Today, Meyer’s Building Community portfolio is pleased to open our 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity (AFO) for applications. Our approach is both new and familiar, carrying forward important elements of our work from previous years and refining them based on our learning over the past year.
Last spring, our portfolio announced that it would have a year-long invitation-only funding call rather than an open funding opportunity while we explored ways to make this portfolio more effective. Over its first three annual funding cycles, Building Community received about 1,000 applications, well over half of what Meyer received across all four portfolios, funding just over a fifth of them. We asked key direct-service nonprofits focused on systemic-level change to complete requests for proposals while we considered how to make this competitive process more clear and more clearly focused on equity. These activities as well as others gave us an opportunity to both support key organizations while also learning how to advance community based on connection and belonging.
Leading with race
We’re back for the 2020 AFO with the clarity we were searching for: the best way to achieve the broad goal of creating and sustaining justice for everyone is to focus work and resources where injustice is most concentrated. This is why the Building Community portfolio’s priority populations are people of color, Indigenous communities and Tribes and immigrants and refugees. We will only consider funding requests from organizations that have implemented strategies designed specifically to benefit at least one of these populations.
We recognize that injustice is complicated and that other aspects of a person’s identity have impact as well. We are interested in supporting work that recognizes such complexity and is designed to support members of our priority populations who experience intersecting oppressions related to gender, race, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or economic status.
Overarching criteria remain
For several years, the Building Community portfolio has shared key factors that guide our review of funding requests. Those overarching criteria remain firmly in place. We continue to look for track records of:
- Operationalized DEI — understanding of structural oppressions and at least initial investments toward embedding equity in the organization’s operations
- Connection to systems-level change — working to address root causes or underlying issues that create the need for a service or program
- Community engagement — meaningful guidance or leadership of clients and communities shaping an organization’s work, with accountability to the people engaged
These criteria, along with strategies to support priority populations, are all deeply interwoven. An organization cannot effectively work to shift systems toward justice without centering impacted communities, particularly the priority populations noted above. Likewise, an organization that aims to effectively work with and for priority populations without causing unintended harm needs to have solid grounding in principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. When that grounding comes first, community engagement follows.
Continuing focus on systems change
While a connection to systems change is listed alongside our other criteria, it may rightfully be considered the foundation of all that Building Community does. The concept of systems change has always been present in this portfolio’s work and has become ever more important over the past four years of grantmaking. But systems change is a big idea, one we have found challenging to pin down and describe well.
This was a key part of our work in 2019 — to get clearer about what systems change is and how it’s done. With the help of grantee partners who do the work, we have come to understand that “systems change is about advancing equity by shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place.” Our funding goals for 2020 are designed to address conditions at different levels.
Our first goal, Civic Engagement, Policy and Leadership is designed to address explicit and semi-explicit conditions of systems change, while our second goal, Connection and Belonging, is focused at the implicit level.
We know that changing deeply rooted systems is long-game, non-linear, complicated work. It’s not a one year grant project, though small efforts can be part of a great whole. We’re continuing to learn from grantees and others about how to gauge the effectiveness of systems change strategies, how to collaboratively set long term goals while remaining responsive to changing conditions and how to think differently about what success looks like.
Ongoing learning with service providers
Another area of continued exploration is how direct service providers can be an essential part of systems change efforts.
In July, we opened a request for proposals from service providers who were early in this work but eager to go deeper. We selected twelve organizations to participate in a Learning Circle before submitting plans for projects to advance their capacity for systems change work. Funding for those plans has just been awarded, and we will continue to learn alongside these organizations through 2020 as we consider how Building Community can better support this type of work going forward.
Thanks for your interest in what the Building Community portfolio does — and is trying to do. We look forward to hearing from you, applicants, current grantees and the merely curious.
Years of uncertainty about whether the 2020 U.S. Census would include a question about citizenship ended in June when the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion.
Three Western governors — Gov. Kate Brown (OR), Gov. Gavin Newsom (CA) and Gov. Jay Inslee (WA) — applauded the court’s decision in a New York Times op-ed about the importance of the Census and the devastating impact of undercounting the nation’s population.
“... just because the citizenship question will not be included doesn’t mean an end to the confusion or anxiety. We will not sit idly by, and we are committed to reassuring our communities that they can feel secure in taking part in the census and that their participation matters.
A miscount would have huge consequences. It would significantly erode the political power of communities of color and reduce funding to vulnerable communities for things like health care services, education programs and bridges and roads.
Our economies could also suffer. Businesses use census data to make $4 trillion in annual private investment decisions. And the information helps them decide where to build, invest in other businesses and what to sell to whom. Utility companies use it to influence where they add infrastructure and invest in new technology.
Everyone must be counted.”
Many challenges remain to achieving an accurate count in 2020 — budget cuts, minimal advance testing, rollout of the nation’s first digital census, continuing fear and mistrust in communities. The 2020 count will require stronger statewide efforts than ever before.
Meyer is proud to join with philanthropy peers from across the state in the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon (CEFCO) to ensure that each Oregonian is counted.
Read the Governors’ full New York Times Op-Ed piece here.
Photo source: A woman protesting the citizenship question outside the Supreme Court in April.CreditCreditAurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images (NYTimes)
Meyer seeks to change systems that protect the status quo and create barriers to equity.
We recognize that change does not happen in isolation and that we cannot expect long-term transformative change if we focus only on narrowly defined issues. Earlier this year, I spoke during an interview and Q&A discussion about changes in Meyer’s Building Community portfolio — an interim year of focused grantmaking without an open funding call — to refine our focus, approach and support for nonprofits and organizations working toward “systems-level change” while serving communities throughout Oregon.
