On July 16th, 2019, the Building Community portfolio held an online information session to address the portfolio’s new Services to Systems RFP. Below is a summary of the questions that were asked during the webinar, along with the team’s answers. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, feel free to contact us at questions [at] mmt.org (questions[at]mmt[dot]org).
Q: Can a current grantee of Meyer apply for this funding opportunity?
A: Yes. An organization that has an active grant or received Meyer funding in the past is eligible to apply for this grant opportunity.
Q: Could arts and culture organizations be considered as direct service providers for the purposes of this RFP?
A: Arts and culture organizations could apply if they meet the other criteria such as serving as a direct service provider that is meeting short term or immediate needs and has strategies designed to support people of color or Indigenous communities. Like all applicants, Arts and culture-specific organizations will need to demonstrate that their organization has begun the process of thinking about what systems change looks like for their organization.
Q: What if an organization has specific programs focused on the priority population but isn't focused as a whole organization solely on these populations?
A: If your organization has specific strategies to support priority populations but is not the entire focus of the organization’s work, your organization is still welcome to apply. One of the ways we think about this is whether or not a focus on people of color and Indigenous communities has been a strategic objective of your organization (e.g., part of your strategic plan or part of long standing collaborations). While we appreciate that an organization might work with a more expansive overall service population, we are interested in seeing priority, strategy and focus on people of color and Indigenous communities.
Q: If a proposal doesn't involve people of color or Indigenous communities yet, but could in the future would it still be considered competitive?
A: A proposal without mention of people of color or Indigenous communities would likely be less competitive.
Q: We are an advocacy organization whose members provide direct services; would we qualify for this funding?
A: If you identify as an advocacy focused organization, you are likely far enough along in your systems change work that the design of this program would not be well suited to maximize your growth.
Q: What size of organization are you most excited about for this RFP?
A: We don’t have an ideal organization size in mind, so this is not a key factor in our consideration. That said, our experience suggests that organizations that address some of the criteria we have outlined for this RFP (e.g., have strategies to address priority populations, have already done some work on systems change, are currently providing direct services, etc.) have been at this work for a while and a certain level of capacity or likely have paid staff and a range of program offerings that they resource accordingly.
Q: Are you accepting collaborative applications? If we are partnering with another nonprofit, should we both apply?
A: Generally speaking, Meyer values collaboration—more on that here—and we know that systems change work can’t be done in isolation. With this RFP in particular, we are focused on the systems change work done by individual organizations rather than new or existing collaborations. The learning circle will be geared towards examining how individual organizations frame, assess and plan out their work on systems change. In other words, while we value the work that organizations do as part of a broader collaborative and believe that collaboration is critical to systems change work, we are not likely to accept applications from formal collaboratives. If you have questions about your situation, please contact us directly at questions [at] mmt.org (questions[at]mmt[dot]org).
Q: Can an organization's mission and the system to be changed be wider than Oregon alone, and still be eligible for this funding? Can peer organizations be outside Oregon?
A: Meyer is a statewide funder for Oregon, so the work that we support needs to pertain primarily to Oregon. If your organization is tied into a broader (e.g., regional, national) network that informs how your organization thinks about moving towards systems change work, we would consider that as part of how your organization is approaching this work.
Q: My nonprofit is out of state, but we're planning a site in Oregon. Does this prohibit us from applying?
A: Organizations that are not already established in Oregon but are planning to do work in the state, are eligible but, will be less competitive.
ABOUT SYSTEMS CHANGE
Q: How will you assess where on the Change Continuum an organization falls? I can't see in the nine questions where we would highlight our thoughts on that for our organization.
A: The Services to Systems Change Continuum is one imperfect tool that can help you identify where your organization is in systems change work. You can use the space in any of the nine questions to help us understand and explain what work you have done. Specifically, the question that asks how you understand the systems that you operate in, and what role you think your organization is playing would be a good example of a question to expand on.
