November 19, 2020

An Annual Funding Opportunity unlike any other

An illustration of Oregonians rallying together in downtown Portland.

Two weeks after the election, November continues to provide fresh reminders that 2020 has been anything but business as usual.

Meyer Memorial Trust’s Annual Funding Opportunity opened in mid-March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic started radically changing daily life. At the time, there was a question of whether we should even go forward with our usual grantmaking, but the moment called for more immediate action and support in the midst of COVID-19 and the need to be responsive felt paramount. We received 320 applications, requesting $45 million in funding. Our 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity grant awards total $21.3 million, funding 150 projects at organizations working to make Oregon a flourishing and equitable home for all.

As nonprofits adapted to rapidly changing conditions of the pandemic, we knew Meyer had to come alongside with the flexibility that the field has been asking for and to move further toward principles of trust-based philanthropy. We prioritized making more general operating grants and experimented with accepting proposals written for other foundations. We removed report requirements for existing grants and began rethinking our reporting requirements and how to maximize learning without burdening grantees. We also moved faster this year, finalizing a robust round of grants in the spring and another in the fall.

Responsiveness is perhaps what 2020 has required of everyone most of all, as well as living our values while finding different ways of being and working to address significant interwoven challenges. Whether it’s the global pandemic, the nationwide reckoning with racial injustice or the worst wildfires in Oregon history, communities are navigating tremendous change and we are responding with additional support by tapping into our endowment.

But even in times of great uncertainty, there are things we know for sure:

  • Grass-roots and nonprofit organizations are integral to community resilience.
  • Eliminating long-standing inequities will require shifting underlying conditions that hold them in place.
  • Centering the communities that are most impacted by a problem—almost always Black, Indigenous and People of Color—generates the best solutions for everyone.
  • A healthy democracy will always be essential to actualizing a flourishing and equitable state for all Oregonians.

Grants across our Annual Funding Opportunity reflect the latest iterations of this work and we are proud to support community efforts that, taken together, help to show the way forward.

Below we highlight some themes among the 2020 AFO grants and provide examples of opportunities for change and progress in this time of challenge. You can also view the full list of awards sorted by portfolio here.

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Responsive Operations

In the weeks following Feb. 28 and confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Oregon, all sectors generally had to pivot their operations to meet public health demands and respond to a new set of emerging and urgent needs. Even nonprofits that typically focus at a systemic level to create change were drawn into providing services directly to their constituents.

  • All 26 Oregon Habitat for Humanity affiliates experienced a significant disruption of programs and operations due to the coronavirus. To ensure adequate social distancing, home construction projects shifted to a paid-staff/subcontractor model instead of the volunteer workforce that has bolstered the Habitat community for decades. This change significantly increased the cost of 50 homes already underway. Habitat for Humanity of Oregon responded quickly by putting together a rapid response program that would pair a zero percent interest loan with a grant to close the gap on these homes that are already in construction and move 50 families into stable housing.
  • Familias en Accion was founded in response to the need for a culturally specific organization to promote health for the Latinx community in Oregon. Prior to COVID-19 Familias was serving nearly 600 Latinx clients and family members annually through its Community Health Worker program, which helps clients navigate complex health systems, removes barriers to care and provides chronic disease self-management education through long-term engagement. In Oregon, the Latinx community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and monthly caseloads for Familias are closer to what they would have averaged in a year. Throughout the pandemic, the program has continued to provide clients critical information and referral services, access to client service funds and timely systems navigation.

Healthy Democracy

Our democracy is not inherently just and requires ongoing collective attention. Groups received grants to advance civic engagement and create a more inclusive democracy. This includes a range of issues from Oregon’s pending legislative redistricting to voting rights and ensuring that appropriate implementation of recently passed policies such as the medical and family leave act.

  • More Equitable Democracy (MED) received a grant this year to advance racial equity through electoral systems reform. Fiscally sponsored by the Proteus Fund, MED is advancing Oregon’s voting rights protections by making it easier to challenge local electoral systems that present barriers for equitable representation.
  • Next Up (formerly Oregon Progress Forum) received a grant to serve as a political home for young people and a pipeline for civic engagement and power-building in Oregon. In the coming year, Next Up will continue to center Black, Indigenous and leaders of color in its service of equity-centered policy. This will primarily take shape in the form of leadership development, voter engagement and policy advocacy work aimed at making Oregon a place where policymakers are more accountable to younger generations.

Community-Centered Advocacy

Cascading disruptions set in motion by COVID-19 highlight the stark racial disparities in health, housing, education, environment access and economic stability in Oregon. As public officials work to address some aspects of the crisis, state and local governments are bracing for a shortage of revenue, a steep increase in people needing assistance of all kinds and competing leadership priorities at the federal level. In this environment, the need for organized advocacy by and in coordination with people directly affected by the multiple crises has never been more clear, as is the ability to define clear and compelling policy alternatives that center the needs of the communities that are most impacted by an issue or problem.

