August 3, 2018

From responsiveness to intentionality: departing words from Meyer's director of programs

As she prepared to depart Meyer Memorial Trust after more than a decade, Director of Programs Candy Solovjovs sat down last month with Kimberly Wilson, Meyer's Director of Communications, to talk about the evolution of grantmaking.

Kimberly Wilson:

I want to start with what grantmaking was like when you arrived at Meyer in 2007. What can you tell us about the different grant programs then?

Candy Solovjovs:

It was wide-open, general-purpose grantmaking here at Meyer. At that time, our region was Oregon and Southwest Washington. Almost all of our grantmaking happened through our responsive grant program. We had a system of open, rolling deadlines, so we accepted applications at any time and we were making grants almost every month. As things came in, we would process them, decisions would be made, grants would go out and we would get a new batch of proposals to consider. Alongside the larger Responsive Grants program, Meyer also had a Grassroots Grants program to support small budget and emerging organizations. Through both Responsive and Grassroots grants, we were funding some great and important work and organizations addressing community needs. At the same time, it was a constant churn of transactional grantmaking and there was not a clear sense of what issues were Meyer's highest priorities.

When I joined Meyer, the foundation had just dipped its toe into early initiative work. We had just started doing some work with the Chalkboard Project, with the small schools initiative. We were launching our Affordable Housing Initiative and doing very preliminary exploration about the role we might play in improving the health of the Willamette River. These were the first forays for Meyer into deep initiative-based programming. But the bulk of funding and the bulk of staffing capacity were focused on that broad, general-purpose grantmaking.

Meyer was also making program-related investments (PRIs), which were newer to the field of philanthropy at that time. PRIs were primarily made in the form of low-interest loans and most often made in tandem with our general purpose grantmaking. They were mostly made in support of capital projects. For example, we would give a capital grant to support a new community-based health clinic and then provide additional funds as a PRI at the same time.

Overall, when I started we had a general, shared understanding of what we were looking for in grants. We were looking for opportunities where there were strong and stable organizations and where there was evidence of good planning and a high likelihood of success. We wanted evidence of community support, including having some funding already raised and we wanted projects that were in good shape and ready to move forward. We wanted to help organizations that had some kind of track record increase their capacity and organizational infrastructure. But as an organization, Meyer didn't have any specific priorities or areas of focus outside of those initiatives that were happening around the edges.

Kimberly Wilson:

What was the field like when you arrived? What were we focused on and how did that favor or act as a barrier to different kinds of nonprofit organizations?

Candy Solovjovs:

The field of philanthropy, generally, was focused on those strong and stable organizations and "safe bets," I would say. Not many regional funders were providing large capacity-building grants. Advocacy and general operating support grants were few and far between. So from a field perspective, there were a lot of project and capital grants. But the majority of the field really favored organizations that were more established, that had strong networks and fundraising connections, and that had a history within the mainstream community. The other side of the coin was that it was much more challenging for organizations that were emerging, organizations that maybe didn't have those relationships with high net worth individuals or business leaders or were making it on a financial string or were generally just learning their way to secure philanthropic dollars.

Kimberly Wilson:

Regionally, was Meyer more on the progressive end of the field? What made us different from other funders?

Candy Solovjovs:

Yes, I would say, in general, Meyer was on the more progressive end of the regional continuum. Certainly we were doing things that were not unique to us, but it's clear that innovation is truly in the DNA of this organization and reflective of the source of our funds in coming from a founder who was himself an entrepreneur. Has been, still is. We were certainly a leader, and we continue to be a leader in program-related investment work. We were taking on big issues that other funders may have been funding, but we took it to another level and pushed beyond traditional charitable grantmaking and intentionally wanted to try new approaches. Our Affordable Housing Initiative and the Willamette River Initiative are great examples, as is the Million Dollar Idea that came along later and through which Meyer ended up investing significant dollars in leadership development in communities of color.

Those were all very different, innovative, outside of what some of our other peers were doing at the time, or at least we were providing some leadership in that space.

The other thing that I continually hear from the field and that I had experienced myself before coming to Meyer when I was in the nonprofit and public sectors is that Meyer is often open to ideas that other funders may not be — some out-of-the-box ideas, plans that are earlier on in formation, something that hasn't been tried before. Meyer has always been open to new ideas and is often the first foundation coming in with support.

