Evolution. Growth. Reflection. Change. These themes have been front and center at Meyer over the past several years.
I am so grateful, as Meyer's director of programs, to have been a part of creating the Meyer we have become. I have also appreciated the opportunity to work in collaboration with such an amazing group of leaders across our board, staff and partners.
It is truly a gift to work in an organization with values that resonate so deeply with my own and, as a place-based foundation, to help to strengthen communities that I am part of and love.
A time for reflection
I'm approaching my 11th year at Meyer. As many of you know, I have been reflecting on what's next for me for my own personal evolution and growth.
Earlier this spring, I shared with our board, staff and a few close partners my intention to transition from my role at Meyer later this year to explore new ways of working with philanthropy and nonprofits. I feel the call to find new opportunities where I can contribute and find joy.
In sharing my plans, I was also clear in my commitment to a thoughtful and measured transition to support Meyer and our partners through Meyer's transition in CEOs and to provide stability and continuity through our 2018 funding opportunities.
With our new CEO, Michelle J. DePass, now in place and our 2018 funding opportunities well underway, I want to share my news more broadly with all of you.
So what happens next? I will continue as the director of programs at Meyer into early August and will then transition to a part-time consulting role with Meyer into the fall.
We anticipate that recruitment for my replacement will begin later this summer, with the goal of bringing the new director of programs onboard in October. We'll be keeping you well informed of the hiring process and timing along the way, so be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
During this transition, Meyer will remain committed to its current funding plans, and I am excited to watch as it continues in its evolution.
Celebrating the evolution of Meyer's programs
People have asked me what I am particularly proud of in my tenure at Meyer as director of programs. That's a big question! But in short:
The ways in which we continuously listen to, partner with and learn from nonprofits in our community. From the community-driven refresh of our Affordable Housing Initiative to the nonprofit surveys, expert interviews and community listening sessions that helped to create our new portfolios to regularly improving our work in response to your feedback – being engaged with and responsive to community is now deep in Meyer's bones.
Centering equity in our programs. We have strategically restructured our funding priorities and the way we work to center equity and marginalized people and communities. This work has fundamentally changed our lens, decision-making, funding, relationships with the field and each and every one of us, personally.
Prioritizing policy advocacy and systems change. We've shifted who and how we fund to support communities in creating new solutions, changing harmful policies and protecting policies that support equity. It's challenged us and our partners to take a hard look at the systemic drivers that maintain the inequities at the core of the problems we wish to solve.
These are just a few of the ways we are partnering with our amazing philanthropic colleagues in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
Innovating to be more nimble, proactive and responsive. You've seen it in the new ways we have provided rapid funding in the face of attacks on civil liberties; responded to community crises; supported organizations through leadership changes, organizational challenges and mergers; and convened around important and timely issues.
Restructuring our program team to distribute leadership. In forming our new portfolio teams, we intentionally created roles and spaces that distribute leadership in new ways and provide opportunities for colleagues to more fully contribute their diversity of experiences, talents and aspirations – our team is truly a special and talented group of people!
Those are some of the strategic advancements we have made together during my time at Meyer. I am honored to have journeyed alongside this amazing team of staff members, trustees and community partners and humbled to have played a key role in putting strong, strategic scaffolding in place that will support continuity of Meyer's mission and vision of equity well into the future.
Our accomplishments provide an extraordinary platform for the next director of programs to partner with Meyer's executive team to influence future programmatic work and collaborate with Oregon communities to push Meyer's impact even further.
You have been and will no doubt continue to be a big part of charting Meyer's path and our collective success.
It has truly been an honor, a privilege and humbling to work with so many people every day who are deeply committed to the communities and places that make our Oregon home. Thank you again for your support and partnership over the past decade. It has been inspiring and so personally meaningful to me. I have learned so much. Now, I am excited about what's next on my professional path, and I look forward to continuing our relationships and work together in new ways.
Let's stay connected.
Candy Solovjovs has served Meyer Memorial Trust since November 28, 2007. She will step down as director of programs on August 3, 2018, after leading Meyer's programs for 11 years. If you'd like to stay connected with Candy, email candy [at] mmt.org or follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Building a foundation for the future: On 16 years at Meyer
As I approach my final days as Meyer's CEO, I have been reflecting on my tenure at Oregon's second-largest private foundation. I have been considering the work we accomplished together, the staff and trustees I've had the privilege to work alongside, the community and philanthropic partners whose vital work I have seen up close and the lessons I've learned. It's true: For 16 years I have had, as The Oregonian noted in 2002, "the best job in Oregon."
