For years, as a donor to MRG and an activist in philanthropy, I’ve seen the grant announcements come from MRG Foundation. It has always been a lot of groups, (this month we announced 22 grants): some that I knew, some that I didn’t. Some in Portland, others in towns I hadn’t heard of.
I knew that a lot of work went into selecting grantees, but recently I got to see closer into our process. And what I saw showed me that the work of deciding how to fund movements for social justice is not for the faint of heart!
Over two weekends this fall, I got to observe how a group of dedicated grassroots leaders and justice advocates from around our state chose to spend a couple of 10-hour days together – reviewing, analyzing and responding to funding requests to MRG Foundation. What a sight!
They pored through application materials, scrutinizing budget sheets, reading out loud the stories of courage, dignity in struggle, real grassroots organizing around Oregon.
They wrote notes – in the margins, were using sticky notes to cover their review sheets – posing numerous questions for each other and for on-site interviews.
They showed honor and respect for each submission, knowing personally that the needs that are being addressed are so deep, so wide, so critical. And needing to balance these pressing needs with the criteria the grantmakers have received to guide their decisions — a similar set of criteria has guided grantmakers here for decades.
These ‘deciders’ recognized intimately what a difference a grant of $5,000, $7,500 or $10,000 from MRG can mean to small and even larger groups, especially in these bleak economic times. They understood they are reviewing groups that other funders may not want to take a chance on.
They debated, showed strong differences and opinions, but ultimately found a way to reach agreement, and sent a slate of recommended grants to our board of directors for funding. If there was more money, they wouldn’t have had any problem spending it. There’s no shortage of powerful organizing for justice happening in our state.
At the end of each marathon meeting, I felt exhausted, informed and enlightened. I had witnessed the power of putting ‘money decisions’ into the hands of those who do organizing, who know what’s needed, who have community knowledge and credibility, (like Andrea Miller, who we profiled earlier this fall). I was also more aware of the power that grantmakers wield when they determine what work can be funded (based on our grantmaking criteria), so I applauded the level of compassion, responsibility and consideration I witnessed.
I was humbled and sobered by the reminder that, while we can’t do it all — we know we can’t fund every deserving organization — we can make a difference with our social justice philanthropy when we use it to build and sustain a strong movement for justice in Oregon.