Meyer’s Working Hiatus Ends in March
For months, Meyer Memorial Trust has been working on the design of our new operating framework.
Last February, we announced that Meyer would sharpen our focus to make a more significant impact in areas where Oregon’s needs are greatest: education, the environment, affordable housing, and supporting leaders, organizations and networks addressing issues of equity. These are not new priorities for us but we refined our focus in recognition that these issues are highly complex, the problems are entrenched and the ways that they have been addressed have not always worked. Our new approach seeks to achieve more measurable impact. The top to bottom strategic redesign of our programs and inner processes was accompanied by a re-alignment of Meyer’s existing staff into new dedicated teams, new hires, a new website and a new look. Impact and clarity are our overriding goals.
We are still a few months from accepting grant applications through our four new program portfolios. But we wanted to share a bit about where we are in the process and what’s to come.
We expect to release grant application guidelines in March, including the full schematics of criteria, how to apply and where we will direct our funding. In April, we will begin accepting applications, staging the dates for each portfolio over the course of the month. The education portfolio, a new major focus area, will roll out later in 2016.
Over the past year, as we redefined what we do and how we do it, we’ve heard one question over and over: why is one of Oregon’s largest private foundation going through this transformation? The answer, in a word, is equity.
Our future direction
The majority of our funding already supports the four fields we will focus on, all of which we believe are critical factors in creating an Oregon where people can reach their full potential. That’s what equity is about.
The portfolios are:
Healthy Environment, tasked with nurturing a resilient natural environment, diverse cultures and thriving communities. This portfolio includes both support across the state and for our Willamette River Initiative. A key vision of this area is for environmental impacts and benefits to be shared equitably among and throughout communities. We will primarily support strategies that further environmental justice; bring together environmental stewardship, community well-being and economic vitality; foster a diverse and inclusive environmental movement; and support healthy natural systems. Policy/advocacy, movement building, innovation, capacity building and collaboration will be prominent. Visit the Healthy Environment portfolio page to learn more and meet the team.
Housing Opportunities, focused on opening doors to opportunity and strengthening communities through safe and affordable housing. This portfolio will include the Affordable Housing Initiative, which will continue as designed, as well as broader support for housing across the state. Strategies that support Oregonians with low incomes, primarily those living on incomes around 60% of the median, will be prioritized. The focus will primarily be on people living in affordable rental housing, with some support reaching people experiencing homeless to the extent services have a direct nexus to more permanent housing. Homeownership as it connects to housing stability and self-sufficiency will also be included. Beyond the AHI, support will be targeted to developing and preserving more units, supporting residents in reaching their potential, mitigating displacement and strengthening organizations that are addressing affordable housing needs. Capital grants will be available, with Program Related Investments targeted to intermediaries. Visit the Housing Opportunity portfolio page to learn more and meet the team.
Building Community, which supports leaders, organizations and networks addressing issues of equity and contribute to vibrant, inclusive communities. We have changed the name of this area, previously referred to as Resilient Social Sector, based on community feedback. This portfolio will prioritize strategies designed to change social conditions by dismantling inequities, increasing equitable opportunities for historically marginalized populations and working to build inclusive communities. The vast majority of funding will support work that directly addresses equity issues, including race, ethnicity, income, gender, sexual orientation and ability. We expect to support policy and systems change work, capacity building, expanding effective services, innovations, arts and cultures, civic engagement and leadership development through this portfolio. Visit the Building Community portfolio page to learn more and meet the team.
Equitable Education, aimed at ensuring meaningful public education for all. This portfolio will include The Chalkboard Project, as well as broader support for educational opportunities across the continuum – from early childhood through post-secondary and workforce training. We’ll place emphasis on strategies that improve Oregon student achievement and close gaps, particularly for low-income students, students of color and first generation college students. We expect to pay close attention to approaches and ideas that have the potential to make policy and systems-level impact. More specifics will be developed over the next year. Visit the Equitable Education portfolio page to learn more.
With all of this work, we will be looking in Oregon and in organizations for the greatest opportunities to support the field in furthering equity. We will continue to include multi-year funding, core support, capacity building and technical assistance to grassroots as well as established organizations. We will also pay attention to policy/advocacy, and supporting, networks, systems and innovation. We will extend our role beyond traditional grantmaker to amplify leadership and collaboration.
Why equity deserves Meyer’s attention
Equity is the central tenet of Meyer’s redoubled commitment to making measurable progress in Oregon in the areas of education, the environment, affordable housing and building community.
Organizations around the state have long attacked inequity at its roots, advocating for equity through social justice, affordable housing, LGBTQ equality, healthcare, immigrant rights, improved educational opportunities, inclusive environmental stewardship, and arts that build community. Meyer joins their efforts to make Oregon flourish by helping close gaps created by inequities.
We didn’t arrive here overnight. For the past several years, the staff and Trustees at Meyer have becomes students of how bias and oppression — via race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, ability and age — are embedded within the institutions and systems in our community. We see them within ourselves, within the Meyer Memorial Trust itself and more broadly within the field of philanthropy. We remain a work in progress. While we will still support some work that may not have equity as a primary focus, we will ask all our partners to explore equity within the context of their organizations and we challenge them to make progress on integrating equity in their work, partnerships, outreach, policies, staff and boards. It is work we embrace — and Meyer is a better foundation because of the changes.
