Building Community Question & Answer Discussion
On April 24, 2019, the Building Community portfolio held an online information session to address questions from the field about the portfolio’s interim year of grantmaking. Below is a summary of key questions that arose during the session (and some that have been asked elsewhere), along with the team’s answers. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, feel free to reach out at questions [at] mmt.org.
REGARDING FUNDING BY INVITATION:
How can we become an invited organization?
All 32 invited organizations were contacted directly in April. We will not be adding more this year.
Who was invited to apply?
We will list the awarded organizations in our online database after grants are finalized this summer. This is our usual practice for all grants.
Has anyone been invited to submit a multi-year grant?
No, all grants awarded to invited organizations will be for a duration of 12 months.
How did you choose organizations to invite?
For this year specifically, we identified organizations that had a grantee relationship with Meyer, have a track record of work on systems-level change, and are at least "well on the way" in terms of work on diversity, equity and inclusion. Their work centers the lives of People of Color and Indigenous communities, and those communities lead or meaningfully inform the organizations’ work. This last criteria is crucial to our vision because it directly supports transformational change for all—that is, real change that balances power and stands the test of time.
This “by invitation only” change feels abrupt, not at all transparent, and furthers the feeling between organizations that are “in” and those that are “out,” between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Several years ago, our trustees chose to transition to strategic grantmaking rather than continue Meyer’s prior approach of accepting proposals from any applicant at any time of year. They did so to increase impact toward Meyer’s ultimate goal: a flourishing and equitable Oregon. That decision has resulted in changes in how and what Meyer funds.
We understand that “invitation only” funding may feel very exclusive. Even unfair. We also know that this approach has been used by funders in ways that perpetuate disadvantage for certain groups, particularly for organizations working to build power for communities most impacted by inequities. That is why we applied an equity lens in making selections. We tried to overcome the bias present in many funding processes that favors well-connected organizations, those that have historically had more access to funding. Still, we know our process isn’t perfect.
Is this switch to funding by invitation going to be a permanent change?
We will be using this year to further refine what Building Community’s funding model will be for future years. We might continue some funding by invitation; we might not. One thing we know for sure is that we need to be more focused and need to be able to tell the field more clearly about our focus. We do not want to continue the pattern from Building Community’s first three years of grantmaking in which we declined 80 percent of all applications. Far too many organizations spent time writing applications that had little chance of moving forward, and that is one reason we want to be more focused and more specific when describing our funding criteria.
Was an attempt made to balance invitations between urban and rural organizations?
For the invitations extended this year, we focused on deep impact for all Oregonians rather than on geographic balance specifically. One of our strongest criteria for choosing organizations was a track record of working on systems-level change, which resulted in a list of invitees who are mostly working toward statewide impact. Roughly speaking, about 40 percent of Building Community’s funding in prior years has supported work in rural communities.
Can you describe more about how Meyer defines "systems change"?
Building Community loosely defines systems-level change as meaningful shifts in policies, processes, relationships and power structures, as well as deeply held values and norms. Building Community is particularly interested in systems change efforts that move in the direction of justice. While we continue to fine-tune our view of systems change we are paying close attention to root causes that create the need for a service or program. We also know that changing systems requires connections between individual activities; work done in isolation has little chance of creating fundamental shifts.
REGARDING UPCOMING REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFP):
When will you announce details about the RFP?
We anticipate sharing detailed information in late May or June.
Will information about the RFP be shared in your newsletter or just sent to specific organizations?
We will share the details widely, both through our newsletter and on our website. The RFP will not be restricted to specific organizations, though it will be designed with direct service providers in mind. We will share our criteria for a strong fit, and we will accept applications from organizations that see alignment with their work in Oregon.
Can you define “direct service provider” and what types of services you will be considering for the upcoming RFP?
This information will be shared when the RFP is launched in late May or June.
Do these portfolio changes allow for organizations to apply who have applied in the past 1-2 years?
