BY KIM MOORE
A conversation about philanthropy with the presidents of the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Vibrant Village Foundation.
BY KIM MOORE
CEO and President of Meyer Memorial Trust
OB: Has the economic recovery helped nonprofits financially?
DS: The economy has come back somewhat, but nonprofits continue to be challenged for consistent and steady funding from government. We are in a state where we are relatively foundation poor, in the sense that there are other parts of the country that have much greater, organized large foundations and philanthropy. In Oregon, we rank high in volunteerism, individual contributions at a smaller level. I see nonprofits growing and maybe being more aggressive in their growth, particularly around capital campaigns.
OB: What criteria do you use when you pick an organization to give or lend money to?
DS: We look at, first of all, if the organization is fulfilling a compelling need. In that regard, we ask if they have promising or effective delivery of their services. In the spirit of Mr. [Fred] Meyer, we encourage innovation in the delivery of services. We are particularly attuned and receptive to organizations that are trying to close lingering disparities or gaps in certain populations. Rural Oregonians tend to, as a group, have greater disparities than urban Oregonians. You have communities of color that experience wide and deep disparities from education to employment.
OB: What distinguishes your investment strategy from other foundations?
DS: What distinguishes us on the investment side as opposed to the grant making is we are committed to what we call impact or mission-related investing, and trying to find local investment opportunities that will further our goals beyond what the grant-making dollars will do. In a traditional investment, all you think about is what your return will be like. What we think about is how can we align some of our investments to further our goals in Oregon and still get a market-rate return.
OB: Are there new types of nonprofit organizations in Oregon you are considering investing in? Or are there new areas where you see a need for funds?
DS: One area we have been heavily investing in and spending a lot of time on is the changing demographics in Oregon — there are more people of color in Oregon — and recognizing the disparities that exist. One area we have made some investments in is trying to figure out what the right role or positioning there is for a foundation like the Meyer Trust around technology, and how it can be used to further the work of nonprofits but also for fundraising, so crowdsourcing and some of those other technology tools. We are also watching the changes that are coming out with healthcare.
OB: How do you see funding needs of non-profits in Oregon evolving over the next five years?
DS: Absent another economic setback or major recession, I think the challenges will pretty much continue to be the same with a reduced level of government funding, a modest level of foundation and private-sector funding, and a need for services that will outstrip the capacity of nonprofits and the funders.
President and founder of Vibrant Village Foundation
OB: A large part of your foundation’s focus is investing in communities in developing countries. Why do you choose to channel a lot of your grants overseas?
KD: Some of the problems are a little bit simpler to solve, and money goes a long way. [Here] are the three things I would say: a) There is a great need; b) The solutions to the problems are often simpler — you just dig a well to give people clean water, or you provide schoolbooks for kids which they don’t have, or even a desk, or a roof, or a school; and c) Dollars go a long way there.
OB: How has your experience of giving grants to communities in developing countries informed how you invest in charitable organizations in the U.S.?
KD: Our model in Oregon, which is where we are doing most of our giving in the U.S., is more of a typical grant model. Everything we do internationally is based on a particular project, going into a particular village or a community. There is a scope of work; there is also the idea that we will be there for a long time.
OB: Do you use any particular criteria when you choose the nonprofits you invest in in Oregon?
KD: The first thing we look at is the type of work they are doing. We are focused on kids, giving kids a shot whether it is through education or arts. Beyond that, we look at how much impact they can give — how many kids are they going to reach, how many families are they going to reach with the dollars we are able to spend? If we were to invest $25,000 or, say, $50,000 over a one- or two-year period in an organization, we want to see how much impact that is going to have on how many families.
OB: What is the most effective investment your foundation has made in a nonprofit organization?
KD: We have about 20 programs and it is hard to rate them. I would use Ghana as an example where we have gone in and done maybe 50 wells or boreholes, and we brought water to a community that has struggled with that, as well as education. We do things over a long period of time and do more than just one thing. We don’t just go in and build a few wells. We want to be in a community for, say, 25 years, building wells and doing schools, and doing health facilities, helping with microenterprise and things like that.
OB: You are a relatively new foundation. You have been around for five years. How do you see yourself growing in the next five years?
KD: In 2013 we really expanded the number of communities we were in. We went from 10 to 20. Now we are in 22 or 24. We want to do more in those communities. We want to do multiple projects. In order to have an impact in a community, we need to do multiple things. We want to extend our model. We want to be able to measure the results and impacts, particularly for international programs. Growing is really getting better at what we do and measuring results, impacts and outcome.