Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often about what he called “the fierce urgency of now”— the need to seize opportunities for real change, rather than settling for incremental progress.
The Washington region is confronting a number of growing challenges—but it also has a rare opportunity to take bold action to address some of its most pressing issues. With this in mind, I’m excited to outline a new vision for how the Meyer Foundation will work to help build a stronger, more vibrant Washington.
During the past year, we interviewed and listened to hundreds of people about the deep concerns they have about the future of our region.
We heard about enormous disparities and urgent needs—needs in areas like affordable housing and job readiness. At the same time, we saw a community that has a wealth of resources at its disposal to address these needs.
Today, we’re unveiling our new strategic plan, which aims to better align our resources with those needs. This plan will shift how we approach our grantmaking and our role in the region—and we hope it inspires others to join us with a spirit of fierce urgency.
Our plan is rooted in Meyer’s long-held values, builds on the strengths of our past work, and draws on the creativity and insight of the many outstanding leaders and organizations we’ve supported over the years. But it also recognizes our community’s changing needs—and our evolution as a foundation.
It calls for us to become clearer about what we’re hoping to accomplish, bolder in our leadership, more contextual and comprehensive in our thinking, and more collaborative in achieving our community’s shared goals.
Our new mission statement reflects an evolution in our thinking about the Foundation’s role in the region: to pursue and invest in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington community in which economically vulnerable people thrive.
How is this different? It recognizes that it’s not enough to help individuals in need. Instead, we need to dig deeper and work to create systems and structures that promote equity in our region. Our new mission also calls on us to be more active in seeking partners and testing new strategies and ideas.
This plan includes three broad and interconnected goals for the Washington region:
As I mentioned in an earlier update, many of the challenges in our region are rooted in a long history of inequality, and disproportionately impact communities of color. As we work toward achieving these three interconnected goals, we must also tackle issues of racial and ethnic inequity, since they have been inextricably linked with growing disparities.
These goals are broad, comprehensive, and ambitious. Making significant progress is beyond the ability of the Meyer Foundation, or any other institution working in isolation, to achieve. But we know that many others in the community, including leaders in business and government, share these goals, and we know we must work together to achieve them.
While Meyer’s grants are important, our strategic planning process reinforced our understanding that the Foundation plays other valued roles in the community—and that we should strengthen and leverage some of these roles for greater impact. With that in mind, this plan includes four strategies:
Grantmaking: We will continue to provide operating support to highly effective organizations whose work aligns with our long-term goals.
Capacity Building: We will continue and expand capacity-building support to help organizations and networks strengthen management and leadership, assess and increase impact, expand resources, and align and partner with others. We will also partner with leading capacity-building providers to offer targeted, high-impact programs that address areas of greatest need.
Convening and Advocacy: In addition to making grants to support advocacy, we will leverage Meyer’s knowledge and social capital to bring together people, organizations, and sectors around issues that require bold leadership and action, and serve as a leading regional voice on the barriers that prevent people who are economically vulnerable from thriving.
Collective Action: We will support and participate in efforts to align organizations, businesses, and government agencies that are working toward shared goals. We will also promote collaborative approaches and work to attract additional capital to those efforts.
We understand that many organizations are wondering how this new approach will impact their relationship with the Meyer Foundation. Most organizations that the Foundation currently supports will remain eligible for funding.
However, our new goals—combined with our desire for greater impact on a narrower range of issues—have forced some difficult choices. Simply put, there are some areas in which the Foundation will no longer be supporting important work. For organizations that operate in these areas, we have already had conversations with them about how this new direction will affect their funding.
While the goals address issues of employment, education, housing, and financial stability—primary social determinants of health—we have not included health as a goal and will no longer be funding the delivery of healthcare services.
And while we remain focused on increased educational achievement and career-readiness, we have not named public-education reform as a strategy for achieving those goals.
Finally, our plan represents a shift away from supporting organizations and programs that treat only the symptoms of poverty toward work that addresses its causes. As a result, we will no longer be funding some safety-net services that are not directly related to the three long-term goals.
Each of these areas remains important to the future of the Washington region, but we recognize that a foundation of our size can, and must, achieve greater impact by doing fewer things better.
At the same time, we recognize that poverty and inequality are not confined to DC—and, in fact, are growing issues in Maryland and Northern Virginia. To confront this fact, we will, over time, increase our grantmaking in the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs—with an eye on identifying how we can most effectively make progress toward shared community goals throughout the region.
This refined approach has also pushed us to rethink how we organize our team. Traditionally, Meyer program officers have overseen individual program areas that spanned the region. In an effort to break down programmatic silos and deepen our engagement in Maryland and Virginia, our program officers will now be focused geographically. Program officers for the District, Maryland, and Northern Virginia will look for opportunities to connect our three high-level goals within their jurisdictional focus, as well as ways to expand successful strategies throughout the region.
We will also be working to develop a framework for incorporating racial and ethnic equity into all aspects of our work. Over the summer, we began a dialogue with the community about what role the Meyer Foundation could play in advancing equity in the region, and we have begun examining strategies for applying an equity lens not only in our grants and other programmatic work, but in all aspects of our operations and programs. Over the next year, we will continue to define Meyer’s role and build our own capacity to take on this important work.
Even in the midst of what may seem like a lot of change for the Meyer Foundation, we are not wavering from our core guiding principles.
While our program officers will now work in specific geographies, we still have staff with deep issue-area expertise on our team and we remain committed to working as partners with our grantees and the broader community.
We will continue to invest in well-led, effective nonprofit organizations and we continue to believe that general operating support and multi-year support are effective strategies for ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the organizations we fund.
Most importantly, we are committed to continuing to be active listeners, believing that solutions reside with those we support and the communities we serve.
Earlier this week, we relaunched our website to reflect our new vision. We have also published new application guidelines and funding priorities that will guide our grantmaking in the coming years. In January, we will host a series of online town hall meetings to discuss the plan in greater detail and to answer questions from those who are planning to submit grant applications for our February 4, 2016 deadline.
But this new approach isn’t about websites, guidelines, or criteria. It’s about helping to build a stronger, more equitable region.
In our work and research, and in our conversations with many of you, we’ve been struck by a growing reality: Even though our region is prosperous by many indicators, that prosperity is leaving too many of our neighbors behind. At best, current approaches are yielding incremental progress or maintaining the status quo. More likely, our region will see growing poverty and increasing inequality unless we can find new ways to work together for real change to help the region reach its potential.
It’s clear, then, that we are at a crossroads — that we need to embrace the “urgency of now” and pursue a new vision for the Washington region.
Imagine a region where every family lives in a safe, affordable home. Where every family has the means to build assets and plan for the future. Where every young person grows up with the opportunity and training to land a family-sustaining job.
This new plan is our first step in helping to achieve this vision. But we know we cannot get there alone. The entire Meyer team is energized and hopeful for what we can accomplish as a region. We are ready to move forward, and we look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with everyone who shares our sense of urgency and purpose.
The time to act is now, and we hope you’ll join us!