Closing out my final week at Meyer, three ideas keep surfacing in my thoughts: how much we have changed beyond our traditional roots; what I have learned as a leader through the successes, challenges and failures; and what gives me hope looking forward.
Moving beyond eleemosynary
There was a time when philanthropy centered on a concept on which a spelling bee championship might hang: eleemosynary. Meaning relating to or supported by charity, eleemosynary was at the root of the foundation I joined in 2002. Although there was no specific overarching mission statement or focused grantmaking program at the time, the common objective behind Meyer's work was "to contribute to the betterment of the place we call home."
When I first arrived, our foundation remained a bit of an enigma. When a grantee asked us, "Why did you give us a grant?" we would answer: "You asked. You made it through our rigorous due diligence process. You're trying to do something good." Without shareholders, we had little accountability and our commitment to transparency was just emerging. We were of the breed of philanthropy that was generally slow to change, operating from a position of power and privilege.
John Emrick, a longtime trustee who retired last year, was fond of saying early in my tenure that Meyer should strive to be a national model of a regional foundation. I think he was onto something. It inspired us to keep pushing beyond, to go deeper. The changes were incremental at first, but we knew we were on the right track.
Fast forward for a sec: It's so interesting to me that Meyer is better known nationally than in Oregon for our leadership and innovation around program-related investments (PRIs), launching the More for Mission campaign, our impact investing in and co-founding Mission Investors Exchange and for making our long-term investment focus around the Willamette River and affordable housing. These have been held up as national models. So have our efforts to act transparently: We were the first foundation to meet all The Foundation Center's "Glass Pockets" criteria for online transparency and accountability. And through our work with the D5 Coalition, we have prodded philanthropy to reflect the diverse country we share.
I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished at Meyer. Guided by the risk-taking spirit of our entrepreneurial founder, Fred Meyer, we have explored innovations that helped us do more than merely pay out 5 percent of our assets through grantmaking each year. We tore down the firewall between investments and program to bring the two functions into sync, to ensure that our investment values are in line with our overarching programmatic goals. We brought greater diversity and inclusion to our staff, governance, leadership and decision-making. And when we weathered two major recessions, in 2004 and 2008, we increased funding even as our corpus dropped significantly, to organizations that help our communities flourish.
The thinking at Meyer about our role in the state has shifted quite a bit since 2002. The change has truly been driven from within.
A hallmark of our work is the notion of "disruption." In technology, disruption is viewed as essential to success, problem-solving and breakthroughs. Often, it suggests seismic or systemic change. We have brought the idea to our work in a way that has upended many of our traditional notions of philanthropy. Disruption also explains why this equity work can be such a struggle at times — people tend to prefer certainty.
Our disruption began with a new mission statement: "Working toward a flourishing and equitable Oregon." It led us to look closely at the factors that force communities into the oppressive circumstances that charity aims to alleviate. Foundational charity takes the position that misfortune is the reason some people have and others do not. It presumes that having and not having occupy a space without a history of decisions, systems and institutions that create haves and have-nots.
Charity, or generosity, might feel good, but it doesn't dismantle the root causes that bring about oppression and resulting disparities. the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it better: "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."
Charity is no longer the framework that grounds Meyer. That's not the organization I'll be handing off to our incoming president and CEO, Michelle J. DePass.
Now when we talk about education in Oregon, we talk about focusing on strategies for closing the achievement gaps, the graduation gaps and the opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect underserved students of color, English Language Learners (ELL), LGBTQ2+ students, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, first-generation post-secondary students and students in foster care.
When we talk about building community in Oregon, we talk about making transformational change though an honest reckoning with the historical and current causes of disparity — and our shared responsibility to dismantle those obstacles for Oregonians, including communities of color, indigenous people and tribes, immigrants and refugees, people living in poverty, LGBTQ2+ communities, people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls, and crime and abuse survivors.
When we talk about what it means to have a healthy environment in Oregon, we talk about the harm environmental problems wreck on communities already affected by bias and oppression, communities of color and low-wage earners who already experience less access to the benefits of nature and environmental protection.
