Oregon Community Foundation – Steadfast Commitment to Community

Carolyn Walker, OCF board member and Assistant General Counsel, Portland General Electric

Brand Story – This year has brought significant suffering for Oregonians

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Food insecurity, job losses, small business failures, children struggling to learn, and devastation of entire communities by wildfires blanketing the state. As the impacts mount, Oregon Community Foundation’s (OCF) steadfast commitment to Oregon communities has only deepened.   
Oregon Business caught up with Max Williams, OCF president and CEO, and Carolyn Walker, OCF board member and assistant general counsel at Portland General Electric, about philanthropy’s role in helping Oregonians move through crisis and eventually into recovery and rebuilding.  

Max Williams 070919 0005Max Williams, OCF president and CEO

What has been the statewide philanthropic response to combined public health, economy, and racial justice issues this year?

MW: Philanthropy has responded quickly and vigorously, aided by incredible examples of donor generosity at virtually every level. Emergency relief funds emerged in most Oregon communities as hundreds of nonprofit organizations worked with volunteers and resources to respond to immediate and ongoing needs.

In 2020, OCF received three times more applications for emergency relief funds than a typical community grant cycle in a full year, deploying more than $27 million in COVID-related grants to more than 1,000 nonprofits. OCF total dollars awarded in 2020 so far are 128% higher than 2019—thanks to the generosity and volunteerism of so many Oregonians.

Where do you see opportunities and imperatives to address racial equity and justice in your work?

CW: We see across Oregon how our communities experience these crises in very different ways. OCF’s efforts to stabilize and support those who are struggling have been guided by clear recognition that deep disparities exist in every facet of lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). For too long, systemic racism has denied many people the same opportunities for health and prosperity.

We also know we have more to do, and OCF is committed to going further in addressing racial equity and widening gaps in opportunity for Oregon’s most vulnerable populations.

MW: We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to lean into equity work, and amplify the work of many, in concerted efforts to build more trust among community partners.

As a community foundation, we work with thousands of donors across the state who care about diverse issues and organizations: kids’ programs, arts and culture, conservation and environment, supporting local food pantries, or funding scholarships for local high school graduates. We also know OCF donors care about racial equity and want to learn more. They are expanding giving to support efforts ensuring BIPOC communities have the same access to building blocks of a healthy life: good education, good job, stable housing, access to health care, a web of community connections.
How will OCF prioritize philanthropic resources in months ahead?

MW: Over the past six months, we’ve grappled with how best to align, partner, and advance racial and economic equity —both in our organization and with communities — in policy, programming, grant making. As we recover, we’re planning new investments in leadership development, education and wealth creation for communities of color and rural Oregonians, to ensure that as we rebuild our economy, we address longstanding inequities holding so many families back for generations.   

CW: We’re building on nearly 50-year partnerships with communities, including donors who co-invest with us, volunteers whose efforts allow us to do more, nonprofits serving people in their communities, our philanthropic partners, and local leaders striving to deliver solutions to Oregon’s challenges. We are listening and learning from a diverse coalition of community leaders who are guiding our work in many ways — including the newly launched Oregon Black Student Success Community Network which is a partnership to tackle root causes of educational inequity and OCF’s Latino Partnership Program, which strengthens the Latino community through leadership and plans for engagement.  We are looking ahead to some innovative new program opportunities in leadership development and capacity building, specifically for black-led organizations. Amidst this work, we must begin planning and mobilizing resources for what comes next after the extraordinary devastation brought by wildfires across a state already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and consequences of racial injustice. Through it all, we will continue to support each other through this time of crisis and rebuild the Oregon we want to live in.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.