A love of Oregon, nurtured by idyllic summers and strong familial bondsHelen ShumWed, 04/28/2021 - 10:09
For a kid from Chicago’s hardscrabble Southside, travelling to Oregon for summer vacation was magic. Even the air, so fresh and clear, was a wonder. One indelible memory I have was asking my mother why everything in Oregon looked so much crisper. Only years later did I realize that it was due to the air quality, untainted by the steel mill exhaust that was omnipresent back home.
But that was only a small part of the magic. I was privileged to be able to visit my family in Hood River every summer when I was a child in the 1970s and 80s. The mountains, the orchards, the lakes, the rivers, small town Little League games, dripping popsicles on the lawn, the sweet scent of Grandpa’s roses—all of these combined to show me another way of living.
These were treasured experiences, but I did not make the Mid-Columbia Gorge my full-time home until I had explored urban centers throughout the country as a social worker and nonprofit consultant. A confluence of factors brought me to Oregon. Four things happened at once: First, I married a Brooklyn boy who was also enamored of the Pacific Northwest. We wanted to raise children where we could send them to a safe public school. I also landed my dream job in Hood River. And this allowed me the opportunity to share in the last years of my beloved grandmother’s life.
The dream job was to provide structure, support and ensure continuation funding for community health workers at The Next Door, Inc., a grass-roots organization that has assisted Columbia Gorge residents since 1971. After three years as a program manager of Nuestra Comunidad Sana, the health promotion program at The Next Door, I was promoted to be the executive director. For the past 14 years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading a team of dedicated and passionate people who care deeply about making our community a better place.
As a grantee of Meyer Memorial Trust since 1991, I was not surprised to receive a call from Meyer’s then CEO, Doug Stamm back in the summer of 2016. What was surprising, however, was that I was being considered as a potential trustee. How often do foundations want grantees on their boards? I still ask that question as, after five years, I’ve become immersed in the world of philanthropy. The answer? “Not often.” Yet, this is a true mark of inclusion by an organization that consistently honors diversity and lifts the voices of communities most proximate to the issues it seeks to solve.
I am humbled to now serve as Meyer’s board chair, a dream for someone such as myself who has fought long, tireless battles to gain recognition for the utter strength and resilience of everyday Oregonians.
I pledge to continue this fight for my neighbors, especially those not celebrated in headlines; those lost to view who toil and suffer, but who deserve everything I have and more. In my new position, I plan to work alongside my team members at Meyer and our many grantees to live out our mission of a flourishing and equitable Oregon. I hope to make my idyllic childhood summers more of a reality for all Oregonians.
A long-time resident of the Columbia Gorge and native of Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, she brings to Meyer a passion for social justice and a long history of work in the nonprofit sector.
I look forward to working more closely with Janet as we continue down the path of our strategy development work. Her passion for the work we do and her commitment to equity are inspiring. I am confident that the board and all Meyer staff will benefit from Janet’s dedication and leadership.
I’d also like to personally thank Toya for her service as chair and for her leadership of the board over the past two years, including through the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her insight and thought partnership have been invaluable contributions to the work and culture of Meyer.
Please join me in thanking Toya and congratulating Janet.
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!
Why salary compensation transparency can counteract equity
In The 360 Group’s work as executive search consultants to foundations and nonprofits, we know that transparency around compensation is a perennially thorny issue, especially for observers outside the sector. I thought I would share some thoughts about how we approach compensation transparency, particularly in light of our efforts to make diversity and equity a priority in our work.
For a bit of background: I launched The 360 Group 13 years ago, specifically with an eye on making the sector more diverse, more contemporary, and better prepared to address a whole new set of challenges in this complicated era. Our view is that more diverse teams — and more diversity in leadership — maximize the variety of perspectives that organizations need to be successful and effective. Countless studies have demonstrated the power of diversity in groups and teams, only emboldening our firm’s mission and theory of change. Diversity in groups can also make what can be challenging work a hell of a lot more fun.
Beyond compensation, then, our goal is to extend our reach and that of our clients’ to identify people from all backgrounds and walks of life for leadership opportunities. To do that, we want to reduce barriers for candidates, rather than build them up (and those barriers can be completely artificial). Our charge is to understand organizations well and identify candidates who can lead them and have the desire to do so with passion, heart and values.
At The 360 Group, our decisions about compensation for a given position are guided by market comparables and the skills and value of a candidate. We do not tie executive compensation to salary history. We know that women and people of color are represented in just a fraction of leadership roles — across every sector. To build that leadership bank, especially in senior positions, we seek out candidate pools of devoted (and often underpaid) nonprofit professionals as well as highly-paid executives. The salary one has earned shouldn’t dictate the salary one may earn. That is our philosophy and commitment in this work.
Sometimes, we field the question: why not post a salary range for the CEO role? Our answer comes from the heart: we don’t want otherwise fabulous people to self-select out. To be truly committed to equity (which we are), creating even the perception of obstacles runs at cross-purposes to acting in equity. For better or worse, in the philanthropic field, salaries and compensation packages are all over the map. That is why we rely on independent market analyses and our compensation expert colleagues to inform ranges for our client organizations. So if a role is valued at between, say, $300,000 and $500,000, the person who is ultimately selected will be compensated in that range — regardless of whether they have earned a fraction of that amount or orders of magnitude more. That is equity in compensation, a practice we have relied on from the inception of our firm, and just one important ingredient in our efforts to bring diversity and equity to our sector.
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.