October 2, 2017

ICYMI: Putting Something in the Middle

A dozen years before "fake news" became a catchphrase, Meyer Memorial Trust imagined a worst-case headline should its investments continue to undermine its mission. This faux headline pushed trustees to greenlight Meyer's early mission-related investing.

New concepts can be difficult for philanthropy to embrace.

A dozen years ago, mission-related investing was in its infancy in the independent sector. Meyer's CEO, Doug Stamm, became an early leader in the practice — but first he needed to convince Meyer's board of trustees. Jan Jaffe, senior partner at The Giving Practice, chatted with Doug recently about what happened and shared their conversation on Philanthropy Northwest:

Doug: I was talking to Marie Deatherage, who was our communications director at the time. This was before social media was so strong, and we were a one-newspaper state. I told her that I was struggling to drive home the point that MRIs were key to Meyer’s mission. She designed a draft of the Sunday Oregonian with a front-page headline—“Dark Clouds Over Good Works of Meyer Memorial Trust”—and stories going down two columns about Meyer investing in tobacco companies while trying to address second-hand smoke health problems for kids. There were photos of the trustees along with the CIO. She put it in a finished-looking format—the Sunday newspaper without all the stuffing.

Jan: Wow. Fake news before its time. That was a creative move by Marie.

Doug: Yes, and only three years into my tenure this could have been a career-jeopardizing move for me. I tested it on my chairman at the time, John Emrick, by saying, “I have to share something with you. I know the editor of the newspaper. They didn’t want to shock us so they are giving us a pre-publishing draft. Here it is.” John is a well-known environmentalist. He put his head down. “This is not good at all!” I told him, “It’s bad…but it is not real.” I told him the story. Then he said, “This is great!” And I asked for his support to distribute 30 copies at the upcoming roundtable. I distributed it during my opening remarks, saying what we hoped wouldn’t happen, is happening on Sunday. Mouths opened and people were stunned.

Read more of Jan and Doug's conversation here. And stay tuned for their continuing conversation about reflective practices with a discussion on Meyer’s work to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into our organization and our work.