For Building Community, systems-level change focuses on meaningful shifts in policies, processes, relationships and power structures as well as deeply held values and norms. Our particular interest is in systems change that alleviates current and historical barriers impacting marginalized and underserved communities, specifically communities of color and Indigenous communities.
Today, our portfolio’s commitment to supporting diverse organizations and leaders serving Oregon communities has never felt stronger. Building Community is now accepting applications for the Services to Systems RFP, a new funding opportunity for nonprofit organizations that provide direct services and are interested in strengthening their connection to systems-level change work in Oregon.
The Services to Systems RFP will provide up to $80,000 in new grant funding, disbursed in two phases. Phase I funding will support involvement in a peer-focused Services to Systems learning circle, comprised of 10-12 organizations. A participation stipend of $5,000 will be provided for each organization, with a maximum of two staff members per organization. Phase II funding will be available only for participating organizations and range between $25,000 and $75,000 to implement work that deepens an organization’s connection to systems-level change. Meyer anticipates that all organizations that choose to submit plans will receive Phase II funding and will offer individualized coaching as organizations approach the plan development stage.
To be clear: The Services to Systems RFP is designed for direct service providers that have already started considering or may be taking early steps toward supporting systems change but are not yet deeply engaged in that work. Organizations that have not yet started this work or are already deeply engaged in systems change will be less competitive. We recommend reviewing Meyer’s Direct Services to Systems Change Continuum to get a better sense of what early or advanced systems change work might look like.
Organizations that have an active grant with Meyer are still eligible to apply for the Services to Systems RFP and this RFP does not stop organizations from submitting proposals for other Meyer funding opportunities. Those awarded grants under this RFP will be invited to participate in one or more convenings and will have a chance to network with and learn from other grantees in the learning circle.
An information session took place on Tuesday, July 16 to explain the learning circle style RFP in detail and answer questions. A recap of the questions and answers that arose during that info session can be found on the Services to Systems RFP Q&A page.
Applications for this funding opportunity are due by 5 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.
Our portfolio looks forward to deepening connections with nonprofits, groups and leaders working to make Oregon an equitable, safe and prosperous place.
Building Community: Services to Systems RFP details
The Services to Systems RFP supports organizations that are primarily focused on providing direct services and not deeply engaged in systems change work but want to deepen their connection to the work. Up to $80,000 in new grant funding will be available.
Applicants will be notified of their award status in late September, with Phase I funding available in early to mid-October.
This RFP will provide up to $80,000 in grant funding, disbursed in two phases:
- Phase I funding will support involvement in a peer-focused Services to Systems learning circle, comprised of 10-12 organizations. (A participation stipend of $5,000 will be provided for each organization, with a maximum of two staff members per organization).
- Phase II funding will only be available for participating organizations and ranges between $25,000-$75,000 to implement work that deepens an organization’s connection to systems-level change.
Meyer staff will present an overview of the RFP and answer questions during an online information session on Tuesday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to noon.
To register for the session, please visit: eventbrite.com/e/building-community-virtual-information-session-services-to-systems-rfp-registration-64272075508. Attendance is encouraged but not mandatory.
Nonprofit leaders participating in a group activity during a covening for Meyer’s two-year leadership development and learning collaborative
Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Meyer’s director of communications, recently sat down with Building Community portfolio director Dahnesh Medora and program associate Erin Dysart to talk about changes in the portfolio this year, including accepting applications by invitation.
Before we talk about the shifts within the Building Community portfolio, let’s spend some time capturing the evolution of the portfolio. Since Meyer redesigned its programs, there are often questions about the purpose or vision for this portfolio. Can you share some of that background?
As I understand it, the vision was always broad. As Meyer moved away from a responsive grantmaking model, the Building Community portofolio was meant to serve as a space where a range of groups could see their work and access support generally. The initial outline for the portfolio had an emphasis on capacity building, with an added focus on civic engagement and the arts. Those were the three buckets that were most distinctly carved out.
What Building Community didn’t have, in contrast to the other portfolios, was a more topical focus that tied these things together. The closest thing we had was a focus on equity, which essentially meant that the Building Community portfolio mirrored the overarching focus of Meyer as a whole. In practice that meant Building Community was the “widest door” to apply for Meyer funding, and so we’ve consistently seen a high level of interest from the field.
This has been Meyer’s largest portfolio in regard to the range of topic areas covered and when it comes to application volume through the Annual Funding Opportunity. Can you say a bit more about what that has looked like?
Sure, over the three annual funding cycles, Building Community received about 1,000 applications, well over half of what Meyer received across all four portfolios. We funded just over 200. So about 80 percent of applications were declined each year. In terms of dollars, upward of $127 million was requested and about $22 million was granted. It has been a very competitive process.
Yes, the door has been wide, but the funding hasn’t been quite as much. Let’s come back to that 80 percent in a minute. I do want to touch on the breadth of topics you asked about. When we reviewed a pool of applications, we found folks who were working on recidivism, arts organizations that were focused on youth development and groups that were in the traditional public policy and advocacy space, including collaboratives. We’d see organizations offering direct services for basic needs and family supports for early childhood ...
… organizations working in or on health care, media, legal services, cultural preservation, out-of-school programming, community facilities, food systems, employment support … the list goes on.
So it sounds like this portfolio, at least in its earliest days, carried forward some remnants of Meyer’s previous responsive grantmaking model.
I think there’s some truth to that. We put this broad container out into the world, so although we did adjust and tighten a bit each year, we continued to receive a high volume of applications covering a vast range of issues.