Prior applications to Meyer have no bearing on a group’s eligibility to apply for the upcoming RFP.
Are collaborative funding proposals to support two organizations (where a clear and genuine collective impact can be demonstrated) more likely to be received favorably? Even if one organization has an existing Meyer grant (from a different portfolio)?
Generally speaking, Meyer values collaboration. (Read more on that here.) When Building Community’s Request for Proposals launches this year, we will address if and how collaboratives will be eligible to apply for that specific funding opportunity.
Current Meyer funding will not disqualify an organization from applying for the RFP. (One possible exception is if an organization could end up with Meyer funding constituting too high a percentage of its overall budget.)
Without knowing more about the RFP, how can we decide if we should apply for funding through another portfolio right now instead?
If your work meets the criteria and goals for another portfolio’s Annual Funding Opportunity (Equitable Education, Healthy Environment or Housing Opportunities), we encourage you to apply by the May 15 deadline. Doing so will not make you ineligible to apply for Building Community’s upcoming Request for Proposals.
Can we expect the RFP process to lead to awards in time for a fiscal year starting July 1?
That is unlikely. Details about the RFP process will be released late in May or June. Funding will likely be for work that takes place in the second half of 2019 and the early part of 2020. Also keep in mind that the RFP funding will support direct service providers in building stronger capacity for systems-level change work; it will not be for general operations of service programs or other capacity building projects.
I work at a direct service provider, and I am looking for a grant we can use for a specific technical need, like rebranding. Should I apply to the RFP for this?
No, this will not be a strong fit. The RFP will be designed to support direct service providers in building stronger capacity for systems-level change work. Funding will not be for general operations or other capacity building projects.
Are there other opportunities to apply for funding with Meyer right now besides the Annual Funding Opportunity in the portfolios and the upcoming RFP in Building Community?
Meyer is a member of the Oregon Immigrant and Refugees Funders Collaborative, which supports organizations working to address impacts of anti-immigrant policies. Applications for this work are accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis.
Does the Building Community portfolio still make technical assistance grants? Are there opportunities for organizations new to Meyer to apply for technical assistance?
Technical assistance grants are available primarily to organizations that have active grants with Meyer. We may choose to make a few exceptions for groups that are not current grantees but demonstrate a strong alignment with Building Community’s anchor criteria and direction for this interim year.
Technical assistance is usually awarded to support activities like leadership transitions, strategic planning and deepening understanding of specific diversity, equity and inclusion topics. Funds are typically used to hire outside consultant support for these types of work and range in size from $10,000 to $35,000.
Regarding your field exploration this year, will you be visiting organizations that are not part of your invitee list?
During the course of the year, we will be exploring different topics including immigration, community wealth building and inclusive democracy. We may be visiting or convening some organizations, including ones that are not current grantees, but we do not have specific plans at this time. We will communicate with the field if and when such engagement opportunities arise. In the meantime, organizations that wish to connect with Meyer on these topics can fill out this brief contact form to let us know.
Why is the Building Community portfolio being reduced while Meyer grants overall seem to be growing? Is Meyer considering shifting more funding to the Building Community portfolio to address the overwhelming number of applicants?
Meyer’s total annual grantmaking has been roughly $35 million for several years and we expect this to remain about the same based on our current corpus (investment assets). The Building Community portfolio’s funding is not shrinking, but it is becoming more focused. Meyer does not have plans right now to shift more funding resources into this portfolio.
Does Meyer Memorial Trust have an interest in supporting organizations that may serve Oregonians as well as programming in other states?
Our biggest concern is where the impact of the work that we fund will be felt. Meyer’s service area is the state of Oregon, so our funding is focused on impact throughout the state and only in this state (although we acknowledge this is a colonial boundary that does not have primary relevance for communities that have been on this land since time immemorial). We do fund work in Oregon that is done by organizations that work here and also work in other states. We sometimes fund work in Oregon that is done by organizations with headquarters or other infrastructure located out of state.