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The most recent focus of the Foundation’s work has been to support executive directors. It seems that NGO leaders are unwittingly heeding the words of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and burning the candle at both ends. The Foundation did a survey of 2000 leaders in 8 cities and found that 4 out of 5 are planning to leave in the next 5 years. "It’s often about the money and the pressure to raise more every year. We invest in the most able non-profit leaders early in their careers and help them build their organizations." Able to spot a diamond in the rough, the Meyer Foundation gave WETA and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre their first grants.
"I came to Washington in the early 70’s to be a teacher and save the world. It was very much like the kids who sign up for Teach for America now." Rogers taught in lower Montgomery County for six years and then became staff director of the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services. "I worked under Polly Shackleton who was like a local Eleanor Roosevelt and taught me a great deal." Many non-profit leaders came before the Council during Julie’s time, and from that job she leaped straight to the helm of one of Washington’s most established private grant-making foundations.
In 2007, the Foundation launched the Exponent award, the focal point of a $2.2 million, three-year initiative on DC area non-profit leaders. "My friends are always asking me where they should donate," Julie tells us. The Exponent awards are a way of encouraging some of the area’s most worthy causes. "The big issues don’t go away: health, education and services to families." Rogers also says the area’s population is constantly changing, bringing new issues. One of their award recipients, Reston Interfaith headed by Kerrie Wilson, helped open an official day laborer center.
An area that could not be more timely is change in DC public schools, with Mayor Fenty hoping to transform the ailing system. "There is so much at stake. One in three children in the District is growing up in poverty. This means that a family of 4 has less than $20,000 a year to live on. We need to pick the best funding options now that will support local change. This is a moment."
The Meyer Foundation is often there during a moment. In 1988, very early on in the AIDS epidemic, they received a grant of $500,000 from the Ford Foundation, which they matched with local funding. "Without the combination of Ford’s money and our leadership, people might not have come forward." This collaboration became the Washington AIDS Partnership, which has granted over $14 million.
"Collaborations are a great way for funders to work together on new and complex issues." Hispanics in Philanthropy, a transnational network of funders working to strengthen Latino communities, recently held a meeting in Washington. Always looking to combine forces, Rogers tells us that the Meyer Foundation raised $250,000 for groups that serve Latinos and are led by Latinos. Hispanics in Philanthropy matched their donation. On the local front, the Wallace Foundation in New York has invested 8 million dollars in after school programs for children in DC. "We are always trying to bring national money to the DC area," says Rogers.
So what does it take to find leaders with moxie? Well, a leader with moxie. Julie, who has helped the Foundation’s assets grow from 45 million dollars to 220 million, has plenty.