Keeping Community In My Heart Helen ShumTue, 09/27/2022 - 13:22
Friends and Colleagues,
When I joined Meyer four years ago, I did so with the unwavering belief that following the lead of BIPOC communities was key to realizing our shared vision of an equitable Oregon that works for all. I still carry that vision and that dream in my heart, but will not be continuing on this journey as I leave Meyer in October.
I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to champion and partner with you on so much of the excellent work that is happening now. Deepening our strategy, shifting power, implementing trust-based practices and creating a culture of learning is work that is ongoing. They are efforts that I have worked hard to catalyze and grow. I know they will continue long beyond my tenure here.
The work we have done to move our commitment from equity towards justice and to center intersectional BIPOC wisdom fills me with pride.
In my time here, we were able to increase the grantmaking authority of our CEO and to include community members into grantmaking recommendations. Meyer’s annual grantmaking has increased from $35 million to $45 million. But more importantly, the percentage of general operating grants has grown from 12% to 45% and the percentage of grants supporting BIPOC, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities increased from 59% to 82%.
Following our community’s lead has allowed us to desilo our work and address root causes — to show up for reproductive justice and other pressing needs in ways that our portfolio structure did not previously allow. I also am grateful for the opportunity to have dreamed and created Justice Oregon for Black Lives, responded to anti-Asian hate and moved resources equitably during both the COVID pandemic and the wildfires.
With our staff and partners, I strove to create a learning arc for our strategy work that allowed us to learn from social justice community members and national leaders as we pushed ourselves to our growing edge. I’ve learned so much from our community, but one lesson resonates particularly deeply: to balance our sense of urgency with the need to move at the speed of trust.
I believe that I am leaving Meyer in a stronger place to be in real service to the community by centering intersectional BIPOC wisdom and making a bold commitment to justice. Meyer has a new CEO at the helm, a dynamic new director of grantmaking in place with a director of learning soon to follow, and an engaged program staff. I look forward to the next chapter and remain, as always, a champion for justice.
An Ode to Black JoyHelen ShumTue, 08/30/2022 - 12:55
Justice Oregon for Black Lives was born from the depths of overwhelming heartbreak — a response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and multiple other overlapping traumas that fueled a growing movement to end systemic and structural racism. The initiative also recognized the urgency and opportunity we had to transform institutions, systems and narratives in Oregon, a state founded on stolen lands and explicit in its constitutional exclusion of Black people.
As we began developing a set of funding priorities in conversation with community advisors across the state, issues of public safety, education and economic justice were clearly top-of-mind. We also heard about two other important priorities that Meyer had less experience in funding — efforts to promote healing and to increase Black joy.
In February, we announced our first round of awards from the inaugural Call for Proposals that addressed the first three priorities — Reimagining Public safety, Investing in Education and Economic Justice.
Now, it gives me great pleasure to share the names of the organizations that will be doing the equally important work of Addressing Trauma and Healing and Shifting Black Narrative through Arts and Culture.
I want to emphasize equally important because it truly is. We cannot rise out of the depths of a collective trauma without also committing to the work needed to restore and reclaim our souls and our stories.
Our team has been truly heartened by all the different ways that grantees have addressed these outcomes in their applications and we cannot wait to see the lift in hearts and spirits that this work will inspire. We also want to express our gratitude for the patience of these organizations, some of whom have waited a year for funding as we balanced our desire for urgency with our responsibility to design a community-informed, fair and clear process.
A few highlights of the awards:
Black Art/ists Gathering will realize their vision of increasing Black joy as they host an intergenerational convening of Black artists.
Bridge-Pamoja will have resources to promote healing practice to mend cultural rifts between African and African-American communities in Oregon.
The Community Doula Alliance will support Black doulas in practicing their cultural and traditional birth and postpartum models of care.
What could be more joyful than a brand new baby coming into this world, surrounded by love and caring? It’s our hope and our future.
In all, nearly $1.9 million will go to 17 organizations, including eight first-time awardees and four organizations that work outside of the Portland Metro area. We are excited to partner with so many new organizations — to connect with you and to connect you with one another, for an even more powerful and enduring impact on our incredible community.
Though August has been designated Black Philanthropy Month, we recognize that this work is ongoing and requires sustained commitment to thrive.
In that spirit, I want to note that our 2022 Call for Proposals is now live. One key thing to know is that we are accepting applications for all five community-identified priorities in this round. In response to feedback from our community, we have also extended the window for submitting an application from four to six weeks and will continue to accept applications prepared for other funders, as well as video applications as an alternative to written narratives. More information and resources can be found here.
Intentionally funding Black joy is just one step on a long road to true liberation. As we move forward together, let’s make this path a well-worn one.
After Eight Years, Moving OnHelen ShumMon, 08/29/2022 - 14:08
After eight years at the helm of investments at Meyer Memorial Trust, I am stepping down as chief investment officer and departing Meyer.