For a variety of reasons, I don’t think it’s ideal that we turn down 80 percent of applicants. That means a lot of people put time and energy into an application, they base their planning around this work and our process can take between six to nine months before they even find out if they’ve been accepted as a grantee. I don’t know that there is an ideal acceptance rate necessarily — I think Meyer’s other portfolios tend to be closer to 50 percent — but I’d like to get to a place where Building Community can provide clearer guidance in advance that supports folks in making self selections and ultimately leads to a smaller number of declinations.
Funding will likely always be competitive to some degree, but we know we can make some improvements. That’s one of our goals in reformulating what we’re doing, to make the process less arduous for applicants generally. This also means that our staff will be able to focus and be more strategic with their use of time. If we’re not culling through those large numbers, we’re able to devote more time and attention to individual applications and make the case for why they should be funded to our trustees. That’s exciting to me, being more strategic.
Me, too. And that relates to something I hear consistently from our portfolio colleagues as well, that we’d all like to be out in the field more and be able to work in more relational and less transactional ways.
You mentioned adjusting and tightening each year, I think referring to the Annual Funding Opportunity. How has that played out?
We have been working incrementally on narrowing the portfolio. We’ve made adjustments to our funding goals and intended outcomes each year, in collaboration with our trustees, for example naming systems change as a goal. So we’ve experimented with some of those sorts of modifications.
Of course, some narrowing has also happened as we’ve made hard choices about what gets funded and what doesn’t. Again, the door to apply has been wide, but the funding has always been more narrow. Part of what has emerged and guided us and grown stronger in doing so over the course of these three years are what we’re now calling our anchor criteria, three qualities that we look for in partner organizations.
Those are, one, an active commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion both in external programming or services and, importantly, in internal operations and leadership. We’re looking for indications that go beyond some initial training. Two: centering, listening to and remaining accountable to the service community. We sometimes call this raising up constituent voice. Finally, three, and this is a big one for us, we’re looking for organizations that ensure that their work fits within broader efforts to address systems that perpetuate economic, political and other disparities.
You might notice that these are “issue agnostic” characteristics or rather that these are about how an organization works rather than what issue they might be focusing on. In some ways the “how” has always been a bit easier for us to pin down.
One other thing to mention, and this is connected to our anchor criteria to some degree, is that we’ve grown more clear about the need to prioritize racial equity. That’s not at the exclusion of thinking about other issues of oppression, of course.
Moving forward, we’re going to be more clear that we are looking first and foremost at work that is designed to support communities of color and Indigenous people and Tribes, and then particularly where they may experience overlapping oppressions related to gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status ...
… or other oppressions that might be specific to a community.
Can you share what’s ahead for the Building Community portfolio in the 2019-20 funding cycle?
Some things are different, but I want to be clear that the foundational pieces remain the same. Our vision, for example. We want to create a just, complex, multicultural society where everyone can thrive. That’s been a consistent aim, and that will remain the same.
In support of that, we’re going to provide funding in the amount of roughly $2.5 million for groups that have a strong track record of work around systems change. These are organizations that will be invited to apply, so we won’t have a broad open funding call. That is the biggest difference that folks in the field are going to notice.
Again, our anchor criteria are key: The organizations invited to apply for this funding are working explicitly on systems change, as Dahnesh said, and are also strong on our other two anchor criteria, constituent voice and DEI.
We will also put out a dedicated request for proposals this spring that will focus about a million dollars of funding on organizations that are primarily in the direct service space that have an interest in focusing on systems change. Grantees of this RFP will also participate in a cohort or a community learning process that will be supported by subject matter experts in the field.
So this is for direct service providers who are really thinking about root causes?
Exactly, organizations that want to create a condition where their service isn’t needed. We work with some organizations who have figured this out beautifully. They have a vision of what it would take to ultimately work themselves out of a job. And they’re working on it! The cohort programming isn’t fully worked out yet, but we may end up reaching out to some of the groups we know that are already strong on this to see if there is an appropriate (resourced) way for them to share some of their experience with other organizations looking to build this muscle.
So this is an area — direct services to systems change — where we’re going deeper, in a sense, both for the purpose of supporting the field but also to support our own learning. Our own learning is a piece of what we’re hoping to do this next year through engagement with organizations that are in the field.
Are there other ways you’re pursuing that learning during this interim year, other elements of work not tied specifically to the two funding streams you’ve talked about? Are you in fact thinking of this as an interim year?
We are thinking of this year as unique, yes. And I’d say that all of the learning we are pursuing is in some way tied to systems change, that’s the big theme. The idea of systems change has become more and more central to Meyer’s work, but it has been defined somewhat loosely. In Building Community, we’re thinking about how we can make that more tangible. What does systems change really look like? How can we best support it? Where are the levers and opportunities in Oregon that we might be well suited to move?
We’re also talking more about how policy change and systems change overlap but aren’t the same. Policy change is part of systems change but isn’t the entirety of it by any stretch.
That’s a good way of putting it. And in that sense, the policy and advocacy component of our work has been there all the way through, and I think we’re now making more of a distinction between the two, between policy and advocacy and broader systems change efforts.
In the future, we’ll make an effort to try to convene our grantees a little more than we have in the past. You might think of it as formal convenings or meetings, but there’s also a great benefit in just deepening relationships with individual organizations and those are one-on-one conversations. Our hope is that we create enough space for our staff this year to actually go out and engage with groups one on one.
And that could go beyond grantees, too. We know there may be groups doing great work in Oregon that connects well with what we’re trying to achieve but that we haven’t partnered with or even met yet for one reason or another.
We also have Building Community staff members who represent Meyer on some important funder collaboratives — Sally Yee on the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative and Erin on the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon — so that is work that is also ongoing on a parallel track that can inform how the portfolio evolves.