Q: Please explain how you determine if an organization is at the initial step phase and when they have passed through this phase.
A: This is a tough question to answer in the abstract and we would really need to take a deeper look at your particular organization. That being said, we might pick up some clues from the ways in which the constituents you seek to serve have a role in the decision-making process of the organization or from the extent to which your organization has engaged with ‘peers’ that are working on some piece of the puzzle that is the focus of your work.
Q: Do internal restructuring, governance, and leadership changes fit into your idea of systems change?
A: Deepening work in systems change may very well require shifts in the way an organization operates or is structured. The focus of this RFP is oriented to addressing underlying issues or root causes that create the need for a program or service. As long as there is a direct connection between the organization’s programming focus and internal restructuring, governance, etc. it is possible that you could focus a portion of the grant dollars in this direction. This is not meant as a general operating support grant. To give you a more specific example, one area of emphasis is ensuring that people most impacted by the work have a meaningful role in the decision-making process of an organization and that might require some restructuring. This is an example of where some internal restructuring might lend itself to the work you do in the field.
Q: Ultimately does Meyer hope all organizations become 501(c)4 organizations or arrive at the end of the Systems Change Continuum or do they see this process more as a journey that is unique to each organization that will participate?
A: This is about each organization’s unique journey to deepen its work on systems change. There is no explicit or implicit notion that groups would move in the direction of forming a 501(c)4. Organizations with 501(c)4 status provide a set of tools and options that are not available to 501(c)3 organizations and can be very helpful in addressing systems change. When we think about systems change, policy and advocacy are certainly one dimension but we believe that there are many strategies that can be used.
Q: Could you give examples of strategies where you've seen successful systems change, outside of lobbying, etc.
A: Once a policy is created, we have seen different organizations help ensure that the given change gets implemented. Policy or rule implementation is one example as is coordination where different organizations work together to influence different parts of a system. Narrative change, or the way an issue is understood and communicated, can also play a part in systems change. There are other dimensions of systems change that we’ve been learning through the work of our grantees and part of our goal with this initiative is to learn more. Each situation is different and each system requires unique strategies. This is part of the reason why we’ve emphasized that systems change doesn’t need to look any one specific way.
Q: Who might you highlight as examples of those already doing this work really well?
A: Without naming them specifically, we think of a group based here in Portland that operates school-based programs in communities that have higher rates of poverty including many Latinx folks. They do this work as a direct service provider and spend a lot of their energy focusing on how to help kids in the K-12 educational system. At the same time that they are working with kids, they have also worked hard to get a seat at a number of tables that help shape the way policy is formulated and intended to serve folks on-the-ground—in this case kids and their families. So they participate in collaborations which includes supporting campaigns with other organizations working on related issues.
They’ve also prioritized finding ways to support parents and families that are impacted by school and education systems so that they have a voice at the table and help inform the decisions made by the organization itself. They have done this in tangible ways and developed specific mechanisms that are formalized and not just conceptual. This is an example that is both attentive to on-the-ground work while thinking about the root causes and the underlying issues that create that need. Over time, they have figured out a way to create an interface between what they learn from direct service and what they learn from systems level change. There is a blog on the Meyer website that lists a few other examples how direct services can lead to systems change work.
PHASES AND FUNDING
Q: The RFP indicates the first convening will be in mid to late-October. Do you know when the precise dates will be announced?
A: We are working on finalizing that exact date. It will likely occur on the week of October 21 and be in Portland.
Q: What is the purpose of Phase II and how long will it be?
A: Phase I will include building an understanding of systems change and also start participants on an assessment of where they are in relation to deepening this work. After some analysis of the assessment findings, participants will work on developing a plan for deepening their work including some actionable next steps (to be implemented in Phase II). This phase will take place roughly between October and January.
Q: Please say more about Phase II funding. Is the $25,000-$75,000 awarded per organization or total across all 10-12 orgs? Will an organization know its specific amount at the beginning or does that come later? What time period will the funding cover?