I am incredibly proud of the work my team — along with our stellar advisors, managers and consultants — has done together, growing the trust's endowment from $700 million in 2014 to over a billion dollars in 2022, making it possible for Meyer to grant out $322 million in charitable funds to nonprofits across Oregon. Seeing the impact of our work on the place I've called home all my life has been a true gift, especially given that I directly benefited from Meyer’s philanthropy as a kid in Portland at the Girls and Boys Clubs in North and Northeast Portland and Self Enhancement, Inc.
I also take great solace in knowing how hard the investment team at Meyer has worked to move the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion in the investment world. We've used the levers at our disposal to diversify our pool of asset managers, to push for greater transparency and accountability from those partners, and to make sure our "walk" matches our "talk" when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles guiding our investment decisions. I thank my colleagues at Meyer and my wise external counsel for tirelessly (and mostly cheerfully) rowing in the same direction.
Lastly, I am immensely grateful to the world-class team I had the privilege of building, leading and mentoring. Katherine Porras, Stacy Westly and Sohel Hussain are consummate professionals whose brains and hearts are equally invested in their work, because they know how their work shapes Meyer, Oregon and the investment philanthropy space as a whole. The team will remain at Meyer through this transition, with Sohel ably stepping in as interim director of investments.
Change is never easy, but it is inevitable and better embraced than resisted. After eight years, it is time for a change and I am ready.
Thank you for this opportunity to serve and to lead. I'm excited for what is to come.
Toya Fick Tapped as Next Leader of Meyer Memorial TrustHelen ShumFri, 04/15/2022 - 11:06
It is with great pleasure that I share with you that the Meyer Board of Trustees has named Toya Fick to be the organization's next Chief Executive Officer. She will be Meyer's fourth CEO in its four-decade history.
Toya is a true champion for children, youth and families throughout Oregon. She has demonstrated her leadership prowess, her understanding of Oregon and her deep commitment to advocacy through partnerships. In her decade at Stand for Children, including as Oregon Executive Director for the last seven years, Toya led the charge to draft Measure 98. Since its passing, Oregon has put over $750 million into high schools across the state, leading to a 40% increase in career-related programs offered throughout the state and a record 6-point increase in graduation rates, with students of color and low-income students making the biggest gains. Toya was also instrumental in the passage of the Student Success Act, Oregon's largest categorical investment in education in state history at $1 billion a year.
On accepting the position, Toya said, "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as a trustee for the past six years, and I am humbled to be trusted with the awesome responsibility of continuing Meyer’s important work. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance racial, social and economic justice throughout Oregon."
Toya also knows Meyer well, both as a grantee and as a trustee. She has served on Meyer's Board of Trustees for the last six years, and served as Chair during Oregon's historic wildfires, the nation's racial-justice reckoning and the height of the COVID pandemic. In close collaboration with Meyer's executive team, Toya and her trustee colleagues navigated the convergent crises with speed, empathy and boldness, including the launch of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a five-year, $25 million initiative and the largest in Meyer's history.
Beyond that, Toya has also been a vitally engaged partner with staff and trustees throughout the organization's strategy work. With proven organizational leadership expertise as well as deep relationships across Oregon, Toya takes the helm at a pivotal moment for Meyer, as it introduces a new strategic framework and a new mission statement: To accelerate racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon's lands and peoples.
A resident of Portland, Toya grew up in rural Louisiana and was the first in her family to attend college. She graduated from the University of Chicago and began her career as a teacher with Teach For America. She moved from the school halls to the halls of Congress when she joined the legislative staff of then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Grateful as she is for the impact she gets to make in her professional life, Toya remains focused on her most important role: mother to two incredible young children who attend Oregon’s public schools.
In closing, Toya is all the things we hope and look for in a CEO: smart, passionate, experienced, empathetic and ready. It is thrilling to think about her potential to continue her strong and meaningful work at Meyer, with our new mission and as we look towards the next chapter in our story. Please join me in welcoming Toya to this new role. I look forward to her leadership in the years ahead.
A Heartfelt 'Thank You'Helen ShumThu, 12/16/2021 - 16:36
As chair of Meyer Memorial Trust's board of trustees, I have had the distinct honor of working side by side with Meyer CEO Michelle J. DePass since she came to lead the organization in 2018. We've become more than valued colleagues; we've become close friends and allies in Meyer's work.
So, it is with deep appreciation to Michelle that I share with you her decision to step down as CEO by the end of February 2022. Her impact on Meyer and on the communities and organizations we serve and partner with cannot be overstated. The trustees and I thank Michelle for her vision, her energy, her focus and her leadership toward racial and gender justice in Oregon.
Below is a message Michelle shared with Meyer staff yesterday. We will be sharing more in the new year about Michelle's accomplishments, what it means for Meyer going forward and how the trustees will find the right person to assume the mantle of CEO.
Michelle – thank you, again. You've led us and inspired us brilliantly.