We’ll also try to keep our tools sharp by attending conferences, working with other funders, intermediaries and peer organizations that dig in on a particular issue or have an approach that we think might lend itself well to the other efforts we see in the sector. That’s definitely a piece of the field engagement. We’re going to focus some exploration on issues related to immigration, democracy and wealth creation, themes that have emerged from our first three years that feel like they might have potential to help us sharpen our approach. We are open and ready.
This all really ties back to when Meyer’s trustees chose to shift to strategic rather than responsive grantmaking. That’s about naming the impact you want to see in the world and focusing resources on the strongest opportunities to make it happen. So when we talk about narrowing, reformulating or possibly identifying topical focus areas, these are all essentially different ways of saying that we’re trying to get more specific about the highest impact strategies that are going to help us actually shift power and achieve the transformational change we want to see in the world––and that communities have been working toward for decades!
And I think Meyer is at an inflection point more generally. As a whole organization, we are trying to understand: Where can we have the greatest impact? Our board and staff are constantly asking that question, and I think a healthy organization has to do so on an ongoing basis. To not just ask it once.
So what comes next after this year? And how can people in the field connect with you or stay tuned into what you’re working on this year?
We don’t know exactly what the year after next will look like. I know that’s not a terribly satisfying answer, but that is the genuine truth of where we are. Again, we do have core elements of the portfolio that won’t change, but the pieces that may feel most urgent to folks in the field, such as specifics of what funding opportunities will look like, we just can’t say yet. But we will stay in communication with the field about this as we have more information available. We’ll share updates online via our portfolio-specific newsletter and Meyer’s website. If folks want to know more or have specific questions, we encourage them to reach out to us directly.
Right now, as we’re announcing these changes, we’re also encouraging folks to reach out via questions [at] mmt.org so we can compile questions and share a FAQ with the field if we find themes that would be helpful to share out. Additionally, we’ll host an online Q&A session with the field at 10 a.m., Wednesday, April 24. (Register here)
Dahnesh Medora, Building Community portfolio director, joined Meyer in November 2015 in the late stages of planning for a major programming restructure. The portfolio was still taking shape at the time and was then referred to as the Resilient Social Sector portfolio. (Its name was later changed to Building Community based on field feedback.)
Erin Dysart, Building Community program associate, joined the team in March 2016 when Meyer’s strategic grantmaking structure publicly launched and its first Annual Funding Opportunity opened.
Building Community program associate Erin Dysart conversing with community members at Meyer's 2018 Annual Funding Opportunity information session at Immigrant and Refugee Organization (IRCO).
Exploring different ways to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a core interest to the Building Community portfolio and Meyer.
Over the past two years, we have pursued two topics in depth with a select group of grantees through a learning process called "Nonprofit Sector Support" (NSS). With one group of 11 grantees, we had the opportunity to think about how leadership development-related programming can advance equity. In a second related cohort, we had a chance to work with 22 groups interested in advancing equity through work as capacity builders or providers of technical assistance to others.
Grantees gave us great insights and real time examples of this work in action. We have also been learning how this work takes shape in different parts of the country (more on this below). With this knowledge, we have started to synthesize our findings, and our program officer, Carol Cheney, will be sharing them in the coming months. A few headlines from what we have gathered through our NSS effort about how to advance DEI through leadership development and support for capacity building:
Strategies that are working well:
- Lifting up multiple ways of knowing
- Focusing on healing and the intersections between issues
- Challenging and reframing dominant culture narratives
- Sharing stories as a capacity-building strategy
- Creating intensive experiences for peers to learn together and from each other
- Creating multiple opportunities for the end-users or ultimate beneficiaries to help shape programs, provide feedback and define success
- Cross-sector relationship building (e.g., across public, private and nonprofit sectors)
- Building advocacy skills and providing opportunities for participants to take part in public policy
Areas of persistent challenge:
- Taking time to build relationships and trust
- Connecting across distances
- Inadequate resources to meet needs
- Entrenched systems of white supremacy
- Challenges in accessing influential networks and building power together
- Fear and mistrust based on the political environment
Racial Equity to Accelerate Change Fund
This past year, Meyer joined with nine funders from around the country to establish a new initiative called the Racial Equity to Accelerate Change (REACH) Fund. At the heart of REACH is an interest in advancing promising practices for supporting nonprofits interested in addressing issues of racial equity and inclusion.
Being part of REACH is tied to the reality that Meyer's grantees and applicants are paying heightened attention to DEI in formulating and achieving solutions to entrenched problems. In recent years, we have experienced a significant increase in requests from leaders for capacity building support to advance DEI both within their organizations and in their program work.
For many of our grantees, creating a more inclusive and equitable society is at the heart of their missions and the reason they do their work. For other organizations, a renewed commitment to DEI flows from an increasing awareness that fulfilling their missions requires that they understand and embrace these issues. Wherever grantees may be along this continuum, they increasingly are seeking help with these issues.
Although this growing attention to DEI is promising, a steady stream of events in recent years has made it clear to many Americans how far we still have to go. A surge in white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes has startled a nation that had come to think of these attitudes as relics of a more distant past. Rolling back laws and policies that represent hard-won civil rights, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, is also increasing. The extent to which racism is still deeply entrenched in America has been thrust into view, and increasing numbers of people believe that achieving racial equity is one of the most important challenges of our times.
Against this backdrop, the nonprofit and philanthropic sector is also confronting troubling data that, even in our own sectors, we need more traction. Several studies reveal that the diversity of nonprofit boards and executive leadership has hardly budged for decades even as the diversity of the country has grown significantly. The underrepresentation of people of color on boards and in executive leadership is stark when viewed alongside the racial composition of the communities we serve, and it means that the work of these organizations is not benefitting from all available talent, perspectives and experiences.
In a values-based sector that largely argues for fairness and equal opportunity, we need to do better. This means not only working harder but also trying new approaches.
