DEI Capacity Building In Oregon: Successes, Challenges and Wisdom from Meyer Grantees

When Meyer Memorial Trust pivoted its vision towards “a flourishing and equitable Oregon” in 2016, it changed our funding structure and priorities. We began focusing our grantmaking on organizations that demonstrated commitments to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion — from internal capacity to programs, to policy and systems-level change. We knew that part of supporting organizations to join us in this “DEI evolution” would require additional funding to build capacity around DEI work.

We also recognized that at varying degrees, we would be working with organizations at different stages of implementing DEI strategies. So, we created a separate pool of funds that program officers could easily and quickly draw from to provide funding for technical assistance to increase the DEI capacity of our grantees. These DEI capacity building or technical assistance (TA) grants were grounded in Meyer’s belief that when organizations are more inclusive, with diverse representation and hold equitable internally policies, their work and service outcomes will improve for all populations, especially historically marginalized groups.

Grantees leveraged their TA grants to provide training for their staff members and boards of directors; to meet organizational development needs for their DEI goals, such as creating an equity vision, plan or committee; and to conduct other activities vital for DEI.

Four years after launching this funding — and over $4 million in grants distributed — we wanted to know what kind of impact these funds were having and what we could learn from grantees about the successes and challenges of moving toward deeper DEI.

Through surveys, focus groups and individual interviews with grantees, we learned much about how grantees use these kinds of funds, what successes and challenges are experienced when tackling DEI capacity work, and some promising ways to use funds. We also learned where we can improve our grantmaking practices and increase clarity. Grantees were generous and forthcoming, sharing lessons learned and advice to other organizations doing this work and to Meyer.

The findings of this assessment process are now available in our report, “DEI Capacity Building In Oregon: Successes, Challenges and Wisdom from Meyer Grantees.” Through this invaluable partnership with grantees, Meyer has identified some next steps for our DEI capacity-building grantmaking that hold us accountable to the findings in the report. Specific actions include:

  • Convening a workgroup of grantees and staff to provide guidance and recommendations on operationalizing a grantmaking structure and process and impact evaluations and
  • Hosting a gathering of DEI consultants, designed and led by a team of DEI consultant advisors, to discuss the findings and develop opportunities for peer learning and quality improvement.

We are excited to share this report and eager to explore the possibilities that are emerging from the assessment. We hope you find it useful and supportive to your work!

— Carol

Meyer DEI TA grantee Dress for Success Oregon.

Meyer DEI TA grantee Dress for Success Oregon.

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Why Equity Illustrated?

Q: Where did the idea for Equity Illustrated come from?

Darion: Equity Illustrated was created as our attempt to visually synthesize our understanding of equity and its complexities in a way that could be easily understood. Pretty much everyone in the nonprofit world has seen that image of three people standing on crates alongside a fenced baseball field. We — Meyer Memorial Trust and Northwest Health Foundation’s communications staff— saw it used a number of times at the 2015 Communications Network conference last fall and talked about how helpful it was in highlighting the differences between equity and equality. But the original image has problems. For one thing, it doesn’t address the systemic disparities that equity seeks to overturn. We decided that to dive deeper into the dialogue about equity in Oregon, we needed to start a conversation at home about what equity looks like in our communities — and find a way to help people understand exactly what we mean when we say “equity.”

Q: Why a design contest?

Laura: We could have gone so many different directions with this. We could have held an essay or video contest. We could have hired a designer to create an image illustrating equity and had much more control over the final product. But a design contest made the most sense to us for two reasons. Reason one: Humans interpret images in milliseconds and remember images much more readily than words. Images are also the easiest way to catch and keep people’s attention and spread information, whether on the Internet, in a presentation or in print. Reason two: Meyer Memorial Trust and Northwest Health Foundation look to communities to guide us in our work. We didn’t want to create an image to show people how we understand equity. We wanted community members to show us how they experience and understand equity, and we wanted Oregonians to talk to each other and help each other understand what equity means for Oregon.

Q: What was the response to the contest?

Darion: Robust! Our community partners helped us spread the word about Equity Illustrated to nearly 33,000 Oregonians across social media channels. We heard from folks who went old school, using emails, coffee dates and even phone calls (!) to promote the contest. But we also heard from, and were grateful for, people who passed along details about the contest via Facebook, Twitter, memes, videos, blogs, reshares and likes.

Q: Who benefits?

Laura: Through equity, we can improve life for all Oregonians. But it’s difficult to achieve equity when people don’t know what it means. With these images in hand, it will be easier for us and our community partners to explain equity to Oregon’s elected officials, to our peer grantmakers, business owners, teachers and school administrators, nonprofit staff and board members, health care workers and all Oregonians. When people understand what equity means, together we can move toward a more equitable Oregon!

Q: Who entered the contest and how were the winners chosen?

Darion: The response to Meyer and NWHF announcing the contest was huge. We saw excitement all over social media and through word of mouth.

Just over 40 youths and adults from across the state submitted entries to the contest. They ranged in age from 10 to 63. We drew together a panel of 11 volunteers from local nonprofits, social justice organizations, youth leadership groups and other foundations, as well as experts in design and art. The panel reflected Oregon’s diverse communities of color, sexual identity and disability, along with a range of age, socioeconomic backgrounds and privilege. They selected winners based on a rubric that considered design, understandability and impact, message and content, creativity, accuracy, and inclusiveness.

Q: What did you learn from the contest?

Laura: My own understanding of equity has become more complete. Before we ran this contest, I didn’t see any conceptual problems with the original equality vs. equity illustration.After researching and reading articles about equity, seeing illustrations from people all over Oregon, and hearing from all of the community members who judged the entries and chose our finalists, I understand that equity is more complex than boxes, a fence and baseball can represent. Furthermore, communities experience equity, and barriers to equity, in more ways than could ever be captured by a single image.

I also learned that equity is an issue Oregonians care about deeply and passionately.

Darion:  Like Laura, I, too, feel greater clarity and a deepened understanding of equity. For me, one of the most valuable things I learned through this process is how beneficial actively listening and engaging can be, and I feel the listening portion is often overlooked. Being a part of an intentional process of community inclusion and engagement (both hallmarks of Meyer and Northwest Health) showed me how crucial it is to any organization doing equity work.  

Q: What’s next?

Laura: That is a good question. First and foremost, we’ll be working to spread the winning images as far and wide as possible. These images were made to explain equity, and that’s what we’ll be using them for. We hope others will use them for that as well.

As far as the contest goes, and whether we’ll run it again, that’s something we haven’t talked about yet. To be determined.

Darion: Laura’s right! Our first mission is to get these images out to the community as tools for other foundations, nonprofits and community members, whether they’re just beginning their equity journeys or already engaged in conversations around equity. These images weren’t meant to be the end all of the conversation, only an entry point to help people dive a little bit deeper. I also hope that people who maybe thought they knew everything there was to know about equity are able to learn a little bit more.

Personally, I don’t think equity work is ever done.

You can learn more about the contest winners here and view the winning illustrations here.

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