And when we talk about housing in Oregon, we begin by acknowledging that a long history of discrimination and policies that favored white Oregonians continue to create barriers to safe, affordable housing for African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and immigrants and refugees. And we recognize the particular challenges people face around affordable housing in rural parts of the state.
In so many ways, we have moved beyond tradition. Although the journey has not been easy, it's the only route I can imagine us taking, even though there have been times the route felt like a sheer vertical wall no one could scale.
Equity is hard/heart work
When I look back at news clippings about Meyer from the past few years, the topics of equity and inclusion have garnered the most attention. Meyer gets credit for taking bold steps to learn about equity and being intentional in its efforts to dismantle inequities. I have gotten more than my share of attention for being an older cisgender white man and ally making a personal journey into the study of equity. What you don't see in those clippings are my mistakes and what I've learned from the stumbles.
Trust me: It is possible, even when considering the most gratifying achievements, to recall the missteps that preceded, parallelled or followed the successes. There have been moments when I was nearly undone by doubt — when I worried we were pushing too hard for change or not hard enough, when I led the organization down an uncharted or rocky path where the horizon was nowhere in sight.
Six years ago, our staff began thinking deliberately about equity. It started modestly, as a search into what it meant to be a foundation with a mission to make this a "flourishing and equitable" place. About a year later, we attempted a three-day, all-staff racial equity training. It went so wrong that we shut it down early. The experience broke something open at Meyer: deep, historical pains, bewilderment and even anger. I was at a loss as to how to respond to the pain being experienced by our staff, each of whom was embarking on their own individual equity journey. My lack of familiarity with the work held me down; I did not know how to intercede.
We've come many miles since that initial training, but our organization continues to wrestle with its aftermath.
Before that weekend, Meyer's trustees had seen me as an effective, steady leader for more than a decade. But a few weeks afterward, the toll of our first steps toward equity was palpable inside Meyer. We had been sundered by the experience.
I contemplated stepping down and shared these feelings with the trustees. I was an experienced, proven leader and change agent but a novice when it came to issues of race and inclusion. I wasn't sure I could guide our organization forward. Then I read an article by George Penick, founding president of the Foundation for the Mid South, who wrote about the need for leaders like myself to make room for women and people of color in leadership roles. Right then, I was ready to do just that.
The Meyer trustees asked me to stay. I am grateful, especially to the late trustee Orcilia Zuñiga Forbes, who reminded me that leaving could have unintended consequences. The board might instead opt for a different, more conservative path and not continue to delve into the difficult and highly emotional work that needed to be done. The pain that inequity gives voice to is real and a burden some of us have had the privilege of not even being aware of. If I wanted to change that dynamic, if I wanted to help foster a community engaged in important work, I needed to stick around.
Here's the thing: People think a foundation president runs the organization and in many ways, you do. It's your name at the bottom of everyone's checks; it's your reputation on the line when something major goes off the rails. But equity can turn hierarchy on its head. Within an organization driven to act on issues of equity, every person has a stake, every employee is a co-leader in the work. A commitment to equity can't be forced or faked. It is a delicate balance, thrown easily into disarray.
That said, it is not difficult to feel like you are making mistakes. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that although we call it an equity journey, it functions more like a slow unending race. Equity doesn't follow a single, straight path — you must take care to pull over for pit stops. To get it right, sometimes you need to pause and reflect, or pause and heal, or pause and reconnect, or pause and reposition the route. Those pit stops are a vital part of the journey.
Equity is not so much an end goal as it is a process, one that demands time, introspection and challenging conversations. I may have encouraged us to spend more time on honest, emotional conversation about what was right or wrong in the organization — to help us practice what we had begun to preach — and less time on training sessions. The deep impromptu staff meetings we organized following the divisive 2016 election and the subsequent rise of hate speech and hate crimes across the country gave us the time and space needed to connect and build trust. I thought it was important for us to document our journey, but I've come to realize now that healing and reconciliatory conversations are as much a part of advancing the work as keeping track of it. At the root of racism and repression is a lack of understanding and empathy. It takes a long time to gain trust and have those conversations. A lot of outside and internal pressures can keep those conversations at bay. Such discussions might have helped us carry out our program redesign in a way that didn't cause further pain to many longtime staffers. I regret that.