Kimberly Wilson:

Let's talk people. Today, Meyer's program team has about 18 members; when you came to Meyer, how was program staffed?

Candy Solovjovs:

We had about six program staff at that time, all program officers and all generalists. The thing about how we were organized at the time is our program officer staff were primarily folks who had nonprofit executive leadership experience, and we worked in all different fields. Meyer was looking for a certain set of experiences. We had a great team. And it was also limited in terms of diversity of lived experiences and perspectives and the communities from where folks hailed. Any particular program officer at any given time could be working on a request in the environmental field with an arts organization, with a food bank. It was quite a patchwork of matters and each of us was working across the board in all kinds of different areas.

What was great about that was it helped folks learn a lot about different pieces of community. But it didn't offer any of the staff or Meyer to have depth in a particular area or deep relationships with specific fields. As I mentioned before, there was also a rolling application process, which really meant that the focus of the program staff was on the transactional grantmaking process itself and working with individual organizations. We weren't doing much in the way of convening or partnering at a field level to build capacity or to see things from a systems perspective.

Kimberly Wilson:

If you could diagnose what was wrong with grantmaking at Meyer, how would you diagnose it for that timeframe and is it an issue of not being able to be intentional or having priorities?

Candy Solovjovs:

I don't know that I would say that the grantmaking was wrong, because we certainly have supported a lot of really important areas of work and important projects and have contributed to the strength of many Oregon nonprofits. When you travel around the state you can clearly see places where Meyer's investments are visible and have helped communities realize something that's really important to them. That's all really, really good. Meyer can and should be proud of that and its approach of welcoming community priorities.

I think what was challenging about it though was that the organization of Meyer really didn't have clear, stated priorities about what we cared about and how we wanted to invest in communities. We hadn't reflected on who or what we meant by "community." Foundations should have a perspective and find the places where that perspective intersects with community priorities. And understand that in communities throughout our region, there are actually layers of many communities who do not all share the same priorities. At the time, grantmaking was really driven by that constant process of responsive grantmaking and not so much stepping back for a strategic view of what was happening in the state and where unique opportunities were for us to come in as a partner and investor to help shift the tides and support efforts that we deeply cared about.

Kimberly Wilson:

Tell me why that's important, because there are obviously plenty of foundations that still occupy the responsive mode. What makes intentional grantmaking important for a state or community?

Candy Solovjovs:

I believe it's actually the combination that's important. There are sometimes two camps: A foundation is either strategic or responsive. That's not my view. I believe that the magic is in blending strategy and responsiveness. To really understand a community's needs, desires and challenges, keeping those understandings centered in strategy, and creating intentional opportunities to be responsive to community priorities and solutions — that's what supports the partnership and relevancy. But at the same time, you have to own your own perspective and priorities, because you can't be everything to everyone and you can't have agency in change with a mindset that is only about being charitable. It's more challenging if you're looking at investments on an individual organization or individual grant level and making decisions around that, as opposed to looking at the field or looking at the community, or looking at a specific space and saying, "What is our role? Where can we help the field or help a community or help something in a bigger way than just one organization in one particular place at one particular time" and not looking at the bigger context. Strategic philanthropy can often lose its responsiveness and connection to community and its nimbleness and openness to new information because it is so focused on implementing its own rigid strategic framework. From where I sit and having worked in the philanthropic, public and nonprofit sectors, foundations have to be both strategic and responsive to be relevant and effective.

I'm proud of how our Affordable Housing Initiative and Willamette River Initiative have really reflected this blending with strategies that have largely been developed by the field and are nimble and iterative.

Kimberly Wilson:

How did trustee relationships impact what we were doing or our grantmaking? Were they driven by that sense of strategy and impact? What did it look like?

Candy Solovjovs:

Outside of our initiative work, they were very much in the same mode as staff of looking at individual grants, individual projects and focused on that desire to do good in communities in ways that were bubbling up from nonprofits. They talked about impact a lot, but the way that that tended to emerge was around individual grants and looking for very concrete outputs in a very specific window of time during the grant period.

Kimberly Wilson:

So, concrete and discrete?

Candy Solovjovs:

Concrete and discrete, and "What's going to happen while our dollars are there and with our dollars specifically?" What could be counted or measured over the course of a grant.