Toward that end, REACH Fund is seeking participants for its first cohort of racial equity practitioners. Participants will receive grants of $50,000 - $150,000, which will be applicable to both general operations and on-the-ground racial equity support to nonprofits (either new or existing clients). More information about this opportunity can be found here.
Participants in the Building Community portfolio's recently completed Nonprofit Sector Support Leadership Development Learning Collaborative.
The 2020 U.S. Census is coming, and by now you may have heard that it's slated to include a question about U.S. citizenship status. That question has implications for the accuracy of the count, and the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the count has implications for all of us.
Indeed, census data have a tremendous effect on distribution of resources. In 2015, more than $10 billion of federal funding was allocated to Oregon based on census data. Census data are also used to determine sites of schools and other infrastructure; businesses regularly use the data when deciding where to locate and invest. The shape of our voting districts and allocation of representative seats in government draw upon census data. Perhaps your organization refers to census data, too. Meyer does.
Data collected in 2020 will have far-reaching impact, so anything that gets in the way of a full and accurate count is concerning. It is widely believed that asking about citizenship status will suppress U.S. Census participation. Immigrant communities, who already experience real consequences of harsh public discourse and policy, are very likely to be undercounted as mistrust of the government keeps many folks from answering Census questions, regardless of their own citizenship status. We're hearing this directly from community leaders we've spoken to.
Oregon's attorney general has joined a lawsuit with 17 other states seeking to bar inclusion of the question. And you can take action, too.
The Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, is accepting public comments about the 2020 survey. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice are working collaboratively to encourage nonprofits and the public to submit comments before the August 7 deadline. They've created a simple portal at CensusCounts.org to make the process as easy as possible. I used it to submit comments myself in just a few minutes.
Systems change. If you work in the social sector, you probably hear this term all the time — including from Meyer. Indeed, you'll see it mentioned throughout information about our Annual Funding Opportunity. In the Building Community portfolio, we are often asked some version of this question: "With all this focus on systems change, will you still fund direct services?" The short answer is "Yes, some." But that doesn't make for much of a blog, so let's dive deeper.
Yes, the Building Community portfolio does fund some direct services that help priority populations meet their social, nutritional, legal, health, employment and other basic needs. We don't see direct services as opposite of systems change; they can absolutely contribute! On the other hand, well-intended services that are designed in isolation could end up perpetuating the very conditions they're meant to address. Context is key. Systemic context. And that's why you'll hear us say that we're interested in direct services that are grounded by a systems analysis and tied to systems change.
We've seen this take shape in many ways among grantees that we work with, from small organizations to large ones. Rest assured, it doesn't always mean policy advocacy in Salem. (But that's great, too.)
Before getting into examples, let me pause to note that the "systems" we're referring to here, in the broadest sense, are complex networks of social, economic, legal and institutional forces that reinforce each other to sustain the concentration of power and resources for some groups over others. Upending these systems is multi-layered, long-game, collective work; no one organization has the full solution. But many organizations have part of the solution, and that's what we're looking for when we review applications.
For direct service providers, our first question is: How do you understand the problem or need that you seek to address? Why does the need exist and why is it unaddressed (or insufficiently so) for a particular population? If you're treating urgent symptoms, what conditions are creating them? What are the root causes? How are racism, classism or other types of oppression operating through policies or practices that result in inequitable outcomes? Importantly, how has the service population been directly involved in shaping your understanding? All of this understanding — the organization's analysis — should be evident in its approach.
Here are just a few examples of how we've seen this show up.
- North by Northeast Community Health Center is a culturally specific organization that focuses exclusively on improving health outcomes for Portland's African American community by providing care and services that address chronic conditions disproportionately impacting this population.
- Red Lodge Transition Services is a Native-led organization that provides housing in Clackamas County for Native women (from around the state) who are releasing from jail, prison or treatment — the only culturally specific service of this kind in Oregon. By securing public funding (to complement grassroots fundraising), Red Lodge has influenced the allocation of resources to Native communities that are disproportionately negatively impacted by the criminal justice system.
- The Next Door provides a range of social services to families living on low incomes in the mid Columbia River Gorge, and it offers culturally specific services through Nuestra Comunidad Sana to support the Latino community. NCS programming evolves in response to community and includes support for civic engagement so that Latino/Latina community members can strengthen their ability to navigate and influence local systems that impact their lives (e.g., transportation board).
- The Farmworker Service Center in Woodburn is part of the CAPACES network of organizations that share a unified theory of change and each work on different aspects of building a collaborative movement for change. For example, clients who come to the service center for help with immigration paperwork may also be referred to CAPACES Leadership Institute to build civic engagement skills.
- Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades provides care for the medically uninsured in and around Bend, Oregon, with an approach that includes differentiated, culturally responsive techniques. The clinic's executive director serves on the Central Oregon Health Council, where some regional resource allocation decisions are made.
- In addition to providing food and other services, the Oregon Food Bank works on addressing underlying causes of food insecurity by engaging in policy advocacy related to housing and living wages.
- The Northwest Workers' Justice Project provides direct legal services to immigrant, temporary and low-wage workers. Through its work with the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, NWJP also engages in statewide policy advocacy related to worker rights and protections.
What all these groups share, in addition to understanding systems driving the need for their work, is that they are connected with other organizations and institutions around them. None of them works in isolation; they know how their services fit into the local or regional ecosystem. Understanding community-level context is another aspect of being tied into systems change — i.e., if you are working on one part of the solution, who else around you is working on other parts?
The examples shared here are by no means exhaustive, but they demonstrate that, yes, the Building Community portfolio does fund some direct services. We look for providers who envision a world in which their services are no longer necessary, grounding their approach to get there and taking reasonable steps in that direction.
