MRG Foundation

OVERVIEW: MRG supports social justice and equity-focused groups based in Oregon. There are several grant programs, so contact the staff prior to submitting a grant application.

FUNDING AREAS: Social justice, equity, fighting oppression

IP TAKE:  MRG was focused on equity grantmaking long before it was trendy. Grants here aren’t huge, but the foundation backs a very small grassroots groups that often get overlooked by big funders.

PROFILE: The MRG Foundation, aka the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, is based in Portland, Oregon, and was formed in 1976 to serve Oregon communities. Leslie Brockelbank and her husband, Charles Gray, kicked things off by gathering local philanthropists to discuss how to spend their inherited wealth. The foundation evolved into a community foundation by the early 1980s, and continues to be passionate about strengthening activist and social change groups within progressive communities.

Over the years, this foundation has been very responsive to political events like 9/11 and the Iraq War. It commonly funds groups that promote peace, diversity and activism for social and political issues. Race, class, and equity are all very important issues, here. MRG supports projects protecting Oregon’s ecosystem, cultural preservation and Native sovereignty, tuition equity for undocumented students, worker empowerment, and early funding for controversial ideas.

Since 1976, the MRG Foundation has given around $15 million to social justice movements. The funder awards about a half-million dollars each year to cutting edge, radical and grassroots social justice groups. Up to $20,000 comes from the general fund, up to $2,000 goes to critical response grants, and travel grants give up to $1,000 for capacity building. The Lilla Jewel Fund for Women Artists support women artists working for social change, and the MRG Foundation is part of the Oregon Immigration and Refugee Funders Collaborative alongside the Oregon Community Foundation, the Collins Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust. MRG has been part of this collaborative since 2017.

As part of its responsive grants program, MRG also awards microgrants up to $3,000 for general operating support. To apply, contact Grants Coordinator Esther Kim at esther@mrgf.org. Applications are due by the 15th of the month to be processed by the 25th of each month. About 40 to 50 grassroots group receive general fund grants each year. 

You can view a list of prior grants and amounts on the funder’s Grants Archive page. Many grants focus on the Greater Portland Area, but some been awarded elsewhere in Western Oregon, including Medford, Eugene, Salem, Coos Bay, Astoria, and Bend. Current financial data is available here.

Grant decisions are made by a volunteer committee of community organizers. Bios of current committee members are available here. It is necessary to speak with the grants program director by phone or in person before applying for an MRG grant. For general fund grants, applicants must be based in Oregon, working to improve the lives of people in Oregon, and have an organizational budget under $500,000. Overall, MRG looks for groups that work for progressive social change or to dismantle oppression. An example of a successful proposal is posted on the website.

You can keep up with foundation news and upcoming events on the blog and events page. General inquires can be directed to the staff at info@mrgfoundation.org or 503-289-1517.

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