It surely would have been easier to remain the CEO of a traditional foundation that reflected and focused on dominant culture. Equity work comes with strain. It can push you well beyond your comfort zone, which comes at a personal cost. And it is daunting.
I am blown away by the strength and dedication of Meyer's staff; they have been my inspiration and guiding light. They have never turned away from this vitally important work. Each one owns a piece of it, and when they show up, when they help lead the effort, we move further along the journey. They have shown a willingness to lean into discomfort and uncertainty that inspires me. I've learned something profound about growth: Persisting, knowing that your strengths can also be your challenges, staying open to possibilities, using humor, compassion, kindness and love — all of these have propelled us forward. If ever we waste that opportunity, it will be a huge loss.
Without reservation, I know that I am a better, more thoughtful person because I stayed. I have no doubt that the deep commitment of our staff and trustees to equity and inclusion is embedded in the fabric of our organization. Meyer is ready for Michelle and its staff to continue to deepen and hone that work.
Tagging Michelle in
Before I even stepped foot inside Meyer, I wrote in the 2002 annual report that we were in the early stages of an evolutionary process. I promised absolute commitment in the pursuit of a better Oregon for all, and I have made good on that pledge. Now, given our transformation over the past six years, Meyer is clearly poised for a new leader who will bring a fresh perspective. Michelle is that leader.
Today, Meyer talks about advancing justice and ending inequity. We know Oregon can do better, and today's Meyer is committed to help.
We're a Portland-based, Oregon-serving foundation with more than $800 million in assets. I'm a third-generation Oregonian who has struggled to level the barriers between rural and urban Oregon. Michelle, born and raised in Queens, with family ties to Oregon, brings a record of connecting and building relationships that will serve Oregonians regardless of where they live.
Michelle's professional narrative, rooted in social justice and civil rights, reflects her deep commitment to directing change. Shifting the dynamics to benefit people of color, low-income and other marginalized communities by lifting their voices, challenging the status quo and redistributing power — that is what she is about.
And it's important to acknowledge something else Michelle brings to Meyer and to Oregon: her experiences as a woman of color and as a child of immigrants. Through the lens of her life, she has developed an uncanny ability to traverse the very course Meyer is on.
I am excited that Michelle is poised to take this amazing staff, our trustees, stakeholders and partners further along the road to equity. Under her guidance, Meyer will have an even greater impact in Oregon, breaking down longstanding institutional policies and structures that promote disparities.
I have tried to do good, but with Michelle's leadership, Meyer can and will do better. And that gives me great hope.
Doug Stamm has served as president and chief executive officer at Meyer Memorial Trust since April 1, 2002. He steps down on April 27, 2018 after leading the organization for 16 years.
I’m thrilled to announce that Michelle J. DePass will be joining Meyer Memorial Trust as our new president and chief executive officer. After an extensive search that brought us a pool of outstanding candidates, Michelle rose to the top because of her broad experience and career-long commitment to equity and social justice. On April 30, she replaces Doug Stamm, who has guided Meyer through enormous growth, innovation and change for 16 years.
For nearly two decades, Michelle has sought out and excelled in roles where she can make a difference and shift the power dynamic to improve life for people of color, women, indigenous peoples and low-income communities. Now, she brings that dedication to Meyer, where she’ll lead the charge forward on the equity journey we began under Doug’s leadership.
Here’s how she explained why a New York-based national leader with roots in academia, public service, philanthropy, civil rights and the environment was drawn to this opportunity in Oregon: “Meyer Memorial Trust believes that everyone in Oregon deserves to live in a safe place, that the educational experience that we provide for our children will provide a world of opportunity, that the environment surrounding us should be a source of strength and health, and that our communities sustain us with a sense of belonging and possibility, regardless of race or class,” Michelle said. “For this to happen and make Oregon an equitable place, we must dismantle systemic oppression and have the discipline to ask ourselves over and over again: does this decision remove barriers or reinforce them? Together, I believe Meyer’s dedicated board, committed staff and fellows, and innovative grantees can pull down those barriers. That’s why I am joining the foundation, to expand opportunity by eliminating barriers.”
Then she added: “I do not want our communities to simply be resilient; I want them to thrive.”
Michelle has strong family ties to Oregon: Her husband, Joshua Paulson, is a civil rights and defense attorney from western Oregon and a graduate of Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis. In our conversations, she’s expressed a particular interest in bridging the painful divide that exists between our urban and rural populations.