Meyer Memorial Trust
FROM: Michelle J. DePass
TO: Meyer Staff
Dear Meyer family,
When I came to Oregon in 2018 to lead this incredible organization, I had a vision for what we could do together. And as much as I dreamt about where we could go, tapping into each other's support and energy, I am prouder and more grateful than I had imagined I could be.
Over the summer of 2021, Meyer's Board of Trustees – advancing our equity journey – unanimously approved putting racial and gender justice at the center of what we do. We undertook a deep dive into our grantmaking approaches. We developed a strategy that will chart Meyer's course for the years ahead, a trajectory guided by the needs and the wisdom of the communities we serve. I am incredibly excited for us to share more in the new year with our communities about that strategic framework and how it will strengthen our work and transform this place we call home.
In short, the trustees, our executive team and the incredible folks that make up Meyer are a privilege to lead. And while we have weathered the past two years' cavalcade of challenges, we have also done some of the most consequential work in Meyer's nearly 40-year history. Providing funds to urgent needs. Launching just-in-time initiatives while charting a strategic course for the years ahead. Completing our new and green headquarters. Exceeding all expectations on our endowment. All while managing our own lives and the needs of those around us in the midst of a global pandemic and unprecedented social and economic challenges? Nothing short of excellence! I truly cannot overstate how grateful I am to each and every one of you, and to all the Meyer staff I've had the honor of knowing.
Now, as I find myself taking stock of what is needed to move the work forward, I am also thinking about where else I need to show up, lead and care for. And what I know now with total certainty is that my family — my parents, my husband, and my young and growing boys — need me now in a way I can no longer put off.
Therefore, I have decided to step down as CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust by the end of February 2022.
Like any major life decision, it was both extremely difficult and surprisingly clear. I wrestled with it, tried to see another pathway forward, thought about what signals it might send as a woman, as a Black woman, as a CEO. For those of us in the "sandwich generation," finding ourselves juggling care of our parents and our children (and our careers), this is not an unfamiliar conversation. Fair or not, ultimately I understood what I could and couldn't sustain, and where I could and couldn't hand over responsibilities.
I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to lead Meyer Memorial Trust to where it is today: a foundation centered in community, rooted in Oregon and focused on racial justice. I am confident that each of you will carry that work forward in ways I cannot wait to cheer on.
I am equally grateful to Janet Hamada, our inimitable and unflinching board chair, for her friendship, leadership and wisdom. And my gratitude extends to the entire board of trustees, who are wholly supportive of my decision. Their commitment to Meyer's next 40 years is beyond reproach.
And lastly, I am grateful to my colleague and friend, Phoebe O'Leary, who has agreed to step in and step up to serve as Interim CEO after I leave. Phoebe, the board and the executive team are already putting in place a transition plan and a pathway to our new CEO in mid-2022. Until then, Phoebe and I will be even more joined at the hip as she prepares to take the helm.
I have plenty of time yet to share with you all my fondest memories and proudest moments. And I am 100 percent confident in the board and the executive team to lead us through this moment, and equally confident in every one of you that your best work is just ahead.
Meyer Promotes Two Executive Team Members to New RolesHelen ShumTue, 12/14/2021 - 16:48
Meyer recently completed a comprehensive strategic planning process, a deep dive into how we do grantmaking and how we can better center community in all we do. As Meyer Memorial Trust sharpens our focus on racial justice, and on applying an anti-racist, feminist lens to our work, we must strive to better align our purpose and our business operations.
To achieve that stronger alignment, Meyer CEO Michelle J. DePass has promoted Brenda Hodges to the role of Chief Financial Officer. As Meyer's director of finance for the last five years, Brenda has been a trusted advisor to the executive team and Meyer's board of trustees. She has steered the organization's finances through great periods of change, growth, and challenges. Brenda has also led Meyer's independent audit process, and modernized the organization's accounting practices with an emphasis on mission alignment. This new role is an opportunity for Brenda to oversee and elevate the strategic value and impacts of other compliance functions, such as IT and operations.
As we move through operationalization, Meyer's attention will in due course turn to impact: how can we make the most impact in Oregon? And how do we know when we are? That focus on impact merits someone entirely focused on it.
To achieve that goal, DePass has appointed Kaberi Banerjee Murthy to the newly created role of Chief Impact Officer. The Chief Impact Officer’s top priority is to bring a racial justice and intersectional feminist lens to the work which centers community voice and shifts power. Since 2018, Kaberi has led Meyer's programs and strategy teams, while also leading the board and staff through a planning process which just resulted in a new strategic framework. As Meyer's inaugural Chief Impact Officer, Kaberi will oversee all of Meyer’s mission-focused work, specifically the development of its long-term strategy, oversight of grantmaking, programs and advocacy, and the implementation of values-aligned evaluation.
Congratulations, Kaberi and Brenda. Meyer is grateful for your thoughtful leadership.
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!