New Year, Renewed Focus

January 8, 2018
Karen FitzGerald, Senior Director for Program and Community, and Julian Haynes, Maryland Program Director

As we enter 2018, we wish all of you a happy new year. 2018 is a pivotal and important moment in our evolution as a country, a region, and for the Meyer Foundation as an organization. The two of us have a collective 25 years of experience working in philanthropy, and we have had the privilege of working with countless individuals and organizations doing amazing and tireless work to provide support to people who are persistently challenged by a lack of access to quality education, jobs, and housing. We have consistently been in awe of the commitment and passion our grantee partners display day-in and day-out, and know how many people’s lives have changed for the better along the way. Further, we admire the resilience of individuals and families in our region who are challenged by a constant flurry of efforts seemingly designed to ensure their failure. We recognize that, unless we shift some of our attention to addressing WHY so many in our region continue to struggle, we face a never-ending battle.

As our President and CEO Nicky Goren wrote in a message last month, Meyer’s programmatic work will shift this year as we begin to tackle the WHY – the root causes of the challenges so many in our region continue to face. This means identifying and tackling racial inequity and the systems – institutions, policies, practices, and norms – that perpetuate those inequities. This shift specifically recognizes that the link between poverty (the focus of Meyer’s work for the past 75 years) and race is not random, but structural and causal. We can’t hope to address poverty without specifically addressing the systems and structures that have helped to create and perpetuate disparities. We appreciate your patience over the last year as we have deepened our own understanding on these important matters. We’re excited to share more about what these shifts will mean for our work and how we can partner to end systemic racism and all its consequences.

Our Grantmaking Focus in 2018
As we move Meyer’s focus towards systems change aimed at eliminating racial disparities, we’ll start by allocating up to $1 million of our overall 2018 grant budget to support new or expanded partnerships to advance this work. This will allow us to honor our commitment to begin integrating racial equity into our work while we bring on new staff, continue to deepen our relationships in the community, and continue our learning about where there are opportunities to improve circumstances for all people of color in the region.

Our goal areas are the same, but now more explicitly reflect our focus on achieving racial equity:

Housing: The region provides a large and stable supply of high-quality housing that is affordable to people of color who are low-income, and which promotes more inclusive communities, and access to good schools and well-paying jobs.

Employment: People of color with no or low incomes are able to get and keep well-paying jobs with career advancement opportunities that lead to financial security.

Education: Students of color are educated in schools with welcoming, supportive climates that are free of bias and discrimination, affirm their dignity and potential, and prepare them for college, career, and life.

Asset Building: People of color who are low-income build savings, grow assets, and accumulate wealth, and avoid predatory financial products and practices or policies that strip wealth.

On an invitation-only basis, Meyer may also seek to support innovative work outside of our core goals that advance our strategic plan, mission, and vision.

We’re focusing on supporting efforts that remove barriers in education, housing, employment, and financial systems that perpetuate racial inequities. This means that we’ll increase investments in advocacy, grassroots organizing, research, and communications campaigns that can advance these goals. We’ll also fund strategic direct service programs, but with particular attention to the complementary role these services play in contributing to systemic change. We’ve revised our funding guidelines to reflect this new direction.

As we assess applicants for funding, we will not only be looking at organizations based on their individual attributes and merits, but also based on the context of the ecosystems in which they operate. This means we’ll weigh the ability and potential of applicants to fill gaps, work collaboratively, and advance progress in each of the jurisdictions in which Meyer works – Maryland, Virginia, and the District – in addition to considering applicants’ effectiveness in meeting their own organization’s mission.

You will see we’re applying revised criteria to make our grants decision-making process more equitable, and to emphasize racial equity as a key attribute we seek to fund increasingly across the region. Using these criteria, we’ll strongly consider: whether an organization’s work is informed and/or directed by the people most affected by inequity; whether an organization is committed to cultivating leadership and building power in communities of color; and how well an organization meaningfully collaborates with others. These qualities are ambitious for many organizations, and we do not anticipate that every applicant will have them seamlessly embedded into its work. We’ll place greater weight, however, on those that have or are actively exploring how to embed these qualities into their work.

As staff, we are personally invested in our relationships and our community. We never like declining applicants for funding – whether new or long-time grantees. But the reality is that we have committed to begin incorporating new approaches and partners that are driving systems change. This means we will not be able to award a grant to every organization we have funded in the past – including some we have supported for many years – or every new organization that applies. We value our relationships and hope we can continue to find ways to partner – whether through convening and thought partnership, capacity-building, or otherwise.

We know first-hand the work and dedication it takes for an organization to commit to racial equity and fully embed it into its work. We have spent considerable time investing our hearts and minds to expand our own understanding of racial equity and incorporate it into who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. Admittedly, we still have a long way to go and much to learn, but we believe pursuing racial equity work more intentionally is an imperative for success. In an effort to support organizations that are eager to undertake a similar racial equity transformation, we will focus much of our capacity-building – a core part of Meyer’s work for nearly 25 years – to achieve that end. Our capacity-building grants will be designed to help eligible organizations integrate racial equity and systems change into their work, and support strengthening existing advocacy and community organizing aimed at changing systems and eliminating racialized disparities.

We are a growing organization and our work will continue to take shape over time, both with the addition of new staff, and through our relationships with all of you. We are excited to be on this journey together. While our approaches evolve and we add to our team, some things won’t change about our work: our commitment to listening to individuals and nonprofit partners in the community, our commitment to learning and growing as a foundation, our commitment to general operating support, and our dedication to work toward ambitious shared goals for the Greater Washington region.

What’s Next?
We invite you to join us, along with other members of Meyer’s program team, on one of two upcoming webinars on January 18 and January 29 to answer any questions you may have about this open grant round.

Applications are now open and the deadline is February 15.

Browse our website to see some of the updates we’ve made to the pages describing our work and our vision. We look forward to growing into this work throughout 2018.