Kimberly Wilson:

What was frustrating about that? That and the grind that you talked about, or the lack of a North Star touchstone?

Candy Solovjovs:

It's hard to make decisions and it's hard to prioritize if you're only looking at the here and now and you're not able to view something in relation to a broader goal or a broader vision. You can make a decision about whatever is in front of you within the context of the time that you're looking at it, but I think to be able to say, "Here's a picture of what we want to see and how we want to impact it. How does this opportunity support that?" — that's important.

As we have become more reflective and as we are working to understand our role in policy and systems change, the questions are starting to shift. There is an increasing recognition that we need to think more in terms of indicators of progress and positioning for the future. Sometimes the true opportunity is to think about, "What can we do now that might not have a really specific outcome now but is seeding something that will flourish into an outcome over time?"

Kimberly Wilson:

What didn't Meyer fund back then? How did Meyer fund advocacy — did we fund it? And what about general operating support?

Candy Solovjovs:

Primarily, our focus was on projects and capital and capacity building. We rarely funded advocacy; occasionally we did but it tended to be an exception. I think often because it seemed too controversial. We wanted to stay in a space that we felt that all the community, as we were looking at it at that time, could support and that wouldn't be seen as divisive. There was also a tension with advocacy requests and the concrete outcomes that we were looking for, because as we know, it may be a ways down the road before the work leads to visible change.

Clearly we've grown in our comfort there and now understand that supporting communities in their organizing and advocacy work may lead to policy changes that reflect their needs and desires and aspirations, but it might not happen in a 18-month, 2-year, or 3-year grant period.

Similarly, we made general operating support grants from time to time and faced some of the same questions. When you make a general operating support grant, you're investing in an organization and the overall work that they do, but there was a desire to know specifically what was going to happen with these grant dollars. What was the outcome going to be in the grant period? General operating support is a specific way of investing in an organization and trusting partners to use the dollars however they want to meet their mission and we don't even need to know the specifics about their choices. We just want to know how their organizational goals transpired over the course of a year and what they accomplished. There was some discomfort with that earlier on.

Kimberly Wilson:

Give me a sense of how the change began to happen in Meyer's grantmaking. We were funding emergency food programs versus programs that would solve hunger. How did that tolerance to risk show up? How did that get built?

Candy Solovjovs:

Well, change came slowly, for sure. We certainly had a CEO at that time, Doug Stamm, who was really interested in pushing us to do new things in different ways, to challenge ourselves and our thinking, and continuously innovate. Having that energy and those expectations was really key to creating openings for change.

Trustees also started asking questions. This was clearly spotlighted during the recession when we were making some pretty large investments in the emergency food and emergency energy assistance systems because so many people were in need and seeking services. And it raised questions for trustees, "Okay, we're putting all this money out there for emergency food; is anything getting better that's going to change that? Is there a role where we could start looking at how we could help really change the conditions that are feeding into that need for emergency services?" That's how our food system work came to be. In that moment, trustees said, "Okay, staff, what might that look like?" Two staff in particular at the time, Kim Thomas and Sally Yee, took the lead in helping to explore how Meyer could support communities, not only with grant dollars but also convening and capacity building support around developing local food systems that could address local food issues in a different way.

Then we did some other things over time to start cultivating some of the changes you've seen. We started bringing in folks from outside Oregon, who were working in different ways, to talk to us about what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how they were addressing some of the questions or challenges that came up for the folks at Meyer. We brought in wonderful people from the Alliance for Justice on a couple of different occasions to talk to us about supporting policy and advocacy grants and using our voice. There's a lot of fear about that, particularly in the private foundation world around, "Can we do this? Can nonprofits lobby? Can foundations support it?"

Understanding that and unraveling that was really helpful and really important. We also brought in colleagues from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations to talk with our trustees, then some other foundations and some of our local nonprofit partners here, just to help us think differently and try to provide some perspective around places that we were feeling stuck.

And we were beginning to reflect more on issues of equity and community investment, and who we were and were not funding. And it raised even more questions for us.

Kimberly Wilson:

The redesign. I feel like it began with the words "flourishing and equitable." Tell me what the redesign was about? Was it because of language change in Meyer's mission statement?

