Meyer Memorial Trust is a private foundation in Oregon, USA, that has a pioneering spirit and is always up to something new, different, and meaningful – plus it is quite near to my heart. I worked for the Chalkboard Project fresh out of university, a nonprofit organization founded and fueled by Foundations for a Better Oregon, a coalition of foundations in Oregon focused on collaborating to make a meaningful impact to issues in Oregon – in the case of the Chalkboard Project, that focus was on public education reform. Later in my career, I worked directly with MMT working closely with a dear friend, Marie Deatherage, focused on social media training and information for nonprofit organizations and developing Connec+ipedia, an open knowledge sharing site with information, data, people, and resources for foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, or anyone else working to better Oregon and beyond.

And now they are up to something again: MMT is looking for a million dollar idea to support!

More information is in the press release below – you can contact Marie with additional questions.

The foundation will collect the ideas from Oregonians on a forum on the web at ideas4oregon.org to commemorate MMT reaching $500 million in money distributed to tax exempt organizations, primarily in Oregon.

“Half a billion dollars in 28 years from the personal estate of one of Oregon’s leading entrepreneurs leaves a powerful legacy,” said MMT Board Chair Orcilia Forbes. “Our funds have helped make Oregonians healthier and better educated, provided greater access to social services and the arts and culture, strengthened the nonprofit sector and improved the environment for all who live and visit here.”

Meyer Memorial Trust is the largest private foundation in Oregon, established from Fred G. Meyer’s personal estate. It began operating in 1982 and anticipated awarding $5-$6 million a year. In fact, over the past five years, MMT distributed an average $28 million per year in grants and program-related investment loans, surpassing $500 million with its most recent awards. At the same time, its assets have grown from $120 million to about $600 million, after giving away $500 million.

“To mark this occasion, we prefer to look ahead, not back,” MMT CEO Doug Stamm said. “We’d like all Oregonians to join us in kicking off the next $500 million. We think that’s where Fred Meyer would want us to look.”

Stamm noted that the million dollar idea challenge supplements MMT’s existing grant programs and initiatives, rather than supplanting any ongoing funding.

This is the first time the foundation has asked for broad and direct public input in its grants process. “We’ve set a goal to make MMT a national model of a regional foundation,” Stamm said. “Foundations are beginning to open themselves up as never before, and we want to be a leader in that movement.”

Forbes said the onslaught of bad news that Oregonians have heard in recent months contributed to MMT’s public approach.

In November 2009, Oregon was identified as one of the 10 states in most fiscal peril by the Pew Center on the States. Unemployment remains among the highest levels in the nation, with many more underemployed and in dire financial straits. Recent revenue forecasts were $577 million below what was projected just a few months ago. The global reach of the recession hurts exporting states like Oregon more than other states. Sharp declines in construction severely affected Oregon’s wood products industry and the state experienced high tech manufacturing job losses in the recession.

In response to the economic crisis, during 2009 MMT expanded its grantmaking strategies to help nonprofit organizations survive the economic downturn by helping with core and general operating expenses. In addition, MMT made significant grants for emergency food, utilities, rent and foreclosure assistance, and increasing access to the Earned Income Tax Credit. Through these awards, along with its ongoing grants programs, the amount MMT distributed remained constant, despite a significant decline in the foundation’s own assets.

“While we know foundation resources alone are by no means sufficient to solve our region’s significant challenges, we believe that opportunities exist for MMT to jumpstart actions that will lead us to a brighter future,” Forbes said. “We are looking for ways to provide meaningful leverage that help create conditions that will lead Oregon to its next best place.”

“Oregon used to be a hotbed of energetic innovation,” Stamm said, “but we are at risk of begin caught up in contagious pessimism. Do we really want to keep pointing to the bottle bill as our last great shining moment?”

“We hope this idea forum will help change the conversation in the state from how bad things are to what can we do to make them better,” Forbes said. “Meyer Memorial Trust can’t solve Oregon’s problems, but we’re willing to step up and try to jumpstart us in a better direction.”

The forum asks visitors to identify what they think is the most pressing issue facing Oregon and to share their best ideas to address it.

Stamm hopes the web forum will attract ideas from all Oregonians, not just nonprofits.

“Oregon’s issues go far beyond what nonprofits do,” he said. “We need to move beyond our customary categorical thinking and invite everybody – business, government, communities, organizations, individuals – to work together to address the issues we face before it’s too late.”

“This is not a time for faint-hearted suggestions, it’s a time to think big,” Stamm said. “We want bold and innovative, entrepreneurial ideas… the kind Fred Meyer might have had.”

All content of the forum will be public, with comments and feedback on ideas welcomed, Forbes said. “We want Oregonians to get engaged with us.”

While idea challenges and social media contests are increasingly used by corporations, governments and in philanthropy, ideas4Oregon.org has a far larger potential fiscal reward than most.

Ideas can be submitted and commented on until July 13, 2010. After all ideas are in, MMT will use them to craft a Request for Proposals, inviting applications to make a case for funding from the $1 million.

“If we get more than one outstanding idea, we’ll consider making multiple awards,” Stamm said. “Because we’ve never tried this public format before, we can’t predict just how it will go, and need to be flexible enough to make the most of this opportunity.”

Meyer Memorial Trust is a private independent foundation resulting from Fred G. Meyer’s personal philanthropy and is not affiliated with Fred Meyer Inc., the retail enterprise.

Oregon Foundation looking for a Million Dollar Idea
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