Equity in Oregon: How’s That Playing Out For a Prominent Local Funder?

 A homeless encampment in portland. photo:  Joshua Rainey Photography/shutterstock

A homeless encampment in portland. photo:  Joshua Rainey Photography/shutterstock

As we’ve noted in our prior Oregon philanthropy coverage, the Meyer Memorial Trust (MMT) is definitely a key foundation to keep up with. It’s one of a number of funders around the country that has lately adopted an equity focus on the local level. So how's that playing out in Meyer's grantmaking, which aims to build more equitable communities across the state? 

Let's take a closer look. 

Recently, Meyer announced that it had given 193 grants totaling $22.7 million in 2017 to advance equity in Oregon. Of that total, it awarded 65 grants worth $6.65 million through its Building Community portfolio. It also awarded 39 grants totaling around $5 million through its Housing Opportunities portfolio. The Equitable Education portfolio saw 49 grants totaling $7.2 million, and the Healthy Environment portfolio saw 39 grants totaling $3.85 million.

Meyer has been giving through these four portfolios throughout the year. Its approach has largely been to address inequities through local and statewide policy and systems reform to create pathways for people who have spent their lives enduring less-than-equal conditions.

But there are a few things that really stand out about Meyer's latest round of giving. For one, foundation grants are reaching every region in Oregon without exception. The foundation has also been increasingly funding new organizations for the first time lately, and about 40 organizations are receiving their first Meyer grant this time around. Also, significantly, nearly half of new grantees are receiving operating and capacity-building support, further aligning Meyer's grantmaking with the rising view that foundations need to provide much more support of this kind. Diversity continues to be a huge deal as well, with about 85 percent of new grantees dedicated to reaching at least one of the foundation’s marginalized “priority populations.”

New Building Community grantees include Neighborworks Umpqua, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and Virginia Garcia Health Foundation. Grants in this category back dismantling inequities, advancing equity, increasing civic engagement, and using arts and culture to build inclusive communities. The Equitable Education portfolio is a new one, and first-round funding went to groups like the Children’s Institute, Better Together Central Oregon, and the David Douglas School District. These grants aim to reduce educational disparities for students statewide. Recent Healthy Environments grantees are the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Ecotrust, and Housing Opportunities grants have gone to the Housing Authority of Washington County and the Community Alliance of Tenants.

According to the most recent tax forms available, Meyer has over $764 million in total net assets. At this time, Meyer is preparing for its 2018 annual funding opportunity, which will open up in March. Expect to see some changes in the application process based on applicant feedback to clarify “what fits” going forward. Meanwhile, we’re still keeping up with Meyer’s CEO search to name Doug Stamm’s replacement. That announcement is set for sometime this winter, although Stamm plans to remain on staff until April to ease the transition.