Candy Solovjovs:

I think a lot of the things we've been talking about were all converging. When we did change the language in our mission statement and modified it to really focus on a flourishing and equitable Oregon, it started to give some shape to mission that we hadn't had before. But what it also brought up for me in terms of our grantmaking work and the program team was, "Okay, so we modified our mission and started to provide some focus to our priorities and vision. How does our grantmaking relate to that? Where are we making grants that really are supporting and advancing that work? Where might we be making some investments that we're not clear where that connection is? And where does it feel like there is actually a rub with what we want to see?" I think wanting to at least step back and have some conversation together around, "What's the line here and how do we make sure what we're doing is advancing this mission?" The conversation started with grantmaking, but I think it was applicable organizationally. "How is this advancing our mission under this new frame?"

It was also an opportunity to step back to reflect and plan. We asked ourselves, "What is it that we really like about the way that we work and what we're doing? What is it that we're doing because it's the way that we've always done it? Can we pause to think about that, particularly in relation to this mission change?" So we began to start defining, "What are the areas that there's the most energy and passion about and that we think are the most important levers for change if we really are to achieve flourishing and equitable communities?" That's housing, education, the environment and policies and leadership that are reflective of the totality of communities here in Oregon. Those things surfaced through that reflection process. They were things we were already investing in, but we hadn't named them as priorities or brought any focus to them. And it started to help us more clearly see areas where we were funding that were not among those highest priorities.

Then we wanted to also be able to think about the places where we were working in different ways with nonprofits and public sector agencies and funder partners, and through those conversations what began to emerge was that we were seeing the most change and progress and deeper relationships around the edges of the work we were doing in our initiatives and in some of our more focused funding programs. It wasn't in the responsive programs, which is where most of our capacity and funding was going. That was kind of a big "Aha", moment for folks saying, "What was different about how we're working in those areas? Organizationally, from a structural standpoint, what would we need to change to be able to do more of that kind of work?"

Kimberly Wilson:

When you arrived, Meyer was still making grants in Oregon and Southwest Washington. How did redefining the region come about? Did it play a role in the redesign? Was there tension in how we went about changing our grantmaking community?

Candy Solovjovs:

We had, for many years, included Southwest Washington within our region because of its connection to the Portland area. For a while, it had been a broader swath than Southwest Washington, then at one point had narrowed specifically to Clark County. But part of the reflection in the redesign process was around the opportunity to deepen engagement in policy and advocacy and systems change work. There was the realization that so much of that happens on the state and local level. Things like education policy, affordable housing policy, environmental policy; it's an entirely different state system with entirely different players in Washington that are tied to the rest of Washington state. If we were going to focus and deepen our work, then it made sense to really focus on the core areas that we were working in.

We also knew that our investments in Southwest Washington had been through our responsive grantmaking and we were supporting different organizations in different years. There wasn't really a consistent theme or continuity in those investments. This was important because one of the things we were really concerned about was making sure changes at Meyer did not unintentionally destabilize the nonprofits we were funding. So we took the time to analyze that, and we didn't see that pattern in the way that we were funding in Clark County.

At the same time, though, we didn't want to have an abrupt cut-off funding there. So we entered into a supportive partnership with the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington to provide funding that would support grantmaking over multiple years and capacity building support to provide a gradual ramp down of our philanthropic support in that area.

Kimberly Wilson:

Meyer started three new initiatives around the time you arrived: Affordable Housing Initiative, Chalkboard Project and Willamette River Initiative. As you described earlier, they were sort of fringe to the responsive grantmaking that Meyer was doing, but as they proved successful and proved to have impact, they came into the core of the foundation work. Tell me a little bit more about the strategic planning that made that happen.

Candy Solovjovs:

It was more about looking at the ways we were working in those initiatives and how we build that out in the core of the foundation. You can see that now in the ways that portfolios are convening grantees and partners. They are working with partners in ways that are much more visible and inherent in the structure of their strategy than we were doing before at any broad scale. It's taking the lessons that we learned and the approaches that were being effective and the partnerships that were happening and bumping those up and infusing them throughout all of our programmatic structure.