As we learn more about the equity work being done across Oregon, we intend to use our leadership to expand its impact.
These are just a few of the changes observers will notice about the new Meyer.
What else is changing?
We are not only changing our programs, we’re changing how we work.
The field has encouraged us to do more than just fund — they’ve challenged Meyer to step more confidently into leadership roles around our priorities. So, in addition to direct grantmaking, Meyer will bring new vigor to our role as convener, capacity builder and advocate. And equally important, we will use our influence to support systems change and advocacy around topics of critical importance to the field. You will see this take form over the coming years.
In order to take on this challenge, we have also made changes to how we do our grantmaking.
Going forward, Meyer will issue calls for proposals under the four portfolios and make funding decisions a few times a year. We will no longer have open, rolling application periods. We’ll announce more details on this in March.
We will make funding decisions based on the strongest opportunities to further our goals, and will look for partners who share our priorities and are committed to understanding the impact and effectiveness of their work. In the past, 70 percent of Meyer’s awards each year were made through our now-shuttered Responsive Grants and Grassroots Grants programs. We responded to individual requests without holistic goals in mind or clear ways to measure the impact of our funding: even grants made within the same field were isolated and difficult to track. Beginning next year we will have impact in mind when we consider proposals.
What won’t change is our commitment to being responsive and engaged with our partners across the state. We anticipate immediate benefits for Meyer and Oregon nonprofits: together, we will be more effective at making systems level change. Together, we will be more nimble to respond to what is working and what is not. And together, we will maximize what our funds can do.
Meyer’s new teams
This summer and fall, we’ve been building strong portfolio teams. We are especially excited to have gathered four portfolio directors with the right mix of skills, expertise and relationships to guide Meyer on this journey. Meet Jill Fuglister, Theresa Deibele, Dahnesh Medora and Matt Morton.
Jill Fuglister is the director of Meyer’s Healthy Environment portfolio. Sixteen years in the environmental field have given Jill a broad base of expertise, from traditional conservation to sustainability to environmental justice. And Jill’s experience integrating and operationalizing equity into environmental work is unique in the field. We’re so pleased Jill, who was a program officer at Meyer for four years, will be leading our work at the nexus of Oregonians and our natural environment.
Theresa Deibele serves as director of Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio. Theresa has deep roots in management, finance, community development and the law, but it is her relationships in the statewide housing nonprofit community, from housing authorities to large multifamily housing developers, and from housing advocates to organizations serving people experiencing homelessness, that give her special insights into the housing field. It’s a pleasure to have Theresa, also a former Meyer program officer, running point on housing.
Dahnesh Medora directs Meyer’s Building Community portfolio. Dahnesh’s deep expertise and long experience with local and national philanthropy, team leadership and nonprofit organizational development and capacity building provides an excellent foundation for launching this portfolio tasked with supporting strong leaders, networks and organizations across Oregon. We are excited to have a veteran of organization strengthening and leadership development taking the lead over this vitally important portfolio.
Matt Morton (Squaxin Island Tribe) will join Meyer in January as director of Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio. Matt, currently the executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center, couples a proven history of nonprofit and public leadership with a deep understanding of equity and disparities across the education continuum — from early childhood to K-12 to post-secondary opportunities. We’re grateful that someone so highly respected in Oregon’s nonprofit and public sectors will be sitting at education policy tables on Meyer’s behalf.
These and other hires happened during a whirlwind year at Meyer.
How about that hiatus?
We called the nine-month transition period from Responsive and Grassroots Grantmaker to portfolio-based foundation “a hiatus.” Hiatus implies taking a breather. This year offered little of that. We continued awarding grants while the development was going on. And our Willamette River Initiative and Affordable Housing Initiatives have remained in full swing through funding, convening and collaborating. Record amounts awarded in 2014 and 2015 totalled nearly $100 million. And as we implement this new plan over the coming year, we expect to continue to fund at these levels.
The organization grew from 27 to 32, and will reach close to 40 within the next year, including three Momentum Fellows from Philanthropy Northwest. Our staff is talented, curious, dedicated and eager to help Meyer continue to evolve. But we also said goodbye to valued members of the Meyer Trust family, including longtime Trustee Orcilia Zúñiga Forbes, who died in August. Look for a Board Member announcement in January.
While we wound down our grants programs and worked through hundreds of applications, we began outreach in our four focus areas. We learned so much from community listening sessions, focus groups, expert interviews and learning panels. What we heard helped shape our direction. We heard clear calls for Meyer to remain innovative and bold in both the leadership we provide and the issues and programs we fund. We especially appreciated the groundswell response to our surveys: we received close to 1,000 responses from Oregon advocates working for equitable public policy, organizations cultivating culturally specific communities, volunteers at arts groups and food banks, members of land trusts and so many other voices in between.
What we heard was humbling and inspiring. You told us you supported our shift and would be watching to make sure we lived up to our own new standards. While the specifics of our grant programs have evolved over the past 33 years, Meyer’s commitment to invest and work with communities, nonprofits, ideas and efforts remains — in fact, continues to grow stronger. We appreciate Oregon’s nonprofit community. Thank you for helping to guide our evolution.
Please stay tuned for the release of our application guidelines in March, followed in April by the opening of our application process. The best way to keep abreast of Meyer’s evolution? Sign up for our monthly Meyer Mail and visit mmt.org. You can also check out our FAQ page for answers to your questions, which we will update as new queries come in.
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