“The educational, cultural and political divides between Portland and the Willamette Valley on the one hand and the rest of the state on the other are vast,” she said “If we can begin to close these divides in Oregon, perhaps we can do so nationally as well.”
She plans to relocate with her family to Portland; her first day is set for April 30. Doug will remain with Meyer in an advisory capacity for up to six months while Michelle settles in. We are sincerely appreciative of Doug's significant contributions to the Trust during his 16-year tenure, and we will build upon the great work that he led.
Michelle’s appointment culminates a broad-based national search that began last summer. Through The 360 Group, partnering with Murphy, Symonds & Stowell of Portland, Meyer received an sizeable response to the CEO position; a diverse pool of more than 140 candidates applied, about 50 of them from Oregon, and applicants represented many types of equity perspectives and identities as well as leadership across private industry, public health, academia and the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.
We look forward to the fresh perspective, innovative spirit and energy Michelle will kindle in Meyer’s work to create a more flourishing, equitable Oregon. Please join us in welcoming Michelle to Meyer, and read her full bio to learn more about Michelle and her experience.
A brand-new year begins, filled with possibility and change.
At Meyer, we are excited about the transitions before us as we prepare to welcome a new chief executive officer. On the one hand, we recognize that foundation leadership transitions can be times of vulnerability, for foundations and their nonprofit partners alike. On the other hand, we also know that leadership change is an opportunity for fresh perspectives, deepening commitments and continual growth. We are primed to make the most of these opportunities to advance our work toward a flourishing and equitable Oregon!
Meyer has been through a lot of change over the past several years, and you’ve been right there with us. We now have our portfolios and grant programs solidly in place, an excellent staff, and trustees who are capably stewarding our strategic direction. Our trustees are excited by the opportunity to bring on the next CEO to advance our strong equity-focused vision. By all accounts, we are in a great position to launch this next step of our journey with confidence and stability in Meyer’s role as funder, partner, convener and leader. Our trustees and staff are and will remain deeply committed to our portfolio areas, our partnerships and our equity journey. And our voice will continue to get stronger in our work to help make Oregon a more equitable state for everyone who lives here.
We thank you for your ongoing support, and we hope to soon be announcing our next CEO!
Meyer's Board of Trustees, working with executive search firm The 360 Group, today released the job description for the Meyer CEO position, expected to be filled later this year.
The 360 Group, headquartered in San Francisco, specializes in creating diverse and effective teams that drive meaningful social impact and lasting value. With their assistance, we hope to identify diverse pools of exceptional candidates in philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and beyond. Going forward, they’ll manage the national search, advising and working with us until we find Meyer's next leader.
We ask that inquiries about the position and search for candidates go directly to The 360 Group.
In April, Doug Stamm announced his plan to step away after 15 years of leadership at Meyer, one of the largest private foundations in Oregon.
We are deeply appreciative of Doug's significant contributions to Meyer during his 15-year tenure.
Since 2002, Meyer has awarded nearly $295 million in grants to more than 1,880 organizations across every Oregon county and across the river in Clark County, Wash. Those Meyer grants have exerted, and continue to exert, a lasting impact on our region. Meyer’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion has transformed the makeup of our staff and board, and how we navigate philanthropy. Today, trustees and staff alike share a commitment to equity principles in our work.
Doug's legacy will be a strong foundation rooted in making this a more flourishing and equitable state.
As we move forward the search for his successor, in association with our talented and passionate staff and committed constituents and partners, we are confident that Meyer’s valuable mission and historical commitment to bettering the lives of Oregonians will attract a deeply talented and diverse candidate pool, affording us the opportunity to select a new CEO who can drive our work forward.
2017 is a milestone year at Meyer Memorial Trust: We are celebrating 35 years of working to make Oregon a better place, and the anniversary also marks my 15th year at the helm. So it seems timely to reflect a little on our history and to share my plans for the future.
Much at Meyer has changed: how we think about what we do, the types of work we focus on and fund, the range of strategies and tools we employ, and the way we look at our role in making Oregon more equitable for all its residents. But the fundamental values of our humble founder still shape our decision-making and our place in Northwest philanthropy. Fred G. Meyer is our North Star, a reminder to be responsive, innovative, transparent and customer service-oriented.