Kimberly Wilson:

This year is bringing closure to several things from that earlier era, including an end to the final legacy payments for responsive grantmaking, as well as the transition of the Willamette River Initiative, which was started in 2008. There was the large budget arts organizations funding, which began in 2007, and the Affordable Housing Initiative, which started around 2007 or 2008. Now that those specific initiatives are ramping down, how will our commitment to the arts, the Willamette River and affordable housing continue to show up going forward?

Candy Solovjovs:

I expect there will be a place for all of them going forward within our portfolios. We are in the process of ramping down the support in the form that we have been providing to the large budget arts organizations in the metro area for some time. They still will be eligible to apply under our portfolios and funding opportunities. Going forward, they will just be part of the process that is open to every other arts organization in the state to consider applying for.

Our Willamette River Initiative is in the process of defining its next evolution of being a community-led network, which is really exciting. Meyer will continue to be a part of that. We are actively providing support and coordination of that planning, and as part of that transition, our trustees have made an additional four years of funding commitment. Meyer will continue to be a partner as that work evolves, but it will look different, won't be housed here and will provide a launching platform for broader community leadership.

Then our Affordable Housing Initiative is being integrated into the bones of our housing opportunities portfolio. We've been bringing these two pieces together and into one team under the redesign. Our AHI staff and many of the ways they have been working will continue to live on; it's just going to be better integrated with our overarching housing framework through a shared strategy.

Kimberly Wilson:

Beyond that integration, what would you expect to see or hope to see to build on places of intersection and other strategies of our new portfolios?

Candy Solovjovs:

I'm excited to see what's next. We've been developing these four portfolio areas; they'll continue to iterate and refine their strategies and to do more in spaces that go beyond grantmaking. More convening, more research, more strategic communications. I also think that as the teams have formed and the learnings that have come to date and the experiences that we've had, there will be a lot of opportunity to start exploring where issues intersect. We already do some cross portfolio work, but the places they come together — be it at a field level or at the community level — are the areas that are ripe for our next step. There may be some really interesting opportunities to take a more place-based lens to explore where they come together in community.

I also anticipate that we will start more robustly building out places to use other kinds of investments like PRIs. We've intentionally slowed this down over the last couple of years as we've reoriented. We've continued to do make PRIs, but I think we're now ready to do more and to explore opportunities to leverage mission-related investments, as well.

My hope would be that there would be continued energy put into developing partnerships, both internally, to be able to have some synergy between the grantmaking and program work that we're doing in other parts of the Meyer business to come in and support the organizational goals, and also with our partners externally as well.

Kimberly Wilson:

I'm curious about program related investments. Meyer was a groundbreaker in the PRI world. How did PRIs initially align with our interests and how are we using them today?

Candy Solovjovs:

I think PRIs are a great way to provide a different kind of investment, and certainly larger investments, in ways that can redeploy dollars to keep them in circulation over time.

When I first started and over the first several years that I was here, we really built up our PRI programming. But what became clear was that, similar to the grantmaking, we were not necessarily investing in areas that might be the highest priority, particularly as we've modified our mission. As we went into the redesign, it was important to make sure that we were aligning PRIs to mission, not as a pipeline aspiration or an aspiration to get a certain number of dollars out the door. We need to ask ourselves how we can use PRIs as a strategic tool within our areas of priority and in ways that really make sense in the context of our mission. We need to understand what the field needs and what role can a PRI play in helping to address that need.

Over the last couple of years, the work that we have done is to reorient some of those existing PRIs to our new portfolios and find the ones that are doing great work, that are really advancing what we want to do, and to extend them and add dollars to them. I think that going forward there will be new ways to continue to build that out.

We've also been focusing more on how intermediaries can partner with us. One of the things that we learned in our PRI work is that it takes a lot of staff capacity. We are not bankers, and foundations can't move as quickly as financial institutions. We know our intermediary partners can often leverage other dollars and a depth of technical assistance that we can't do here at Meyer. Now we are supporting organizations like the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, Community Housing Fund and Craft3 with PRIs so that they can make loans to nonprofits. This is an effective way that we can partner with someone else who can act more nimbly, who can bring in other resources and help put together a package for organizations in ways we can't.

I would anticipate that we'll continue to build our PRI work back up but now more focused with our mission. We've also done a little bit of work the last few years around credit and loan guarantees that are different ways to apply that tool. I think you'll see more of this from Meyer.