We're excited to partner with organizations that are occupying this important space.
Volunteers and staff at North by Northeast Community Health Center’s community health fair, "Health on the Corner” | Photo provided by Northeast Community Health Clinic
I used to write grants and didn't exactly love doing it, so I feel the pain of grantwriters: When a funding opportunity opens, they are tasked with figuring out how to present the most compelling information possible and persuade a funder that a particular project is worthy of investment. To add to the stress, funders' selection criteria can seem obscure, with processes that are often daunting, unclear and even seemingly arbitrary.
Our values dictate that we strive to be transparent about our grantmaking and open regarding our decision-making processes. In addition to our website's Applicant Resources section (where we have compiled useful information, templates and examples) and the many in-person and virtual information sessions we've organized around the state, I'd like to offer the following — hopefully helpful — tips to make the application process easier and your proposal more successful.
Determine eligibility and alignment
Many organizations are eligible to apply for Meyer funding, but not all of them will be in alignment with our goals.
To be eligible, your organization must fulfill certain requirements, such as having tax-exempt status and meeting our nondiscriminatory policy, among others.
To show alignment, however, you have to demonstrate that your project or proposal "fits" with Meyer's goals, i.e. not only that your project will help Meyer achieve a portfolio's desired outcomes but also that you have a strong analysis of how your work is (or is demonstrably committed to be) rooted in equity and inclusion.
If this is still too vague, information sessions are great opportunities to engage with our staff, hear us talk about our funding priorities and ask questions. You should also check out what each portfolio funded last year. Building Community's award list is here, Equitable Education's award list is here, Healthy Environment's list is here, and Housing Opportunities' list is here.
Familiarize yourself with our portfolios, grant types and amounts
In the Initial Application, you will choose one portfolio goal and up to two outcomes your proposed work will help achieve. Spend some time reading about the different portfolios, their grant types and their maximum amounts, and decide which goals your work will most likely help to accomplish. If you're unsure about what the types of funding mean, please click here. To find out about maximum amounts, visit each portfolio's page.
If you still have questions after looking at the portfolios or feel like you fit in multiple places, email us at questions [at] mmt.org and our staff will get in touch with you. You may also take a look at Meyer's frequently asked questions page.
Use plain language
When talking about your work, don't assume we know what you do, who you are, or what communities you serve. Answer each question fully and use as plain a language as possible, providing examples if appropriate, and avoiding jargon and acronyms.
Perhaps a good question to ask may be: If a friend read your application, would she understand what your organization does or what your proposal is about? If the answer is no, then chances are we probably won't either.
The cardstack above illustrates three approaches to writing the program description for "Awesome Organization." As you can see, finding the sweet spot of clarity and simplicity can make a big difference.
Connect the need for your project to its root causes
Your proposal has a better chance of rising to the top if you can articulate clearly (a) how your work will dismantle barriers for underserved communities or (b) how your project will somehow address the root or systemic causes of a problem.
Using Awesome Organization as an example again, we can say that improving access to chocolate (or food or shelter or education) is a worthy cause in its own right, but Awesome Organization's proposal would be significantly more competitive if it demonstrated that it not only addresses the immediate need of the community to access chocolate but that it also understands what creates that immediate need — lack of farmer training and access to capital, especially for farmers from underserved communities — and how the organization can effect long-lasting change — providing low- or no-interest loans to farmers to keep chocolate affordable and addressing the barriers that prevent them from connecting to each other and accessing spaces that allow them to innovate.
Want more information? Sign up for our Building Community's newsletter and read Erin Dysart's blog about how Building Community thinks about the Direct Service-Root Causes connection.
Some additional tips
Create or update your profile in GrantIS as soon as possible
And consider that …
- The setup takes a few days.
- If you already have a profile, you'll need to update it. (Before you submit your application, we will ask you to certify that your organization's information is correct.)
- If you are applying through a fiscal sponsor, the process can take additional time.
"Right-size" your ask
- Familiarize yourself with the range of funding amounts in your chosen portfolio. In determining whether your request is appropriate, we will consider your project size, project complexity, project budget, organization size and what other funding you've secured.
Include key information in the body of the application
- We receive so many initial applications that — as much as we would like to — we may not be able to read attached materials we have not specifically requested. Having said that, if you are citing a report or quoting experts, please include links in the body of the narrative instead of providing a bibliography. It saves you words and it makes it easier for us to find the information.
Share the good ... and the bad
- We love to hear about the great work you're doing. But if your organization is going through a transition, has experienced some challenges recently or is expecting some rough times ahead, note it in your application as well and explain what you've done or are going to do to address the challenge.
If you're not invited to submit a full proposal, ask for feedback
- We'd be happy to go over your application and share our perspective on what you can consider when submitting your next application.
Once again, we are looking forward to reading about all that you're accomplishing.
See you at the information sessions!
Keeping it simpleClose card stack
The Building Community portfolio is excited to share this year's open call for applications between March 15 and April 18. Approximately $4.3 million in funding has been designated to advance three goals:
- Community connection and belonging.
- Strong nonprofit leaders and organizations.
- Civic engagement and systems change.
Our portfolio's goals for this coming year represent an adjustment from what we had been using over the past two years. The adjustments were made, in part, based on feedback we received from grantees and applicants and are an attempt to more clearly communicate the focus of the portfolio. Arts and culture aimed at encouraging inclusion, for example, had been a distinct goal in the past. With the new changes, arts and culture organizations are eligible to apply in any of the goal areas. More information on these three goal areas can be found in the Goals and Outcomes section of our website. Additional insight on arts organizations can be found here.