Today, we’re in a very good place. Three years after Meyer launched a major strategic redesign based on equity, with a renewed mission and refocused grant processes, we’ve narrowed our focus to have greater impact and become a better, more collaborative partner to our grantees and peer funders. We’ve rebuilt the foundation’s corpus after it fell by hundreds of millions of dollars during the Great Recession. Our staff has grown, and I work alongside a group of remarkably talented individuals and for a board of trustees filled with dedicated, thoughtful leaders.
This feels like the right moment to announce my decision to step aside in 2018. Next year a new leader will bring fresh momentum to Meyer’s enduring mission, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.
This isn’t about re-engineering Meyer. We’re not looking for a change agent. We’re looking for a proactive innovator to shepherd us further into equity, someone who leads from a position of strength and understands why stewardship trumps ownership every time. It’s about a planned and thoughtful transition that will best serve Meyer and Oregon.
A national search for a new CEO will begin this summer, with preference given to candidates rooted in the Pacific Northwest. We plan to retain a search firm with a solid record of identifying diverse pools of exceptional candidates. And Meyer pledges to pick its next leader from a diverse finalist pool — or start fresh.
Meyer staff will be invited to share their opinions with trustees, comment on desired CEO attributes, and take part in focus groups and interviews of finalists. The community will also play a part. Nonprofit leaders and stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide input on key attributes and characteristics for Meyer’s next CEO.
When he died at age 92 in 1978, after building a simple coffee delivery business into a regional full-service grocery and restaurant chain, Fred Meyer set aside stock valued at $63 million to establish this trust.
The value of those stocks had nearly doubled by the time the Fred Meyer Charitable Trust launched in Portland in 1982 as the largest private foundation in the Pacific Northwest. Our doors opened at a calamitous moment: A deep recession had toppled Oregon’s timber industry. Unemployment hovered at 12 percent, the worst since the Great Depression. Rural Oregon, especially, withered.
With money in the bank and no need to fundraise, private foundations are well-suited to weather bleak financial times. But their purpose isn’t merely to exist in perpetuity. When community needs grow, the way foundations respond matters. Over the years our board has worked to balance Mr. Meyer’s mandate to operate in perpetuity while stepping up funding during Oregon’s most challenging periods.
During our first 20 years, led by Executive Director Charles Rooks, most of Meyer’s grantmaking was responsive and for general purposes. Charles showed exemplary stewardship in so many ways, including one practical way: He was an early adopter and champion of capacity-building grants, which strengthen the stability and growth of organizations so they can better serve their communities and, in turn, strengthen the entire nonprofit sector.
During his tenure, Meyer awarded 3,817 grants, totalling $294.5 million, to 1,883 organizations across every county in Oregon, and in Clark County, Wash. Small and large, those early Meyer grants made a lasting impact.
When Charles retired in 2002, our assets were just over $475 million, you could count the number of staff on two hands, and Meyer was viewed as a well-established, somewhat traditional, regional foundation in a state struggling through yet another economic recession.
Meyer’s second generation trustees wanted a patient change agent, someone who, like them, would keep one eye on the present and the other on how we might adapt in real time to best serve a state in crisis.
I am proud of how Meyer has explored ways to make a greater impact in our community. We’ve constantly wrestled with how best to bridge the gulf between what Meyer paid out each year and the scale of the challenges we sought to address. What we were looking for was a better way to leverage our substantial human and capital assets to tackle deep-seated societal problems, including a more focused effort to align our investment portfolio with our mission.
The shifts began in earnest in 2004, when we began making program-related investments, eventually paying out roughly $40 million in low interest loans and guarantees and along the way validating the belief that we had tools at our disposal to augment our grantmaking for greater impact. Next, along with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Heron Foundation, we helped to launch the 2% for Mission campaign to encourage more mission-related investing by foundations. Our efforts led to the formation of Mission Investors Exchange and mission-related investing is now a standard in philanthropy. Meyer uses mission-related investing to tap our institutional assets to further both our mission and our financial goals.
The long bull stock market that had helped our corpus grow over 25 years to about $700 million crashed after the housing bubble popped in 2007. Requests for funding increased. Locally and nationwide, calls grew louder for foundations to step in and backfill government cutbacks. On the grant side of the house, we made it a practice to engage stakeholders in deeper conversations about how Meyer could be more responsive to their needs and our mutual desire for greater collective impact.