Kimberly Wilson:

Let's talk about our relationship with the field today. I know we have connections we didn't have when you first arrived. Tell me about the tension behind some of that and what those relationships look like today.

Candy Solovjovs:

I think that Meyer has had relationships in some way with different communities and different organizations, really since I started. But I think that they have deepened. What I've seen over the last couple of years is we've really worked to bring in staff who have different networks and different connections and different experiences. We have more staff who are able to spend more time on relationship building and have been able to work with different communities to help develop really community-driven, community-led initiatives.

We've built on the capital that we've had for some time, but we've been able to shift that to start to deepen those relationships in new ways. And I would say we are still early on in developing these relationships. There are a lot of opportunities there as well, including in rural Oregon.

Kimberly Wilson:

The assets of the foundation have doubled since you've arrived and so have our payouts. How have you contributed to change through that shift? Are there examples, maybe in our portfolios, that reflect what that greater institutional financial heft and the ability to pay out more, what does that look like?

Candy Solovjovs:

One of the places that we can look to and say that we've really made some investments in change is through our affordable housing work. We have dedicated a lot of resources that have contributed to nonprofits being able to preserve affordable housing that would have been lost, to increase the number of units of affordable housing, and to really invest in some policy and systems change work that have supported and gave organizations capacity to be able to make policy changes or drive policy changes. Even though we still have such a significant need for affordable housing, that need would be even bigger had Meyer not made the investments that its made.

This is just one example. You can see the impact in the environmental field, in leadership development and community organizing among communities of color and other marginalized populations, in a wide range of policy and systems change and in the increased capacity of so many Oregon nonprofits. Our dollars have not been the only piece but have certainly been an important piece of advancements in many, many areas.

Kimberly Wilson:

Obviously there's a limit to what we can do regardless of what our assets are, or what our payout is, but we're doing more with our payout today. We're able to do more with our payout today regardless of how much that payout is because we're being more intentional.

Candy Solovjovs:

Yes, we're definitely leveraging it in different ways. One of the things that we've been really working on is how can we build into our funding strategy ways to support the field with technical assistance. There are times when that's really important with capacity building, with collaborations — that's an area we haven't talked about but that is something that's really different in the way that we're funding now. We're recognizing the power in coalitions and collaborative work and changing our funding structure to support and incentivize that. I think that all of those things give you, regardless of dollar amount, the way that we're using it is different as well.

Kimberly Wilson:

Let's talk specifically about equity. Equity is now infused in what we do, how we do the work we're doing, and also the work that we're trying to support — to better understand and better apply equity to themselves and to their work. Tell me a little bit about that, and also at this stage a couple of years into our equity transformation, how do you build up organizations that are leading in the work already while also building capacity in newer organizations or organizations that are newer to us?

Candy Solovjovs:

Those are the two places that we are really looking at how Meyer can support and bring about change. As we have restructured our funding opportunities, we're looking very specifically through an equity lens. We're asking organizations to speak to that in a variety of ways, from who they're serving, who is on their board, who is on their staff, to how are they engaging community in defining and leading work.

There's a lot of different ways that we're bringing that lens to the funding process. It certainly is allowing us to identify those organizations that are leading in equity and to provide capacity, operating support, or other kinds of support that are important for wherever they are organizationally right now. We are helping build their assets and capacity as well.

At the same time, we are also committed to supporting organizations that are maybe earlier in their equity work but are committed to advancing and recognize the importance of equity. If you look at our investments over the last couple of years, we've been providing a number of grants to support equity and inclusion within organizations: training for boards, for staff, assistance with policy review, with policy development and staffing assistance. We are supporting capacity builder organizations in Oregon and helping to develop their capacity to provide diversity, equity and inclusion training and capacity building support to others. We're providing leadership development support as well, really focused on equity and inclusion.

Through our portfolios, we're also exploring ways that we can support cohorts of grantees and their staff and board, not only individual organizations but also from a field perspective in advancing DEI. We are working with cohorts of housing groups in different areas of the state that are going through diversity and equity inclusion workshops together. We'll continue that work and will be providing grant support to help those individual organizations move forward in whatever their next steps are.

We are doing similar work through our Willamette River Initiative and the healthy environment portfolio. Overall, we are working in a variety of ways to both invest in organizations that are leading and help to shift the field as well.