This portfolio is focused on both creating opportunities to equitable outcomes and removing barriers that make these outcomes difficult to achieve. Equitable outcomes for communities that have been and continue to be marginalized are of particular interest to us as are the different ways in which these communities have a voice in decisions that impact their lives. We believe that when people are part of inclusive and supportive communities — when they can see promising paths for themselves, influence decisions that affect them and connect with others and express their shared humanity — they can truly thrive. And we all benefit.
Put another way, the Building Community portfolio is interested in who is served and how they are involved in achieving equitable outcomes for themselves. Through our investments, we hope to encourage a sense of shared responsibility for creating a multicultural society in which all people can thrive and realize their full potential. More insight on how we think about determining whether or not there is a fit between your work and Meyer's goals can be found here.
Learning from the past two years
With the benefit of two years of grantmaking as a program, the Building Community team and board of trustees have tried to learn from applicants and grantees about how the priorities of this portfolio are understood and how the work toward equitable outcomes takes shape. We always appreciate feedback!
In our 2017 round of funding, we received 284 applications or roughly $31 million in requests. With a budget of $4.6 million, we were able to make 66 grants — about 23 percent of all applicants. Notable characteristics from last year's batch include:
- An increase in the percentage of applicants from rural communities (from 30 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2017) and from those who work statewide (from 14 percent to 20 percent over the two years).
- A slight increase in the percentage of first-time applicants (15 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in 2017).
- An increase in applicants seeking capacity building support (from 30 percent to 42 percent).
- A drop in those requesting operating support (from 15 percent in 2016 to 10 percent in 2017).
- About 60 percent of applicants in 2017 reported that they were in the early stages (i.e., Not Yet Started, Ready to Start or Launched) of our diversity, equity and inclusion spectrum tool.
Get more information
Over the next month, Meyer staff will be traveling the state to share information about the 2018 funding opportunity and our four portfolios. A list of information sessions can be found here. The Building Community team will be hosting two portfolio-specific webinars on April 3 and April 6, where we will provide more details about our grantmaking and respond to specific questions.
Of course, you can also visit our new Applicant Resources page for more information. And feel free to contact us at questions [at] mmt.org.
“A journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do, what you will find, nor what you find will do to you.” — James Baldwin
In 2017, Meyer received numerous proposals from organizations seeking to increase equitable outcomes by including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their missions, diversifying staff and leadership, providing DEI training, or creating an equity lens through which to filter policies and deliver programming.
We know that embarking on a DEI journey can be an incredible growth period for an organization, but the destructive history of oppression and ongoing persistent injustices are big and personal, which can make stepping onto this path really scary! The 2017 Race to Lead report published by the Building Movement Project reported results from a survey and interviews conducted with more than 4,000 nonprofit staff, capacity builders and funders around the United States. One finding indicated that 48 percent of people of color and 39 percent of whites agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement “nonprofits trying to address race and racial equity in their organizations often create tensions they are not equipped to resolve.”
This statistic made me curious. What does it take to be “equipped” for a journey toward diversity, equity and inclusion? Are there common pitfalls that we can anticipate? What are the “tensions” that show up and how can we address them effectively? To reflect on these questions, I turned to leaders I know who have done this work from different vantage points: Jeana Frazzini, former director of Basic Rights Oregon; Cliff Jones, a Portland-based DEI consultant of more than 30 years; and Dr. Gail Christopher, who has designed racial equity and healing work for decades and most recently led the development of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation implementation and guidance at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
In a series of blog posts, I’ll share what I heard from each of these leaders about organizational readiness for DEI. We’ll hear about practical strategies, success and challenges, and the personal impact that the DEI journey has had on them. Through this process, I’ve learned so much from these colleagues through their candor, courage and their willingness to share - and about what might be the true costs of integrating DEI into an organization’s work. My hope is that, while each experience is different, you will also be able to use the wisdom from these leaders for your own organizational and personal journeys.
Read Jeana's bio, here.
Jeana Frazzini served in board and staff leadership roles at Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) from 2000 to 2016, including eight years as executive director. During that time, BRO was tackling big issues like marriage equality; a statewide nondiscrimination policy; inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) students in schools; and a shift in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community to be inclusive of people who are transgender.
As a movement, the LGBTQ community has struggled with marginalization and exclusion of LGBTQ people of color, despite overwhelming evidence that LGBTQ people of color experience some of the most inequitable outcomes related to health, employment and poverty due to the compounded impacts of racism and heterosexism. Jeana, a white woman, recognized that Basic Rights Oregon was not meeting their mission of serving and including all LGBTQ Oregonians in their movement building and advocacy work. With the support and leadership of her board of directors and staff, BRO embarked on their DEI journey in 2005 and intensified it over the next five years. The work is ongoing. (BRO’s leadership benefited from significant technical assistance and support from Western States Center throughout this process.)
Jeana and I sat down over breakfast to talk about what she and BRO learned about DEI and organizational readiness (a meaty topic, with food to match!).
Basic Rights Oregon’s journey
For Jeana, engaging in DEI work meant not starting with something like diversifying the board and staff and getting some training.
“It was important to line people up on the what and why,” she said. “The what was the intention and it was explicit: to become an anti-racist organization. The why was more a process of discovery, achieved by getting some challenging feedback from people of color in the community who shared that Basic Rights Oregon was not meaningfully engaging — and often tokenizing — LGBTQ people of color and that BRO’s inability to address race issues meant that their opposition was able to advance discriminatory policies, including the 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between ‘one man and one woman.’”
As hard as the feedback was, it was meaningful and honest, and it helped BRO leadership more deeply recognize that the organization had a problem it needed to address.
With buy-in on the what and why, the organization began to assess the scope and scale of the issue and identify areas of growth. It was at this point that they put a training plan in place to more directly address real-time training needs and aligne staff and board with basic terms, language and understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. That created a shared foundation from which to move forward.
