November 13, 2015

Redesign based on listening

This summer, we asked nonprofit leaders around Oregon to tell us what they needed from Meyer. More than 1,000 of you responded, helping shape our new priorities.

It has been a humbling experience. As Meyer's director of programs, I've been amazed by the candid feedback from so many of our nonprofit partners, fellow funders and many other stakeholders across Oregon. I am grateful for the time, insight and expertise so generously shared.

We read each of the 1,000 surveys submitted from people working in a wide range of fields – from arts groups and food banks and advocates working for equitable public policy to organizations cultivating culturally specific communities and land trusts and everything in between. We heard hundreds of voices that came to us from across Oregon: from community listening sessions in the Eastern high desert, from focus groups in the Gorge and southern coast, from expert interviews in the Willamette Valley, from learning panels in the Metro area. The diversity of perspectives offered to us have been nothing short of inspiring and enlightening.

We remain on track to announce the overarching frameworks for our new programs in December, with detailed information available in early 2016. In the meantime, we want to share a taste of what we heard through our housing, environment and resilient social sector partner engagement work.

Several broad themes were consistent across the portfolio areas.

There was a call for Meyer to remain innovative and bold in what we fund and in the leadership we provide. We heard it as a challenge, really, to step this up even higher.

There was also incredible energy and enthusiasm for Meyer’s push to make equity a foundational value in all of our new programs. At the same time, we heard many questions from folks unsure what we mean when we speak of equity. Is it exclusively about race? Are we also inclusive of other forms of oppression and marginalized populations? The answers are “no,” and “yes!” Here’s Meyer’s equity statement, which is our way of owning how “race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, disability, geography, age and other forms of bias and oppression are embedded within the institutions and systems in our community.” We are determined to embrace the role of working to dismantle barriers to equity, so that all Oregonians can experience safety, health and prosperity.

We heard real excitement about the potential of Meyer to exercise our capacity to convene around topics of critical importance to the field. We received some of the clearest encouragement for our plans to support systems change and advocacy, not only through funding nonprofits, but also through our leadership, influence and role as convener.

The desire for core support, capacity building, leadership development and multi-year funding came through loud and clear.

We were reminded about the contributions and needs of rural Oregon, as well the importance modest amounts of funding, collaboration and personal connections can hold in rural communities.

Finally, we heard worries that Meyer’s new portfolios may get siloed. Those voices reinforced how important it is for us to intentionally think across portfolios as we move forward in our program planning. We heard support for sharpening our focus, along with a caution not to become rigid and prescriptive. And we recognized a general call to continue to be responsive in ways that allow organizations to put forward their ideas and needs that align with the impact we want to have in our priority areas.

There was also feedback specific to each portfolio. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:

Portfolio specific insights

Building Community portfolio stakeholders wanted a clear definition of what a resilient social sector means and who it includes. People were concerned about whether the arts were included in Meyer’s vision of the social sector (yes, they are!). Interestingly, the portfolio name itself received mixed reviews, with two very different viewpoints on what it means to be resilient: some consider it to mean strong, nimble and adaptive, while others equate it with beleaguered. We definitely consider it the former! We’re considering renaming this portfolio to better reflect our aspirations. People were especially interested in funding and other supports for leadership development, financial management, advocacy, community and civic engagement and collaboration. And we received excellent feedback and ideas about how Meyer could help organizations further equity in both their programs and operations. Additional information is provided in this Building Community Design Process summary.

Among those providing input into our Housing Opportunities portfolio, affordable rental housing was clearly the highest priority, with general agreement that Meyer should prioritize households at or below 60 percent median family income. At the same time, we also heard a desire for the portfolio to encompass the continuum of housing needs across the state, from supporting people transitioning from homelessness into housing and from rental housing to homeownership. Gentrification and displacement and other housing disparities were noted as significant challenges. Innovations in linking supportive services with housing and developing creative financing for affordable housing development also stood out as important needs. Above all, we were reminded to put people front and center, and to keep in mind the ultimate goal of affordable housing: providing low-income Oregonians with stability and access to opportunity. You can find additional detail in this summary.

Stakeholders of the Healthy Environment portfolio were concerned about climate change, demographic shifts and the impact of disparities on those who experience the most environmental benefits and burdens in our communities. Rural communities’ complex economic ties to the environment, a healthy environment in urban areas and water issues across the state emerged as important concerns. We were strongly encouraged to design programming that reflects the inextricable ties between humans and nature. Themes of innovation were coupled with practicality and conservation. A hunger for building a diverse and inclusive environmental movement was apparent, and people are interested in how Meyer can help to cultivate tables where the diversity of Oregonians’ relationships to the environment are represented and contribute to policy decisions. This summary provides additional information about what we heard around the environment.

As Doug Stamm, Meyer's chief executive officer has mentioned, work to define our education portfolio is in its early stages. We anticipate this work will take place well into 2016.

Going forward

All of the feedback we received – about challenges and opportunities facing our communities, about how the Meyer Trust can best further our vision of a flourishing and equitable Oregon – have been invaluable to our thinking and planning. We hope you will find the summaries of stakeholder input for our resilient social sector, housing and environments portfolios to be informative and inspiring. We know we have, and are using this input, along with information about key trends influencing Oregon communities, nonprofits, philanthropy, and our own perspectives on our work, to shape our new programs.

It has been a busy past nine months at Meyer: since February, we have continued to fund proposals while engaging with partners across the state and planning for our future. As of November, we’re on track for what will be our largest grantmaking year in the history of Meyer Memorial Trust. While we’ve made some modest adjustments to our timeline, we anticipate launching new programs within the first few months of 2016. We look forward to sharing more about our future direction in the coming weeks, and greatly appreciate your continued interest in and ideas about how we can work together to create a more flourishing and equitable Oregon.

— Candy