We have been building toward this moment at Meyer Memorial Trust for more than two years: the first grants from our issue-focused, equity-based portfolios. Today we announce 151 grant awards totalling $17.3 million made under our spring 2016 funding opportunity through our Building Community, Healthy Environment and Housing Opportunities portfolios. These grants are an important milestone in our transformative, organizational evolution. Coming at this particular moment in history, when communities that have experienced disparities face ever greater threats, the work and organizations these awards support are tangible investments toward the equitable Oregon we envision.
Making decisions about where to direct our limited funding was no easy task, especially considering the robust response to our funding call. We received 675 applications requesting $95 million. The partners and work we are supporting are impressive, inspiring and dedicated to advancing equity for and inclusion of Oregonians who experience disparities because of race, ethnicity, income, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other oppressions.
How we got here
Over the past two years, we have sharpened our focus because we have learned from our nonprofit partners, expert staff, philanthropic peers and leaders in the state that housing, education, the environment and building community are the four key areas where the biggest barriers to equity exist. The data were unequivocal: Deep disparities and inequities are barriers to our vision of a flourishing and equitable Oregon and what communities across our state say are important Oregon values. We knew that to have the greatest impact in Oregon, we must work to close gaps created by these inequities.
We knew we couldn’t do this in isolation, and so we set out to listen.
We listened to leaders in marginalized communities, which taught us more about their visions and priorities, such as having seats at the tables where local and state policies are set, addressing poor housing conditions for tribal members, and ensuring access to clean air and water. We learned that rural and urban communities share similar concerns about climate change, want Oregon to be welcoming and safe for immigrants, need more affordable housing, and want inclusive schools, health care and other systems that support diverse Oregonians in reaching their full potential.
We surveyed nearly 2,000 nonprofit leaders, who informed us of the importance of Meyer’s flexible funding for changing policies and systems, building organizational capacity, supporting general operations and launching innovations. And we listened to peer funders, government leaders, academics and private sector experts to learn about their ideas for the role of philanthropy as partners in building our shared Oregon future.
What we learned helped transform Meyer as an organization, and it naturally led us to redesign our grantmaking. We know that inequity is experienced throughout our communities every day and in many ways, and it is a pernicious obstacle to the flourishing and equitable state Oregonians deserve.
The grants we announce today are investments in removing barriers and advancing equity through policy and systems changes, coalition building, on-the-ground programming, strengthening organizational capacity and, in very specific situations, building capital assets.
Four Focused Priorities
Meyer has sharply focused on areas where inequity gaps are the largest.
The 65 grants made through our Building Community portfolio aim to improve conditions for communities of color, Oregonians living on low incomes and other marginalized populations. These grants will work to accomplish that. They will strengthen leaders, networks and organizations that break down barriers and build the power of Oregon’s diverse communities. They will increase civic engagement. And they will build inclusive communities through arts and cultures.
Awards include capacity-building grants to organizations such as Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Artists Repertory Theatre and Rural Organizing Project. They also include grants that support the operations of Basic Rights Oregon, Miracles Theatre and the Black United Fund of Oregon. And lastly, they include project-support grants to On-the-Move Community Integration, Central City Concern, Multnomah County and CASA of Oregon.
Learn more about these and all of our Building Community awards here.
Our 47 Healthy Environment portfolio investments are grounded in our belief that a flourishing Oregon depends on healthy ecosystems and clean water and air for all. Grant awards prioritize efforts to protect and improve the health of the environment while addressing underlying disparities that affect communities of color, people living in low-income neighborhoods and agriculture and forest workers.
Grants will support organizations advancing environmental justice, including Beyond Toxics, Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, Northwest Forest Worker Center and OPAL. Many awards advance work to build an inclusive and diverse environmental movement, such as grants to the Center for Diversity and the Environment, Climate Solutions, Nature Conservancy and Vocoform. And grants to further triple-bottom-line work and support healthy natural systems were awarded to a range of organizations, from Lomakatsi Restoration Project to Oregon Environmental Council to Our Children’s Trust.
More information about these and all of our Healthy Environment awards can be found here.
The 39 awards made in our Housing Opportunities portfolio reflect our vision for every Oregonian to have a decent, safe and affordable place to call home and our belief that housing — and the stability it offers — helps to build better lives and strengthen communities. Funding is directed to under-resourced, low-income communities, including communities of color, underserved rural communities and other marginalized populations.
Grants made in this round complement our advocacy and other investments made through our Affordable Housing Initiative, and they include capital investments to preserve and expand affordable rental housing.
