Moving towards systems-level change: Building Community portfolio awards $7.78 million in grant

When I think about the Building Community portfolio, I think of the many and complex ways nonprofits support our communities. Taken together, their work is much like a large tree with dozens of roots reaching out in every direction under the earth. Some of those roots run long and deep, some less so. But each one supports something greater and bigger than itself.

The 2018 Annual Funding Opportunity grants awarded by this portfolio, which is the broadest in scope of Meyer's four portfolios, reflect the extraordinary work underway by key organizations throughout Oregon.

So let's begin to uncover the numbers.

This year, the Building Community portfolio received 351 initial applications — more than half of the total number of applications received across all portfolios — requesting $38 million in funding. With $7.78 million in available funding, we were able to make awards to 61 organizations, or about 17 percent of all applicants to the portfolio.

As we dive into the figures, we find that most grants support specific projects that will exist for a discrete period of time. Capacity building, operating and capital support grants follow. People of color are the largest population served, with people living on low-incomes, along with immigrants and refugees, not far behind.

Geographically, these organizations are based in both rural and urban areas and operate throughout the state. Our portfolio also awarded grants to two first-time applicants; five organizations that had previously applied received grants from Meyer for the first time. A little over half of grantees have annual budgets that range between $200,000 and $1 million.

Grantees also tackle critical and timely issues in Oregon: recidivism, youth and leadership development, and community wealth. This doesn't include the myriad social, economic and political issues addressed by other organizations in that pool of 351 applicants.

These numbers provide insights into how the Building Community portfolio makes decisions.

Digging further into the information, we found that the most competitive applicants were committed to tearing down inequities or creating equitable opportunities, particularly for historically and currently marginalized populations such as people of color, Indigenous communities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities and our elders.

In fact, that commitment to marshalling equity holds true for most applicants, including those whose proposals did not advance this year. Reviewing the applications, three critical elements that are pertinent to Meyer and our mission stand out.

The first is commitment to or experience advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. The second is a willingness to seek advice from and be held accountable to the ultimate beneficiaries: the constituent group.

Finally, we're looking for projects that propel systemic change in tangible ways. You may have heard similar words from other portfolio staff because this philosophy and belief in systems-level change is fundamental to what we do at Meyer: support solutions that counteract and fix the underlying issues of inequities and not just the symptoms that create the need for a given program or service.

Another notable characteristic: Many applicants referenced the current national political climate, putting forward analysis and plans that would move policy or advocate to make tectonic change.

Although there are many impressive grantees, I'd like to highlight three recipients as a way to illustrate what I mean.

The Innovation Law Lab received about $184,000 to hire an operations/finance director and partially fund its development director position. Both hires will fortify this four year-old organization's infrastructure so it can continue to train attorneys that provide representation for immigrants in detention centers as well as asylum seekers in immigration court. The Innovation Law Lab provides crucial, life-changing legal defense services for vulnerable communities that may one day alter the way all immigrants and refugees are treated in Oregon.

A $156,000 grant to CAPACES Leadership Institute recognizes the unique and powerful way this Woodburn-based nonprofit trains and prepares Latinxs from diverse backgrounds — low-income, farmworking and immigrant families — for jobs in public service and politics. CAPACES realizes that Latinxs now comprise about 25 percent of the total population in Marion and Polk counties.

At the same time, Latinxs are underrepresented in public service and political job sectors. CAPACES collaborates frequently with other organizations to close this gap in a way that only a precious few, if any, organizations are doing. The Meyer grant will support staff, fees and expenses related to CAPACES' leadership development program.

Western States Center needed $125,000 over three years to help fund a comprehensive strategic plan for important operational infrastructure. This will enable the organization to strengthen its groundbreaking role in advancing equity and democracy in Oregon, particularly championing the rights of communities of color, immigrants, refugees, women, LGBTQ individuals and more. Western States provides everything from rapid response support in the wake of reported hate crimes to complex investigative polling on issues of racial and social injustice. The work conducted by Western States Center is expansive and attempts to transform the way all of Oregon approaches democracy.

From these three examples, equity as experienced through this portfolio is clear: There must be a recognition of the many racial, social and cultural identities holding space together in our world.

All of these characteristics form Meyer's filter and our understanding for creating a better, more equitable society. After we peel away layers of numbers, statistics and interpretations, what's uncovered is a concise and powerful truth: Our grantee partners are working to bring down barriers that have kept inequity alive and thriving.

Now in our third year as a portfolio, we continue to appreciate how nonprofits in all corners of the state remain persistent in their efforts to rise to the challenges facing their communities and constituents. We are grateful for the time and thoughtfulness put forward in the applications and look forward to learning more about how we can serve the field in the coming year.

— Dahnesh

P.S. If you're looking for more insights into the Building Community portfolio, listen to my recent interview on XRAY FM's Nonprofit Happy Hour.