Meyer Releases 2012 Open Letter to the Community

September 10, 2012

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As we looked out on the faces of so many wonderful executives at the Exponent Award ceremony last March, we were moved once again by their spirit and deep commitment, but were also reminded that some of them are exhausted – something they may not admit to funders or even to themselves. The button we pinned on each executive said, “Ask not what your executive director can do for you. Ask what you can do for your executive director.”

We have taken this message to heart.

That’s why we’re writing to let you know about some changes the Meyer Foundation is making to better support nonprofit leaders and their work in these challenging and volatile times.

The Foundation is now well into the first year of operating under our new strategic framework, which we first announced in early 2011. The framework helped us clarify our mission and deepen our commitment to creating long-term positive change in the lives of low-income people. We also re-affirmed our longstanding commitment to supporting nonprofit leaders, to helping organizations become more effective, and to fostering a strong and influential nonprofit sector in our region.

We adopted our new framework in the context of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. While the economic outlook has improved since 2009, the weak recovery means that our resources continue to be constrained. Both our staff and our grantmaking remain significantly smaller than they were before the downturn. In 2012, we will award grants totaling about $6 million, and we don’t expect our grantmaking to increase significantly in 2013.

Increased focus on impact and sustainability

Our new framework emphasizes lasting improvements in the lives of poor people, and we have begun asking ourselves how we can become better at measuring those improvements. We have changed our letter of inquiry and proposal guidelines to reflect a heightened focus on outcomes—an important first step in a shift that will take several years. Over time, we plan to become more intentional about evaluation, and to help our grantees become better at documenting and communicating their impact.

We are also deeply concerned about the financial challenges facing nonprofit organizations in this fiscal climate, and we continue to talk with grantees and applicants about how they are managing. We are also stepping up our efforts to help grantees find new, sustainable sources of income.

In 2010 we launched a pilot program to provide grant assistance to help six organizations implement the Benevon™ fundraising system for increasing support from individual donors. Collectively, the organizations in the pilot have raised more than $1 million in multi-year pledges, most from new donors. This year, we are making small grants to help another group of grantees implement this system. We believe this program holds great promise for putting some grantees on a path to increased financial sustainability.

Ongoing commitment to nonprofit leaders

Meyer has a long history of concern for nonprofit leaders, including their growth and personal well-being. This interest led us to establish the Exponent Award in 2006 to recognize outstanding executive directors and to provide resources to sustain their leadership. We are extraordinarily proud of the 28 outstanding leaders who have received this award and the $2.6 million we’ve invested in supporting them and their impressive organizations.

However, the environment for nonprofit leaders and the demands on the Foundation’s resources have changed profoundly since we launched the Exponent Award. We have decided to pause the Exponent Award program so that we can devote energy and additional resources to supporting a larger number of the nonprofit leaders we fund. We will not be accepting nominations or announcing any new Exponent Award recipients for 2012 or 2013.

Over the next year, we will be reaching out to executive directors to hear more about what Meyer could be doing to help them stay healthy and strong as they work in an extraordinarily challenging environment. We want to know what new skills and tools executives need, and what would nurture their spirits. We want to listen carefully and plan some meaningful and fun programs to support and renew the executives of our grantee organizations.

Years of uncertainty and constraint have been especially stressful for those of us who want to make a difference and even more so for the people we work so hard to serve. Yet despite political, economic, and environmental news that can sometimes be discouraging, the Meyer Foundation remains optimistic about the future of our region and its most vulnerable people. We maintain this optimism because we have the privilege of witnessing every day the actions of talented nonprofit leaders whose work is making a difference and transforming lives.

To all our region’s amazing nonprofit leaders, we thank you for inspiring us and for giving us confidence in the future. We look forward to the work ahead.