PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In just a few weeks, the state’s largest funder of nonprofits will be under new leadership.
For the past 15 years, Neil Steinberg has been at the helm of the Rhode Island Foundation, taking over at a time when the country was in a financial crisis and retiring after making it out of a pandemic. Steinberg announced his plans to retire back in May 2022.
Since Steinberg began in 2008, the foundation has awarded $800 million in grants and $700 million in gifts.
The 69-year-old said his job as the foundation’s president and CEO was the best he’s had in his career. He told 12 News he still remembers his first day on the job.
“I came in and I met with the staff, and all of a sudden it popped into my head that when I first came to Rhode Island a long time ago to go to college here, I took a train from New Haven, Connecticut, to this building, which was the Providence train station,” Steinberg recalled.
“And here I was, back that first day to take over the reins of the Rhode Island Foundation, that same building that I came to when I first came to Providence,” he added.
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At a time when the world came to a halt and money was tight for many people, Steinberg said a woman who lived in a nursing home saw a news report about the foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund.
“She called me up one day when I was sitting here and said she wanted to contribute $1 because that’s all she could afford, but she wanted to help people,” Steinberg said.
Thanks to donations of all sizes, the foundation’s assets grew from $455 million to $1.3 billion since Steinberg came on board. The number of nonprofits receiving grants grew from 1,275 to 2,400.
In his first full year in 2009, the foundation raised $9 million in gifts and awarded $28 million in grants. In his last year, the foundation raised $75 million in gifts and awarded $84 million in grants.
Steinberg said one of the things he is most proud of is the foundation’s civic leadership.
“We raised issues: education, health, housing, behavioral health, key issues of the day, and we got together as a convener and an organizer in many cases, as an honest broker, to come up with solutions going forward,” he explained.
Steinberg urges people to give back to help the foundation keep tackling those challenges.
“We encourage people to take care of your family first, give to the organizations you’re passionate about, and then if you have additional resources, come see the Rhode Island Foundation and we will help get it to the needs of the people of Rhode Island,” Steinberg said.
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Steinberg’s last day is June 1, when outgoing Congressman David Cicilline will step in as his successor. Steinberg said he’s looking forward to reclaiming his time, starting by taking the summer off.
“I’ve always said it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he added.
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“I had some really cool jobs. I was at Fleet, I was at Brown. I was here. Best job I ever had, but I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” he continued.
Steinberg said that while he may eventually pursue holding positions on boards or teaching, he has no plans to run for office of any kind.
“People have talked to me about it over the years,” he said. “I always thought that I could do more here, to be honest with you, for the people and with the people in Rhode Island.”