“Even with this ‘prework,’” Jeana said, “not everyone had the same vision of what the end result will look like or where the ‘end’ is. The process is like a series of waves.”
In Jeana’s example, the bottom of the wave could be the need to increase staff diversity. But, she said, people shouldn’t cut corners to get to the “crest” by simply recruiting and hiring diverse staff, where nothing has changed but the diversity quotient. The old ways have to change, and the next trough will be trying to figure out why diverse hires are not retained and what are the barriers that are keeping the old ways in place.
Lessons learned about equipping the journey
Basic Rights Oregon’s vision was to transform the organization.
But along the way, Jeana, the board and staff quickly discovered that this work is more than that.
“Leaders need to recognize that this is not only about organizational transformation but individual transformation,” she said, “and then support people to take a personal journey as well as an organizational one.”
Some things that helped BRO navigate and balance personal and organizational needs included establishing principles and practices that went beyond the usual ground rules for group process and organizational planning:
- Create a “brave” space, not just a safe space. This ground rule allowed people to step further into risk-taking.
- If the organization is large enough, have a cross-program, cross-positional “Transformation Committee,” charged with being a place where people can bring questions, ideas, feedback and concerns.
- Don’t lose sight of the environment in which we are operating. Recognize that our organizations and we as individuals are part of a larger system of inequality that is continually reinforced in our society into everything we do.
- Explicitly identify the expectation that things will get emotional, and that’s OK. In dismantling systems, it can be really painful for people to become conscious of their own biases. This is not business as usual. You can’t continue to do the same things and except the same results.
- This is long-term work, but without a way to measure progress and accountability, staff may feel that it’s a waste of time or just another exercise to “check the DEI box but doesn’t result in meaningful change.” Once shared goals are established, spend time collectively identifying a set of benchmarks to measure progress to your goals. A map of the journey can also help people see that their own priorities have a place on the journey, even if it’s farther off.
- Examples of benchmarks Basic Rights Oregon established included having all staff and board go through training within a certain amount of time, committing paid staff time to the work, setting benchmarks for meetings with leaders of color, and creating supports for those meetings such as work plans and conversation guides.
- At the same time, hold the process loosely enough so it develops as it needs to develop, while maintaining accountability and understanding of what progress looks like.
- Be mindful of the leadership in the room, about how much space leaders take up, and be a role model. As a leader you have a dual role: You are managing your own emotions and find your own counselors outside the room.
- Include support for staff, such as coaching and space for people of color to be together and for your white staff to do the work they need to do separately.
- If you are working with both staff and board, keep in mind that the staff are together every day, working out issues and may outpace the board’s ability to do the same.
I asked Jeana if there was anything she would do differently now that she’s had this experience at Basic Rights Oregon.
“BRO had a typical policy that employees should bring concerns to their supervisors in the course of regular check-ins,” Jeana said. ”But because conversations about race can be so difficult, it would be good to establish a shared approach and specific policies to address concerns. One option that comes to mind is to bring on a mediator who builds trust across the team and can be called upon as conflict comes up.
“Personally, I would have liked to do more work early on to understand white supremacy and white privilege. Our process wasn’t inclusive enough about white people doing work to understand our history and ongoing role in upholding these systems. I recently listened to the ‘Scene on Radio’ podcast, which includes a series called ‘Seeing White.’ The series illuminated the work that white people need to do to understand the construct of whiteness.”
Commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
I wondered what it meant for Basic Rights Oregon to be committed to this work. Jeana shared that the commitment evolved over time.
“Early on we had a general idea that we had a responsibility as an organization to meet the needs of all queer and trans people in Oregon — including people of color,” she said. “As we did the work, the commitment became operationalized through investing in the leadership of people of color in our organization and in our programming, which meant how we allocated resources and how staff were supported to do their work. Commitment goes back to getting clear about what your values are — the commitment and values will be tested in the context in which we work: white supremacist culture.”
One example, Jeana said, would be turning down funding when funder values don’t align.
“For every donor or volunteer who didn’t understand, 10 other donors or volunteers stepped up,” she added. “So fears about losing funding are totally unfounded, in my experience. We had hard conversations with donors and funders and practiced with role plays. Again this is where humility comes in — knowing ahead of time you don’t have all the answers.”
I asked Jeana about surprises along the way.
“We had this rich experience internally, then we had to figure out how to operationalize our plans and discover how to work this in — it’s so important to figure out how people can see and feel it becoming real,” she said. “We had a process to build work plans. On every person’s work plan there was a place to ask, ‘What are your racial justice goals?’
“There were a lot of surprises along the lines of unexpected benefits of the process. The way in which it deepened relationships across teams. We had a very pleasant surprise in the way the work expanded the organization and opened BRO up to funding, opportunities for partnerships, volunteer activism/engagement.” For Jeana personally? “Because the process required difficult conversations, I surprised myself in my capacity for courage,” she said
I wondered if there was one thing Jeana wishes all nonprofit leaders knew as they step onto the DEI path?
She thought for a moment.
“This is the work — this isn’t a distraction from the work, or really even optional, particularly in this moment,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter what issue area, geography or constituency that your organization prioritizes. We had a realization that our view of what was possible, necessary or needed was so limited by our lack of organizational diversity. Just the way we thought about what was needed in the community was based on such limited information and was reflected in our policies. Our work then became so much richer.”
I’m so grateful to Jeana and to Basic Rights Oregon’s current co-directors, Nancy Haque and Amy Herzfeld-Copple, for allowing us to share BRO’s DEI journey!
Next time, I’ll share a conversation with consultant Cliff Jones, who has helped organizations establish strong DEI principles and practices for more than 30 years.