September 30, 2019

Engaging internally for stronger impact externally

From left to right, Vikram, Vikas, Kaberi and Kavi smile for a family photo in front of Multnomah Falls.

This time last year, I was in conversation with Meyer staff and leadership about the foundation’s new Director of Program Strategy position. I was excited to think about joining a team that centered equity and lived experience in philanthropy. My career has been intensely focused on building partnerships with grantees and community members, and as I relocated here in January, I eagerly looked forward to connecting with our partners throughout Oregon. I am pleased to have made a number of trips out of Portland to meet with grantees, funders and community members — and one memorable visit to Multnomah Falls with my husband and two young sons — but, candidly, most of my time has been focused on wrapping my arms around the work internally.

That means I’ve used 2019 to deepen my connection with the Meyer’s team, assess our annual funding opportunity process, evaluate our grantmaking work overall and, most importantly, try to learn what the field asks of us and to implement strategic changes to be more responsive. The opportunity for centering grantees in our strategy work is an approach I’m excited to highlight here.

In a shift from years past, we tweaked Meyer’s 2019 Annual Funding Opportunity to be more flexible and timely. All four of our portfolios worked hard to get resources out the door quickly to organizations that needed funding sooner than our typical late fall AFO announcement.

Nowhere is that shift more obvious than Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio. Schools and districts have made clear the importance of receiving funding prior to the start of the school year in September. You spoke; we listened. This batch includes 18 grants, totaling $2.5 million, nearly all for efforts set to launch with the new school year.

You’ll find the full list of awards made since spring here.

Another big piece of work centered around our Building Community portfolio, which has awarded 39 grants totaling more than $2.4 million since April: This year, we offered an invitation-only closed funding opportunity to refine our focus on systems-level change and direct-service providers. Clarifying those changes led to a robust response to an RFP supporting direct service — you’ll notice those awards among the latest batch of general operating grants, all organizations holding up key pieces of work to make Oregon a flourishing and equitable state. The Building Community portfolio team spoke about these changes (and more) in this interview and FAQ page.

The Building Community portfolio also released a report this summer on two years of Nonprofit Sector Support, shepherded by Carol Cheney, who became Meyer’s DEI manager earlier this year. In case you missed the report summary, it outlines grants Meyer awarded to organizations in 2016 to advance leadership in support of equity and capacity building for diversity, equity and inclusion practice within the nonprofit sector. Meyer worked closely with grantees who engaged in peer learning through 2018. The report reflects shared learning. I invite you to take a look at the summary, here.

For the past several years, Meyer’s environmental funding was delivered through two streams: the Willamette River Initiative for river-related grantmaking and our Healthy Environment portfolio, for statewide work. Together, Meyer’s environmental funding since April amounted to 30 grants totaling $1.8 million. This fall, the 10-year WRI will end, actively transitioning to an independent organization. So the time had come to add a program officer to what had been our smallest portfolio. Hiring a program officer for our environment portfolio increases the team’s capacity to partner deeply with our grantees across Oregon. Meet Mary Rose Navarro.

In addition to grantmaking, Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio hosted its second Equity Housing Summit this summer, a daylong event for housing-focused or homeless service providers to share strengths, insights and lessons to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts specifically in rural spaces. You can learn more about the summit in a new blog post from our Philanthropy Northwest Momentum Housing Fellow, Lauren Waudé. You’ll also find resources from the summit, including speeches, materials and the land recognition that started off our day, here. All told, 19 Housing Opportunities grants since April total nearly $1.5 million.

Beyond our portfolio specific awards, Meyer occasionally makes grants to respond to timely needs and opportunities. Since April, Meyer has awarded 24 such grants, totaling $470,000, in support of philanthropy and through the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative.

The change in season means we’re approaching the announcement of grantmaking funded through Meyer’s 2019 AFO in November. I look forward to sharing more with you then — and I am especially committed to connecting more directly with community over the next year.