March 2, 2017

Expanding our priorities: A strategic focus on Mission-Related Investing

Doug Stamm: Meyer’s mission is to contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon. That means our mission is place-based. We try to maximize impact by aligning all parts of our business in this effort. We stay focused on our mission in Oregon when awarding grants, in the day-to-day operation of our business and, to some degree, when managing our investment portfolio.

Rukaiyah Adams: Yup. We said it, “to some degree.” That’s an awkward way to put it, but that’s the way it is.

Historically, we have focused most of our resources on successfully investing Meyer’s assets in global markets. We did that because our most important fiduciary responsibility as foundation investors is to optimize risk-adjusted returns so that our program teams can continue to make grants long into the future. As a result, we have a top-performing investment portfolio. Thankfully, it is exactly that long-term success that affords us the chance to set new, more visionary objectives for mission alignment in our investment work. Although we have made opportunistic mission-related investments for about a decade, the truth is that alignment with our place-based mission has not always squared with optimizing returns. Not to mention historically we haven’t devoted enough resources to refining our alignment. Until now.

Doug: Three years ago when Rukaiyah took the helm of Meyer’s investment team, we knew that regional investing would require better thinking, more resources and greater clarity. We asked, what does it look like to find investments that lead to a more flourishing and equitable Oregon? By which methods do we share our quantitative performance information about regional investing with other technical investors? How can we better use our position as long-term, regional capital to convene, explore, catalyze and lead?

As two of Meyer’s senior leaders, it is our work to provide strategic leadership. Together with the Meyer Trustees, we agree: Mission-related investing is a strategic priority. As Mitch Hornecker said, "To create a vibrant economy with opportunity for all Oregonians — and a safety net for those in need — we must be thoughtful and strategic and carefully scrutinize our public and private investment decisions.” Decades ago, it may have been a dream to find profitable and scalable investments that allow us to incorporate mission into our investment portfolio. The tide, however, is turning. Meyer has long been part of this shift.

Rukaiyah: Scalable transformation for regional investing will require Meyer to be very clear that mission-related investing is first and foremost investing, not grantmaking; a sustained focus with buy-in at all levels of the Meyer organization; and a long-term commitment of capital. For many years, Sayer Jones, in addition to his responsibilities as Meyer’s finance director, was leading mission-related investments. In our effort to shift our strategy toward greater definition and success, Sayer will now be able to exclusively focus his time, expertise and passion as Meyer’s first director of mission related investing.

Last year alone, Sayer’s deep connections throughout Oregon made it possible for Meyer to convene Oregon’s leading innovators in economic development, which has sparked ideas and resulted in a first-ever map of the capital ecosystem to help legislators and business leaders understand the challenges facing entrepreneurs.

Recently, Sayer spearheaded Meyer’s $2 million investment in Elevate Capital. Founded by Portland-based entrepreneur and investor Nitin Rai, Elevate invests in startups led by minorities.

Make no mistake, we will continue to invest our portfolio to optimize risk-adjusted returns around the world. That will never change. However, we expect, with the addition of this strategic focus on regional investing, that there will be more options for us to do well and do good in our own backyard, here in the Pacific Northwest.

Meyer’s investment team and trustees are working to clarify mission alignment and developing a 10-year plan for mission-related investing so that we can get to work!

Stay tuned for updates from Sayer.

—Rukaiyah & Doug