  • JOIN is helping inform public decision-making around the response to Oregon’s housing crisis, by elevating and amplifying the voices of the people who are most impacted. In essence, the priorities of these communities will help shape county, city and statewide responses to emerging housing issues, while also educating decision-makers about housing interventions that are known to be effective and equitable.
  • Unete, Beyond Toxics and PCUN are collaborating to elevate the voices of Latinx, Indigenous and migrant workers in the timber sector to help improve state forest practices and workplace safety rules. Immigrant forestry workers are typically hired to do the highly dangerous work of planting tree seedlings, spraying pesticides, setting chokers and helping get logs up steep slopes. These workers are the ones who often bear the brunt of pesticide exposure, higher temperatures and smoke inhalation on the job. The stories and experiences of migrant workers are missing from narratives about who makes up Oregon’s timber industry workforce.

Intersectional Organizing

Societies are complex. Many needs are not rigidly bound to individual topics and therefore must be addressed with an intersectional and multi-issue approach to achieve change. In support of this work, a number of groups received grants to support multi-issue organizing and advocacy efforts. Grantees addressed a range of issues such as challenging the normalization of the mass incarceration and deportation of non-citizens, building social infrastructure in rural communities for equity, supporting inclusion and participatory democracy and advocating for and securing millions in public dollars to support workers not eligible for unemployment insurance or other emergency federal relief tied to COVID-19.

  • Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) received a grant to advance more equitable public policies through research and analysis and communication of findings. Working with a diverse set of coalitions and partnerships, OCPP work focuses on the well-being of Oregonians with the fewest economic resources and those who face the biggest barriers to success.
  • Hacienda CDC, Native American Youth and Family Center, Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East and Verde are partners in the Living Cully Collaborative, which works to address disparities in housing, income, health, education and natural resources in Portland's Cully neighborhood. Living Cully received a two-year grant to increase community-controlled assets, environmental investments and affordable housing, while preventing displacement of frontline communities.

Economic Justice 

The overlapping crises of 2020 have laid bare our economic system’s injustices for all to see. We have seen a growing appreciation by the public for the contributions and sacrifices that essential workers—farmworkers, service workers, health aides, hospital staff and so many more—are making for all us. The story of the unjust working conditions of essential workers— low wages, lack of health care and unhealthy workplace conditions—has also garnered new attention. A number of grants in this year are supporting work across Oregon to advance economic justice solutions that can set the stage for and deliver on the potential of a transformative economic recovery in the future.

  • Oregon Just Transition Alliance (OJTA) is a collaborative that aims to build frontline community power through grass-roots organizing around a “just transition,” a focus on building economic and political power to shift from a fossil-fuel based economy to a regenerative economy based on renewable energy. Embedded in this are economic justice goals for income equality by gender and race, good-paying jobs and allowing all people to reach their full potential. OJTA received a grant to organize communities around collective action on climate justice at a state level.
  • The Northwest Workers Justice Project supports the efforts of Oregon's most vulnerable workers to protect workplace dignity and to improve wages and working conditions by providing legal representation for individual workers as well as groups of workers, recovering stolen wages and addressing other employment issues including workplace abuse and safety.

Innovative Practices

Meyer’s flexible funding is well-positioned to support innovative practices such as pilot projects or applying familiar tools to new situations. We also look for opportunities in which our investments can support innovation and ways to evaluate its impact in a way that can bring lessons and learning to the field and advance equity in Oregon.

  • Attempts to address the multiple crises at hand has caused school districts to exceed their capacity and ability to respond. In this historic moment, the urgency of student needs cannot be overstated. Youth-serving organizations across Oregon have reaffirmed their commitment to developing innovative solutions that are designed to eliminate disparities in public education through direct response to student needs. Grantee partners such as Latino Community Association, Family Access Network and Kids Unlimited of Oregon are rapidly executing plans to address the current crisis while also keeping an eye toward long-term recovery efforts.
  • The environmental, economic and social justice problems of our global, industrial food systems are far-reaching. Pandemic-induced food shortages, such as what we recently experienced, are evidence that the global food supply chain is prone to falter in the face of shocks. Three partners of the PCUN’s Alianza Poder network, Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, High Desert Food & Farm Alliance and Warm Springs Community Action are building innovative local regenerative agriculture and sustainable food programs that also integrate cultural practices unique to Black, Indigenous and Tribal communities. As these efforts take root and scale up, they can become a driver for economic development, cultural revitalization and improving community and natural system health.