Moving From Words to Action

June 12, 2017
Nicky Goren

On June 1, the Meyer Foundation’s board approved 75 grants totaling nearly $3 million to support work that advances racial equity in the Greater Washington region, including grants to support new collective action efforts in Arlington, Virginia and Germantown, Maryland; and cross-sector community organizing efforts around affordable housing in DC. You can view the complete grants list here.

We also confirmed that we would move to an invitation-only application process for existing grantees for the remainder of 2017. I know this news is disappointing for the many organizations eager to begin a new partnership with the Foundation. Please know that this change is temporary and not a signal of our future direction. When we re-open the application next year, our goal is for our process to be more transparent, accessible, and equitable, and we look forward to working with new partners in the years to come.

We’re suspending the open application process in the context of our limited grantmaking budget through the end of this year. We understand the time and effort required to apply, and we don’t want organizations to go through that process unnecessarily. Putting the open application process on hold will also allow us to use the coming months to develop systems, processes, and strategies to accelerate implementation of our strategic plan with equity embedded.

Building the Momentum

When we announced that plan in December 2015, the Foundation acknowledged structural and systemic racism as the cause of stark inequities in our region. But our plan was simply words on paper, and in 2016 we began translating those words into actions, both internally and externally. In doing that, we learned that a deep and authentic commitment to equity affects every part of an organization.

Over the past 18 months we’ve been building our internal organizational and individual capacity to take on this important work. We’ve been developing a shared understanding of equity with our board and our entire staff team. And we’ve been mapping out how our commitment to equity will affect not just our grantmaking and other programmatic work, but also our investments, our business practices, how we work together as a team, and our organizational culture. This work has not always been easy.

As I said in a message last October, we’ve also developed a “vision and stance” on equity, and over the past two months I’ve had one-on-one conversations with community partners to gather input.

What I heard in those meetings was that the vision and stance were more words. Our partners liked the words, but were eager to talk about action. They told us that what we do matters just as much—if not more—than what we say.

Moving to Action

We hear this, and we have been taking action. Last year, in partnership with the Consumer Health Foundation, we commissioned new research on equity in DC and convened the community to discuss the data. This year, our two foundations held a series of facilitated community conversations with residents of five DC wards, culminating in a larger conversation on June 3 among community residents and representatives of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector—bringing communities together that often live and activate in silos. This is new work for us, and we’ve been listening and learning.

The governance committee of our board of directors recognizes that our board also needs to reflect our commitment to equity. They’ve re-evaluated how they build the board recruitment pipeline to access broader and more diverse networks and communities, and they’ve become more intentional about board member cultivation and recruitment. Last week, the board elected two new members—Winnell Belfonte and Tori O’Neal-McElrath—and voted to increase the size of the board and to reduce the maximum term of service to promote more frequent turnover and to ensure that board composition can change as the board’s needs and the external environment change.

And through our Organizational Effectiveness Program, we’re supporting a growing body of work grounded in equity. We’re helping grantees hire consultants to do equity assessments and training, and supporting capacity-building partners in their efforts to embed equity into their broader capacity-building work.

While these actions represent progress, we still have much to do to fully implement and live into the new strategic plan and racial equity.

Our work in the coming months will be informed by our growing understanding that systems change—above and beyond positive changes in the lives of many individuals—is needed to achieve equity in our region.

Staying the Course

Our work in the coming months will be informed by our growing understanding that systems change—above and beyond positive changes in the lives of many individuals—is needed to achieve equity in our region. We also want to fulfill our commitment to expand our work in Maryland and Northern Virginia, across all four of our strategies, in response to the growing suburbanization of poverty. This may require us to reduce our grantmaking in the District of Columbia. These shifts in focus are likely to affect our grantmaking and other programmatic work moving forward, and we will keep you informed as the work progresses.

Last week we announced that Rick Moyers, our vice president for programs and communications, will be stepping down next month after 14 years at the Foundation. Rick’s departure, on the heels of program officer Amy Nakamoto’s resignation in April, will be a big change. While we will feel both losses keenly—especially as we continue our pivot into the new strategic plan—they also create an opportunity to realign and build our team to better support the goals and strategies in the plan.

As I’ve said in previous letters and in conversations with many of you, the moral and economic imperative to achieve racial equity is not new. In many ways Meyer is joining a movement that is decades, if not centuries, old. When we began this work at the end of 2015—the year that Freddie Gray’s death in police custody sparked protests in Baltimore and white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston—addressing racial equity felt timely and urgent. The intervening 18 months have only strengthened the case and steeled our resolve. Thank you all for your partnership and support as we move from words to action.