The board of directors of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation has elected Michael N. Harreld, regional president of PNC Bank for the Greater Washington Area, to a three-year term on the Foundation’s board, beginning in January 2015.
It’s hard for me to fathom that six months have already passed since I joined the Meyer Foundation. During that time, I’ve been committed to listening and learning as much as I could—about Meyer and the team here, about all of you and your work, about the issues and challenges facing low-income people in our region, and about the opportunities to work collectively to have an even greater positive impact on their lives and well-being.
Earlier this year, tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador crossed the border from Mexico to Texas and turned themselves in to U.S. immigration authorities. This dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border overwhelmed the immigration and court systems and received heavy media coverage.
One of the most inspiring aspects of working in philanthropy is the opportunity to hear powerful stories from so many different organizations—stories of transformed lives, revitalized neighborhoods, and game-changing partnerships with business and government.
One of my high school English teachers introduced a unit on poetry with a drawing on the blackboard: a large carton of orange juice, standing tall next to a small can of frozen orange juice concentrate. “Which provides more juice?” he asked, and it didn’t take long for us to figure out that the small can of concentrate produces several more cups of orange juice than the large carton, so long as you added several cans of water to the concentrate. More discussion ensued, and it soon became clear that this teacher (himself a poet, and later an Oprah-featured novelist) saw poetry as the can of orange juice concentrate – seemingly small and inconsequential next to a hefty novel, but able to deliver a more transcendent payoff for readers willing to put in the work.
This week, Nicky Goren and I had the privilege of attending the ribbon-cutting for Dance Place’s new 9,500-square-foot dance education and performance space on 8th Street NE in DC. The opening of this beautiful facility represents a milestone in the Meyer Foundation’s 34-year relationship with Dance Place. It’s also a reminder that capacity-building--especially for small, community-based nonprofits--takes time, trust, and leadership. Organizations don’t turn into community anchors after one or two grants over a few years.
As I begin my third week at the Meyer Foundation, I wanted to share how truly honored I am to be leading this institution, and to underscore the enormous sense of responsibility I feel as I assume this role. For 70 years, the Meyer Foundation has been at the forefront of philanthropy in the Greater Washington region—supporting the nonprofit sector and its leaders, and investing in programs and initiatives to improve the lives of those most in need. Given the growing disparities in income and opportunity in our region, this work has never been more critical.
Today the Meyer Foundation’s staff had a farewell lunch with our president, Julie Rogers -- the last in a series of ceremonial moments to honor Julie as she steps down after 28 years of service.
How many nonprofits would consider telling stories to be their job? Probably not many, and with good reason—for there to be stories worth telling, programs need to be run, and services need to be provided. But organizations like Tahirih Justice Center also consider telling their story to be a job (with staff even asking each other, “What’s your story of the day?”), and it shows.
One of the most noteworthy findings from Daring to Lead 2011, the national study of 3,000 nonprofit executives produced by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, was the contrast between the large number of executive directors who described themselves as “very happy” after less than a year on the job (more than half) and the much smaller number who said they were very happy after being an executive director for a few years.