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What's your million dollar idea for Oregon?
In what is now being called "The Great Recession," we at Meyer Memorial Trust have challenged ourselves to be responsive and flexible in the face of economic challenges nonprofit organizations have faced.
In 2009 we set aside $1 million and invited organizations to apply for general operating support, something we had not done in the past. In two rounds of funding, we awarded $1,057,000 to 21 organizations. Some of our Responsive Grants went for operating support as well. In addition, we instituted a program to help interested nonprofits plan to share resources in order to operate more efficiently and effectively. We also shifted more of our grants to meet basic human needs like food and shelter.
Despite our and other efforts, Oregon is hurting. The state has been identified as one of the 10 states in most fiscal peril by the Pew Center on the States. Economist Joe Cortright describes Oregon as caught in an economic tornado's downdraft, with a 10% loss in job growth rate (from nearly +4% in 2005 to -6% in 2009). Unemployment remains among the highest levels in the nation. The state has lost 145,000 jobs and 211,000 Oregonians are officially unemployed, with many more underemployed and barely scraping by. Record numbers of citizens have turned to state and local agencies for emergency help with food and shelter, health care, job training and higher education.
Following new revenue updates that show tax revenue $577 million below what was forecast just a few months ago, Oregon's governor has asked all state agencies to cut another nine percent from their budgets.
Economists have warned that this “Great Recession” is not like earlier recessions and recovery will take a long time. Many of the jobs and businesses lost during the recession will never come back. But, as Cortright, who leads Oregon's Council of Economic Advisors points out, a recession is the time to lay a new foundation for building during the next expansion.
The Governor’s Reset Cabinet puts it bluntly: Oregon faces a crossroads in 2011. What we do now will determine how we will fare in facing what comes next, whether we will create a better future or fall further still because we failed to act.
That’s what has led to our announcement today of ideas4oregon for Oregon’s future.
Meyer Memorial Trust wants to jumpstart Oregon's historically innovative initiative in the face of the state's multitude of challenges by looking for a million dollar idea proposed by the state’s collective brain.
Why We're Doing This
Meyer Memorial Trust just reached a momentous milestone. Since we began operating in 1982, we've awarded $500 million to tax exempt organizations working for the public good in Oregon and Clark County, WA. Half a billion dollars in 28 years from the personal estate of Fred G. Meyer, one Oregon’s leading entrepreneurs, leaves a powerful legacy.
When we add in what we have paid through our operating budget, we have contributed close to another $40 million to our region's economy. We think Fred Meyer would be proud.
Over the years and now through our website, we've told some of the stories of the work of the nonprofit organizations we have had the privilege and honor to support. We think it's important to look back and acknowledge the "real work" these good folks have accomplished, which we have helped foster and nurture. Our funds have helped make Oregonians healthier and better educated, provided greater access to social services and the arts and culture and helped improve the environment for all who live and visit here.
But to mark this occasion, we prefer to look ahead, not back. Especially given the challenges of the times. That's where we think Fred Meyer would be looking, preparing to take bold action to better serve his customers.
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. We are looking for ways to provide meaningful leverage that help create conditions that will lead Oregon to its next best place.
What We Need From You
We begin by inviting all Oregonians and others to help us identify funding opportunities to create a better future for Oregon. Tell us what you think is the most pressing issue facing Oregon that an investment of up to $1 million could provide meaningful support and leverage over the next two years. Give us your best ideas about the form that support and leverage might take.
This million dollars is over and above the grants and program related investments we would have made anyway. It supplements, rather than supplants, our other programs and initiatives.
This is not a time for faint hearted suggestions. We're looking for bold and innovative approaches. And while the nonprofit sector is proving itself to be resilient, innovative and inspired in these times, we need to move beyond our customary categorical thinking and invite all sectors to work together to address the issues we face before it's too late.
We’ve created a web forum for ideas to be outlined and described. The forum is open to the public and everyone is invited to submit ideas and comment on others.
Contributions to ideas4oregon will provide the range of opportunities MMT considers in crafting a new program designed to award up to $1 million during 2011. We are aiming for broad participation in this conversation so the ideas are as innovative, strong and diverse as possible.
Asking for public input in this kind of forum is new for us. Frankly, we don’t quite know what to expect. But we have faith that Oregonians will take this process seriously and contribute their best thinking. We believe Oregonians are ready to reengage and stay engaged and work together to find solutions. But awarding the million dollars depends on the quality of ideas – if we don’t have sufficient participation or we don’t find a good match with MMT’s mission and values, we reserve the right to find another route to helping create a better future for Oregon.
We are confident Oregonians won’t let us down. We expect lively – but civil – discussions. We desire innovative, entrepreneurial ideas…the kind Fred Meyer might have had.
Oregonians have proven again and again that we are capable of breakthrough creative thinking that leads to bold effective action. Meyer Memorial Trust wants to do our part in bringing that spirit back, breaking us out of what feels like contagious pessimism. Please join us in that effort by sharing your best ideas with all of us.
We are confident that by working together we can reset our course and create a better future.
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