Kimberly Wilson:

This is a hard topic: organizations that don't see themselves tracking with what we're trying to achieve or how we're trying to achieve it. We're asking organizations to step out of the circles that they know to take a broader look at the needs of their community. What does that look like today?

Candy Solovjovs:

There is a different equity lens that we're bringing and we are focusing in specific portfolio areas. It does shift what kinds of applications and proposals end up being most competitive in our process. I don't know of any organization that I would just say categorically, "You no longer fit with Meyer." Because we're not focused on types of organizations or specific organizations. We're focused on the goals and outcomes that we want to see, and there's a variety of ways and a variety of types of organizations that can fit into that.

What we're asking organizations for and what we're looking for in partners are those that really do step back and take a look at who is in their community and if they are serving everyone in their community. If they're not, how can they think about doing that. We want to provide support to help organizations and communities to move forward in that. It may be in the form of funding for training or specific grants to advance something internally or externally that will support that.

But some organizations might not be ready for that and maybe it's some technical assistance or some resources or some conversations that can help them with that.

That said, if organizations don't see themselves fitting in or matching with us or don't see equity and inclusion as relevant to their work, then they probably don't share that same perspective or see that same orientation toward their community. And they are not a good fit for funding.

Kimberly Wilson:

Tell me a little bit about governance at Meyer today. Only two of the trustees who are currently sitting on Meyer's board were in place when the redesign took place. How is that relevant and what has changed?

Candy Solovjovs:

Well, it's very relevant. Three of the five trustees who were part of that initial redesign just a few years ago are no longer here and those changes were not anticipated then. It's had a lot of impact, and I think at this stage, a few years in, it also provides a great opportunity for the next iteration as Meyer takes what it has learned over the past few years and moves forward.

Because really, the trustees at the time were the ones who were driving the changes. I can't imagine people who could bring more heart and intellect and focus to that work. They were truly wonderful. Now, Meyer has some really wonderful new folks who are bringing new and different perspectives. They can ask questions in different ways. I am just really thrilled that we have two trustees now who are themselves nonprofit leaders and can bring that direct experience and have familiarity with advocacy and have familiarity with the issues, diversity, equity, inclusion and communities that are really at the heart of what the redesign was about. There is just so much opportunity there.

In terms of what's changed, we've been able to shift the structure of how trustees and staff engage in way that we didn't do here at Meyer before the redesign. We have created new committee structures and different kinds of relationships that provide trustees a great entry into shaping each of those portfolio areas and working in tandem with staff and in bringing their very relevant expertise and experience to planning and decisions.

A lot has certainly changed over the last few years at the governance level, but I think that there's a lot of great opportunity going forward and some really great people to help lead the organization.

Kimberly Wilson:

I'm going to turn this over to you. There's some other topics that I think you wanted to talk around. The staffing changes that were necessary to build the teams and build and distribute the leadership. Can you talk about this, going back?

Candy Solovjovs:

Yes, when you interact with our teams, there's definitely experience, expertise and depth in fields that was not here when I started. There's a lot of different ways for folks to be able to take on leadership roles, different ways to partner, different ways to do their work that really wasn't possible under the staffing structure that we previously had, which was, again, really focused specifically on that responsive grantmaking system.

Kimberly Wilson:

Our new president and CEO, Michelle J. DePass, recently said something that kind of speaks to what you're saying about the staffing and how it's changed. She said, "I think this is a sector that needs to do more in terms of not only serving community but being a part of community." Our programming staff now has focused expertise. Does that serve the idea?

Candy Solovjovs:

Yes, you can see that showing up in different ways. If we take housing as an example of our work, then yes, you've got people working within that portfolio who are living in very different communities in the metro area, have come from very different areas of the state — including rural Oregon communities — and have had a variety of housing experiences. That brings a certain lived experience into that work, and they're also highly engaged with the field in learning. They are sitting at tables around issues and policy and really experiencing and hearing and being part of those conversations at a field-based level in a way that just didn't happen previously.

Kimberly Wilson:

Thank you so much, Candy. You've guided us down this path.

Candy Solovjovs:

Thank you. It's been an honor to work with so many fabulous people over the course of my 11 years here. I have definitely played a role in getting us to where we are, but it's a collective vision. It has truly been a remarkable experience!