Breakfast with Doug Stamm (and several hundred others)

I got up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning and went to the Governor Hotel to listen to Doug Stamm, Executive Director of the Meyer Memorial Trust. Five reasons why I get up at an ungodly hour for this Power Breakfasts: 1) perspective 2) inspiration 3) challenge my networking skills 4) witness the power of story 5) to learn.

I really, really enjoyed the talk and the breakfast was tasty. Doug was fantastic!  I don’t want to dissect the colorful content and stories that Doug shared but a couple his comments struck me as interesting (ok, I have one comment to add about the last note).

  • Fred Meyer was truly a visionary for his time. There’s no spend-down at the Meyer Memorial Trust; i.e. it is set up to operate in perpetuity unlike most Foundations AND there isn’t a limitation to where and how the money can be spent, this decision is left to the discretion of the trustees. In Stamm’s words, “Fred Meyer was everything in his industry, that Phil Knight is to Nike”  
  • Stamm doesn’t believe in working with consultants, well, didn’t used to believe in working with them until he worked with FSG. Hear, Hear – a great resource, love their content. They’re a good friend of the social innovation practice at Waggener Edstrom too (my employer)
  • Similar to the message I heard from Julia Novy-Hildesley, the previous executive director at The Lemelson Foundation who I heard speak earlier this month about providing “philanthropic capital”, funding social enterprises, NGO’s and for-profits in some instances.  Stamm is a believer in innovation. He believes in funding foundational investments like operational support to those non-profits with solid strategic business plans and business case. This isn’t traditionally something foundations do.
  • Meyer Memorial Trust lives and breathes transparency in a genuine way. Music to my ears! I believe he said Marie Etheridge is behind the communications at the Foundation, a quick search didn’t show any results so I can’t confirm. Anyway, Meyer Memorial recently received a “Glass Pockets” award (love that name!)  Tactical Philanthropy has a good post about this topic.  Made me laugh when Stamm said, that sometimes his staff feel like they’re walking around the office naked because they’re such a transparent organization.
  • There are between 14-18k non-profits in Oregon. While Stamm used to believe that the state didn’t need this many NGO’s. The fact that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, has made him back down from this point of view.
  • Stamm talked at the end of the conversation about his intense passion for “Impact Investment”. This is an important issue and one of those issues I consider part of the journey of change as transparency increases, social business grows, and the world changes and adapts to tackle these big issues. He used the example of the story published in the Los Angeles Times in 2007 about the Gates Foundation as an example to explain why this is important. I bet this story wasn’t the envy of any foundation and Meyer, Collins and every other foundations were glad they were not the focus of the story. However reputable, strong and game-changing foundations/companies and non-profits learn from mistakes. Impact investment is a huge arena for collaboration, learning and sharing.  I think Gates took this one for the team and are learning from the experience.  

p.s. Doug was asked about participating in the Oregon Environmental Council’s Pollution in People Report http://www.oeconline.org/our-work/kidshealth/pollutioninpeople, the results were a surprise to him, he recommended skimming the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” – apparently it is not a vacation read!

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