Meet the foundations we honored at the 2017 NCRP Impact Awards in New Orleans
Evolution vs. transformation
Where transformation is change as a sudden flood, evolution can feel like the drip of rain on a stone, gradual change at the pace of time itself.
Gradual change characterizes the equity journey Meyer Memorial Trust set off on in 2012 and it continues five years later. It’s no secret that Meyer redesigned how it makes grants and how it uses its voice in service of breaking down barriers to equity, but there’s been nothing quick or sudden about those changes.
When Meyer revisited its mission statement in 2012 – “To work with and invest in organizations, communities, ideas and efforts that contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon” – it prompted an internal examination of its annual grantmaking, and where Meyer was and was not having an impact. The quest for deeper impact set Meyer staff and trustees on an educational journey to recognize and understand how systemic racial oppression and white privilege create conditions that advance and advantage some communities over others. And over time, the concept turned a more traditional funder into one focused on tackling the biases and disparities that drive the societal costs philanthropy tries so hard to mitigate.
A few years into a journey driven by stakeholder input, Meyer refocused its grantmaking in four areas where it might have the greatest impact: housing, education, the environment and Oregon’s diverse communities. Meyer pledged, beyond funding programs, to use the foundation’s voice to advocate for change and convene across the sector. Meyer also laid out a bold equity and inclusion statement that begins, “Our goal is to make equity as much a part of our everyday operations as it is a part of Meyer Memorial Trust’s mission … we can’t get there without equity.”
The list of equity efforts at Meyer over five years runs pages long and ranges from establishing an Equity Team to direct and hold Meyer true to the work, and the hiring of foundation’s first human resources director; to creating a policy to post jobs internally first in support of staff mobility and the commissioning of an independent compensation study to ensure staff salaries are equitable.
Equity undergirds numerous Meyer’s functions, including an office operations vendor selection process that incorporates equity considerations and a local investing program aimed at wealth creation in underserved communities. Multiple day equity trainings and workshops build on the foundation of its learnings about institutional and structural racism and white privilege. Half of the staff and trustees identify as people of color and a number represent other marginalized communities.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that we are an entirely different organization. One that tries to look at all we do through an equity lens. The individual journeys of our staff and trustees, and Meyer’s collective journey to become a more equitable funder, haven’t come without hard-earned lessons and setbacks. But the payoff is tangible: We are a better place to work, a better funder to work with and better personally for what we’ve learned about racism, oppression and its legacy system of disparities that we are committed to overturn.
Meyer’s journey would not have been possible without the patience, advice and partnership of many Oregon -based nonprofits. We take input and feedback from our stakeholders seriously; those working directly on behalf of Oregonians most affected by inequity and injustice serve as models and teachers for our philanthropy. It is an honor, on behalf of our front line nonprofit partners, as well as Meyer staff and trustees, to receive this recognition by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. NCRP’s ‘Changing Course’ award for incorporating feedback is a milestone in Meyer’s ongoing equity journey — and reminder to keep our focus on the long road ahead.”
President and CEO
Meyer Memorial Trust
Early on, stakeholders and partners offered sound advice about Meyer’s indefinite journey: Mistakes would be unavoidable. And with impact as a key goal in its redesigned grantmaking, the state’s nonprofit and philanthropic sector would hold Meyer accountable to ensure it lived by its own words.
The advice has been spot on. Last year, a grantee courageously criticized terminology in Meyer’s equity statement that hurt and angered people and organizations battling against ableism. The occasion offered a valuable lesson for Meyer, which changed the language it uses and continues to learn about disability and inclusion.
Transparency and humbleness are important values to uphold when an organization embarks on an equity journey. And when mistakes happen, owning these blunders is the pathway to learning from them.
This fall, Meyer will begin to document its equity journey, listening to the assessment of staff, trustees and trusted stakeholders to create an exacting record of where it has failed and succeeded, and lessons to guide it forward. Meyer’s equity team is working to revise the equity statement as finishing touches are underway for an in-house speakers bureau to train staff to tell the story of Meyer’s ongoing evolution.
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