A: The range per organization is $25,000 to-$75,000 and the specific amount will likely be determined in February 2020 and will be based on the scope of the systems change plan created by the organization during Phase II. Funding will be awarded for one year, starting when that funding is disbursed (likely beginning in March 2020).
Q: Can Phase II funding be used for existing staff positions leading this work and also new stipends or consulting with BIPOC* community members to engage in paid participation to leverage their lived experience?
A: Funding in Phase II is not for an organization’s operations in general. It will be for work that is specified in the plan that will be developed during the program to further systems change work. A portion of a staff person’s salary could be included assuming that the work is directly tied to the plan. Funding could be used to resource community engagement (again assuming it is part of the plan).
* BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Q: If we have begun thinking about and programming for early stage systems change, can the funding be used for our existing organizational budget or is it restricted to a budget additive plan that emerges from the learning circle?
A: Grant funds are for a plan that emerges from work done in the course of the learning circle. The plan could be additive or new and it could be tied to some portion of work already in place. If systems change work is already a part of your organization's budget and well developed in its programming, your application will likely be less competitive.
Q: Regarding the peer group, could it include more than one person per organization (e.g., the executive director and a program staff member)?
A: We will have space for up to two people from an organization, one that is in a position to have some decision-making authority and whoever else you feel is appropriate from the organization. For example, it could be someone who has a lot of programmatic experience.
Q: Does it need to be the same two people for an organization who attend all the in-person sessions? If our Executive Director has to miss a session, could we send someone else?
A: We understand and appreciate that people will be managing many other priorities outside of the learning circle. We would appreciate consistent participation throughout the learning circle and one of the questions we ask in the application concerns your capacity to participate. Varying participants (sending different staff) would not make you ineligible to apply, but if you know that consistent participation is not an option, we would be interested in knowing how your organization would accommodate for the participation of different folks.
Q: How will Meyer facilitate this project using an equity lens? For example, who will be leading the learning circle? Will it be someone who is a person of color or Indigenous ancestry? What teaching techniques will they use? Are the materials that will be provided accessible?
A: The learning circles will be supported by different folks including people of color. We take our equity lens seriously when formulating our curriculum, plans, use of vendors, accessibility, etc. Part of why we are investing in this initiative is because of our interest in equity and the belief that in order to create equitable outcomes, it is very difficult to do so in the absence of systems change work. So we see systems change and equity linked in a variety of ways and the hope is that we can embody our equity lens in the way we conduct the learning circle.
SUBMITTING AN APPLICATION
Q: Your eligibility requirements say “nonprofit” but I want to confirm the eligibility of a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization? I just registered and after talking about nonprofits, then it becomes specific about (c)3.
A: In general we do fund 501(c)6s, 501(c)3s, and other nonprofits. If an organization has a tax-exempt status other than 501c(3) or a governmental entity we have some additional questions to ask to ensure you meet other general requirements. More information about who we fund can be viewed here.
Q: Can Meyer give any tips or suggestions for submitting a strong proposal?
A: Please attend to all of the questions that have been asked. There is a word-limit for the application as a whole, so, you can make choices for yourself about what you want to highlight about your organization. Please keep in mind the points we have emphasized such as having strategies to support priority populations, starting from a relatively early level (not deep) in systems change, utilizing the voice of those most impacted, etc.
If you are working on the application and need help to clarify any questions or information, a good way to get help is to send us an email at questions [at] mmt.org (questions[at]mmt[dot]org) and we are happy to work it through with you. Applications that are competitive are the ones where folks have really been attentive to what we identify as priorities and where folks are candid about which stage of development their organization is at.
Q: We have a complicated situation I’d like to run by you. Can we set up phone calls?
A: Yes, please send us an email at questions [at] mmt.org (questions[at]mmt[dot]org) and reference that you participated in the System to Services RFP info session and we would be happy to set up a time to speak with you or communicate via email.