including, but not limited to:

  • Advocacy
  • Applied research
  • Communications/Digital media
  • Leadership development
  • Legal/Litigation
  • Organizing/Mobilizing
  • Training/Education

We will give particular emphasis to work targeted at improving opportunities and outcomes for populations who have been historically marginalized, subjected to systemic discrimination, or excluded from full participation in society, including, but not limited to:

  • Immigrants
  • People who are LGBTQIA+
  • Individuals with low income
  • People of color
  • Women
  • Young people

The Foundation seeks to help build the capacity of its grantees in this strategy to work better together in service of the above-stated vision.

2. What do you mean by systems and state-level systemic change?

By “systems,” we are referring to: various groups and institutions; the policies, processes, relationships and power structures that support them; and the values and beliefs that undergird them.

By “state-level systemic change,” we mean something different than reform or piecemeal policy change. Rather, we seek to support efforts aimed at making “fundamental change in policies, processes, relationships and power structures, as well as values and norms” [2] that impair the quality of life for North Carolinians. Furthermore, systemic change can happen at many levels, and ZSR fully expects that much of the work it will fund across its major strategies will be for systemic change. This particular strategy, however, is focused on systemic change at the state level, meaning that the systems being changed are systems that affect North Carolinians across the state. 

[2] Gopal, Srik and Kania, John. “Fostering Systems Change.” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Nov. 20, 2015

3. Can you provide more description about each of the four priority areas?

4. What if my organization's work falls within more than one of the priority areas?

The Foundation recognizes that an organization’s work may fit in more than one priority area. Thus, the Foundation also has a focus on work that cuts across two or more of the priority areas.

5. Is there any work the Foundation would not fund?

With rare exceptions, the Foundation would not fund the following under the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy:

  • Academic and medical research
  • Animal species preservation or rehabilitation
  • Building projects or renovations
  • Capital campaigns
  • Conferences, seminars, or symposiums
  • Civic clubs 
  • Endowment funds
  • Equipment, furniture or computer purchases
  • Environmental education centers and programs for children
  • Fraternal organizations 
  • Fundraising events
  • Greenways
  • Individual schools, or projects that support a limited number of schools within a school district, or a limited number of schools in multiple school districts
  • Individual early childhood centers, or out-of-school time programs
  • Teacher professional development
  • Pre-K through 12th grade public school curriculum development and/or implementation
  • Initiatives promoting religious education or doctrine
  • Land purchases 
  • Overhead and indirect costs for colleges and universities
  • Projects that focus exclusively on direct services (for example, child abuse treatment and prevention services, homeless shelters, health care services, etc.) 
  • Payment of debts
  • Plant species preservation
  • Preservation of historic properties
  • Private business ventures
  • Scholarships
  • Supplemental educational programs such as summer camps, athletic teams, drop-out prevention programs, and youth vocational and character development programs

In addition, ZSR is legally prohibited from funding voter registration, although we are permitted to support other activities conducted by organizations that also engage in voter registration. ZSR is also prohibited from giving money to organizations that support or oppose candidates for public office or otherwise participate or intervene in political campaigns.

(Updated May 2024)

6. What types of organizations are eligible to apply?

Local, regional and statewide charitable, tax-exempt organizations that are working to achieve systemic change at the state level, within and across the Foundation’s priority areas, are eligible to apply. 

Coalitions or collaboratives that are working to achieve systemic change at the state level, within and across the Foundation’s priority areas, are eligible to apply for project grants. 

ZSR is restricted to making grants to charitable organizations classified as 501(c)(3)  “public charities” (as opposed to “private foundations”), colleges and universities, religious entities, and government units for programs and projects that serve the people of North Carolina. Out-of-state charitable organizations are eligible to apply for funds to support projects operating in and benefiting North Carolina.

7. Can an organization apply as or through a fiscal sponsor? What are the process and requirements?

Organizations applying as or through a fiscal sponsor should contact ZSR at before submitting an application.

ZSR will consider grant applications submitted by public charities acting as fiscal sponsors for other organizations or projects where ZSR is satisfied that the fiscal sponsor will exercise actual control over grant funds, as opposed to acting as a mere agent or conduit for the second organization. If a grant is awarded to a fiscal sponsor, the fiscal sponsor will be accountable to ZSR for all aspects of the grant.  

The fiscal sponsor will be required to provide a copy of any agreement between the fiscal sponsor and the sponsored organization with the grant application. After reviewing the grant application, ZSR staff may have additional questions about the relationship between the fiscal sponsor and the sponsored organization.

Please be aware that not all arrangements that are described as “fiscal sponsorships” will satisfy IRS requirements. ZSR does not prepare fiscal sponsorship agreements or otherwise provide legal advice to grantees or prospective grantees, but we encourage you to seek advice and assistance from your own counsel.

8. Can local or regional organizations apply for funding under the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy?

Yes. The Foundation believes that lasting state-level systemic change is most likely to be achieved and sustained through the combined efforts of networks of local, regional and statewide organizations working with different constituencies; using multiple strategies and approaches; and working together towards common or aligned goals.