Beyond the immediate crisis, we looked past the symptoms to the conditions that made it hard for vulnerable communities to thrive and hedge against future downturns, determined to focus more directly on root causes. The housing market collapse highlighted the problem of affordable housing. So Meyer added strategic focus to our grantmaking through an initiative to preserve and increase access to affordable housing. In 2008, we launched the Willamette River Initiative to make measurable improvements along a river basin that is home to two-thirds of the state's population and three-quarters of its economic output.
Impact, it’s really been all about impact.
More recently, we studied the findings of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Project. For two decades, the project has polled Oregonians about important issues affecting our social and political lives. Turns out Oregonians care about the funding and quality of K-12 education more than any other issue, affirming the importance of the Chalkboard Project, which Meyer co-founded with five other Oregon foundations in a collaborative effort to lift K-12 student achievement.
In considering education, the Willamette River, housing and poverty, we found ourselves investigating gaps in the funding that underpins our state. Where those gaps are greatest, you’ll find the worst oppression and inequities.
Our staff and board began exploring the idea of equity and what it meant to be driven to make Oregon a “flourishing and equitable” place. Trainers help us learn together how deeply racial bias and systemic oppression are embedded in our institutions, our culture and our own subconscious and the effect they have on the world in which we live and work. We didn't invent equity; our passion is built atop the learnings, partnerships and efforts of others in the field doing the hard, often unrecognized work.
We’ve learned to recognize the legacy of racial inequity in this country’s institutions and how its cumulative impacts create the conditions funders traditionally work to overcome. We believe our mission of achieving a flourishing Oregon depends on achieving equity. That means breaking down barriers and leveling disparities. Some examples: dismantling conditions that leave kids of color to expect one outcome in Oregon’s education system while well-to-do white kids expect another, or increasing access to affordable housing for farmworkers and the formerly incarcerated so they, too, can achieve stability at home. Only change at the systemic level can surmount inequities.
You know the feeling of nudging a final puzzle piece into place, that sense of completion and rightness that comes with seeing the whole picture? That’s what delving into equity felt like for me. We are committed to addressing bias and inequity across Oregon. It is not an overstatement to say that delving into equity profoundly changed me and Meyer’s direction. It’s why we’ve become what we’ve become, no doubt about it.
Now we use our heft to back advocacy efforts that increase equity and inclusion of Oregonians who experience disparities because of race, ethnicity, income, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, location or other oppressions. Now we don’t just say we prioritize that work and nonprofit partners who share our interest; it’s woven into the fabric of Meyer.
We’ve built a national reputation as a regional foundation that has gone all-in for equity and inclusion and against inequality. We still have much to learn and are certainly far from getting it all right, but we are transparent about our commitment to equity and inclusion. We know that it defines who we are at Meyer and how we approach our work. We will continue to be vocal about our beliefs and aspirations to encourage others in the independent sector.
Our trustees agree. We are staying the course on our commitment to equity at Meyer. For the organizations and people we’ve met and engaged in our listening tours and surveys over the past few years, you can be sure there are no plans for significant changes in program directions or funding.
Meyer’s work on equity, diversity and inclusion has transformed the makeup of our staff and board. Today, Meyer is a foundation with 37 employees, three Momentum Fellows, a corpus of about $750 million and total grant awards topping $717 million. Half of my colleagues identify as people of color; more than two-thirds identify as women. Our board is similar: Two-thirds identify as people of color, and two-thirds identify as women. We are working on ways to deepen the diversity of our staff, beyond race and gender identity.
The Meyer team — trustees and staff alike — share a commitment to and application of equity principles in our work.
It has been said that successful servant leaders know when they have done all they can for the good of an organization. I feel confident that stepping away in 2018 will make room for a new leader who can guide Meyer further down its path.
I plan on staying onboard through a good part of 2018 to help Meyer’s next leader settle in smoothly. Then I’ll take a short break before pursuing opportunities to advance equity and inclusion in the independent sector.
I’m tremendously excited about the future at Meyer — and I hope you are, too.
Meyer received an overwhelming response to the CEO position; more than 140 candidates applied, about 50 of them from within Oregon. The pool was deeply diverse and included many types of equity perspectives and identities and leaders across private industry, public health, academia and the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.