Grants to organizations such as Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, Caritas Community Housing Corporation, Bridge Meadow, Luke-Dorf and Neighborhood House will result in more affordable homes for people living on low incomes, including people who have been displaced by gentrification, people in rural Rogue River communities, foster children, seniors, veterans and people living with mental illness. Funds to support the success of residents — including low-income people at risk of displacement, youths aging out of foster care, low-income people with criminal records, and Latino seniors — were awarded to organizations such as the Native American Youth and Family Center, El Programa Hispano Catolico, Oregon Law Center and Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation. Awards also strengthen the housing sector, including grants to Community Partners for Affordable Housing, Fair Housing Council of Oregon, Farmworker Housing Development Corporation and SquareOne Villages, among others.
Read more about these and other Housing Opportunities awards here.
We are finalizing the framework for our Equitable Education portfolio now and will announce details in early 2017. Meyer plans to emphasize strategies that improve student achievement and close gaps in educational opportunities and outcomes in Oregon, specifically focusing on underserved communities.
Read more about our emerging vision for Equitable Education here.
Bound by common themes
Recurrent priorities surfaced throughout the many conversations we had with Oregon’s nonprofit, public and philanthropic leaders in the course of our redesign outreach and planning. You may notice several of those themes threading across our portfolio awards.
Equity and inclusion are crucial: Investments directly impact issues of race, class, sexual orientation, disability and other forms of oppression and inequity. Community leadership, community voices and meaningful community partnerships are reflected in funded projects. And staying true to our intention to support organizations that are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion but who may be early on in their journey, a number of grants support nonprofits to develop their own capacity for diversity, equity and inclusion, both internally and externally.
Policy and systems change work is vital: We heard loud and clear throughout our community outreach and planning that policy and systems change investments — and Meyer’s willingness to support bold efforts to advance equity — should be elevated. This is perhaps one of the most visible shifts in our funding. Over the past year, Meyer has deepened our understanding of how philanthropy can support policy and advocacy work and expanded investments in advocacy, policy and systems change.
Collaborations and coalitions build strength: We also heard from our nonprofit partners about the important role Meyer can play in supporting and encouraging groups to align their efforts — and that you wanted this highlighted in our funding. To that end, we created a distinct door for collaborations to apply for funds, and we encouraged applications from groups working statewide in partnership with local partners and communities. Among our awards are many grants that involve various forms of collaboration and partnerships.
Innovation fosters creative solutions: Meyer is known for our interest in supporting innovation, and we heard from our partners that this support is highly valued. We looked for programs that are creative and have new models or applications of proven strategies to reach desired outcomes.
Impact matters: Meyer staff worked with applicants to understand the potential for impact. We will continue to work to better identify outcomes of our investments. We are also restructuring how we track, assess and report the impact of our grants.
Building capacity and supporting operations are essential: We believe that investing in organizations is crucial to advancing equity. Almost half of the grants awarded in 2016 are for capacity building or general operating support.
Isolation carries risk: One of the risks in our new portfolio model is the potential to create artificial silos, despite the many ways that housing, environment, education and community intersect. We are pleased to fund a number of proposals from organizations working in the heart of these intersections, and our staff will partner internally to stay engaged with and learn from these investments.
Refining and learning continues
As mentioned earlier, we were struck by the large volume of requests for these initial funding opportunities. We recognize that many were strong, compelling proposals for work that promised to make life better in Oregon in a variety of ways. It was difficult to say to those organizations, “No, we simply can’t fund your efforts this round.”
We also received proposals that were an excellent match with our goals but were not quite ready in terms of what we look for in a strong request. Other proposals reflected good work, but the applicant organization's understanding of and commitment to advancing equity within its organization and community were not clear. And in some cases, we received proposals that would have been considered strong under our former grant programs but were not a good match with our focused funding goals.
In the end, we could not be more impressed with the ideas and opportunities our nonprofit partners put forward to advance equity in Oregon. Thank you! And thanks to all of the applicants who took the time to give us thoughtful, candid and constructive feedback on our new process through our recent survey. Your perspective and experiences are so important to us and help us learn what we need to fine-tune our process to be a better funding partner when we release our 2017 funding opportunities next spring.
At every step in our awards decisions, our vision, mission, values and goals served as our North Star. As we implemented our redesign, we held close the core values of our founder, Fred G. Meyer: staying relevant as times change, meeting the needs of our community, being innovative and entrepreneurial, and demonstrating boldness and courage in calculated risk-taking
We believe Mr. Meyer would be proud of our new approach and of these awards for work that seek to bring us all closer to a flourishing and equitable Oregon.
You can stay up-to-date with future funding opportunities from Meyer when you subscribe to our e-newsletter here.