Therefore, within the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy, ZSR seeks to invest in local, regional and statewide organizations that are willing to complement and amplify each other’s work towards a vision of state-level systemic change that allows all North Carolinians to have the resources and opportunities necessary to achieve their full potential.

The Foundation recognizes the importance of local organizations in providing on-the-ground capacity for systemic change and their ability to add up, collectively, to state-level systemic change. If you think you are contributing to state-level systemic change through your local work, then you should feel free to apply. Local organizations do not need to have a contract or memorandum of understanding, or other formal arrangement, with a statewide organization to be eligible to apply for a grant.

9. I am a local organization. Should I apply for the State-Level Systemic Change grants, one of the Community-Based Strategies or both?

A single organization may apply for grants in more than one strategy. In other words, an organization may apply for a State-Level Systemic Change grant and a Community-Based grant if they meet the eligibility requirements.

If you have questions about this, please reach out to and request to speak with a program officer. 

10. How will the Foundation help build the capacity of its grantees in this strategy to work stronger individually and better together?

In recent years, the Foundation has heard a desire from grantee partners to provide support through convening and capacity-building as well as helping them find ways to amplify each other’s work. To this end, the Foundation will:

  1. Help facilitate stronger bonds among grantees by supporting ways for them to connect with one another, grow trust, identify ways to enhance their collective efforts, and implement those enhancements;
  2. Provide tools and grow capacities that are necessary to strengthen their work;
  3. Offer or support trainings, research or other efforts that help grantees deepen their individual and collective analyses about diversity, inclusion, structural racism and racial equity.

The Foundation will offer these additional services and opportunities, and does not intend to provide these services through direct grants to organizations.

11. How many grant cycles do you have?

Under the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy, there are two grant cycles each year – one in the Fall and one in the Spring. The Fall grant cycle is an open cycle where any eligible organization can apply. The Spring grant cycle is by invitation-only. During the Spring cycle, organizations must be invited to apply. This allows the Foundation to encourage grant applications from organizations whose work would fill gaps in the implementation of the State-Level strategy.

12. Can organizations apply for project support under the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy?

Yes. The Foundation primarily funds general operating support (GOS) grants during the Fall grant cycle, but considers project grants as well. The Foundation funds GOS grants and project grants by invitation-only during the Spring grant cycle.

13. How do I know whether to apply for General Operating Support or a Project Grant?

Project grants support a specific project or activity of the grantee, and are tied to specific, project-based outcomes. If your organization is seeking funding for a specific project, and not for the overall mission of your organization, then this may be the appropriate grant for you.

General operating support grants support provide funding for an organization’s overall activities and mission, and allow the organization to adapt how it spends the funds based on the organization’s needs and the changing environment in which it is working.  Subject to certain legal restrictions, general operating support can be used flexibly to fund the activities the organization identifies as most important to achieving its mission, and can cover operating expenses and overhead.

Whether it is appropriate for your organization to apply for both a general operating support grant and a project grant will be individualized for each organization, and we recommend you contact us at or call 336-725-7541 or 1-800-443-8319 to discuss your situation.

14. How much money can an organization apply for?

The Foundation will not dictate the amount for which an organization can apply, but the grant amount requested should be consistent with the scope of work for which they are applying. The majority of grant amounts that have been awarded range from $30,000 to $100,000 per year, but grants can be higher or lower than this range.

15. What is the duration of each grant award?

The standard term of general operating support (GOS) grants is two or three years. While the standard term is more than one year, there are exceptions for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to: the grantee is new to the Foundation; the work to be performed by the grantee may be new, untested or experimental; or the work could be time-limited. There is no standard term for project grants.

16. Is there specific information that an organization needs to include if applying for a three-year, general operating support grant?

When applying for a three-year, general operating support grant, applicants must describe a three- (or more) year vision and the goals the organization is striving to achieve each year.

17. How do I provide a three-year plan for the grant when my organization does not yet have a three-year plan and when so much is changing?

The Foundation expects applicants to chart a reasonable path to change over the course of the grant, recognizing that applicants may need to adjust as the context evolves.  The Foundation is interested in knowing what change the organization seeks to make in the long term, and what steps toward that change the organization hopes to achieve each year of the grant.

18. What are the application deadlines for the Fall and Spring grant cycles, and when will grant decisions be announced?

The Fall 2024 grant cycle application will open on Thursday, June 6, at 12 p.m. (noon) ET, and close on Thursday, August 1, at 12pm. Applicants will be notified of funding decisions in late November. 

Applications for the Spring grant cycle are due at a deadline to be decided by the Foundation when it invites such applications, and grant decisions are made in May.

19. Who should I contact if I am having technical difficulties with my grant application?

Please contact or Beth Priddy at or call 336-725-7541, ext. 109.

20. What if I have general questions about applying for a grant?

Email with questions about the State-Level Systemic Change Strategy or call 336-725-7541 or 1-800-443-8319.