Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates answered questions about the work of their foundation. This is a great model for others to follow in the philanthropic sector and we thought we would step up and do the same.
Answering seven tough questions about the Murdock Trust
At the Murdock Trust, our mission is to enrich the quality of life in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington by providing grants and enrichment programs to organizations that strengthen the region’s educational, social, spiritual and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. For more than 40 years, we have served this mission by supporting more than 3,000 organizations through more than 6,400 projects with close to a billion dollars in capacity-building grant funding.
Over the years, we have faced, on a few occasions, criticism for a small handful of grants that we have made, often from groups who were ideologically at odds with the grantee in question. Recently, you may have heard concerning allegations about funding decisions by the Trust. We would like to provide some background that will hopefully underscore for you the fact that these statements are simply not true.
Our grantees represent a diverse collection of backgrounds and geographies. Rural, urban, suburban, different races, different faiths, different political beliefs. We celebrate this diversity because it helps shape the fabric of what makes the Pacific Northwest such a vibrant place to live. This is exemplified in the broad range of nonprofits that have received support from the Trust over the years in the areas of health and human services, education, arts and culture and scientific research. Just a small sampling of these groups include, Adelante Mujeres, I Have a Dream Foundation, Days for Girls International, Nature Conservancy of Washington, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, International Justice Mission, Union Gospel Mission, Reed College, Linfield College, Ruby Valley Hospital, Boys and Girls Club, Grays Harbor Community Hospital, NAMI of Southwest Washington, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Glendive Medical Center, and Washington STEM Center.
We carefully vet each of our grantees. If there are factors we may have not considered, we appreciate that being brought to our attention. We understand that we are not perfect, nor are the organizations we seek to serve, and we take all feedback seriously and welcome opportunities to exchange ideas and perspectives with those who express concern. Discussions are almost always productive, and while we ultimately may agree to disagree at the end of the day on any one issue, differing sides often come away with a more positive, enlarged outlook on the situation.
Unfortunately, the places and opportunities for people to come together for thoughtful discussion in our culture seem to be diminishing. We live in a world where misrepresentations, inaccurate statements and ‘false news’ can spread rapidly thanks to the internet and social media.
While “online tools” can be a great resource for nonprofits and others as they engage and connect with new supporters, they can also do harm. We all know of examples where even reputable news outlets can get swept up in covering a story that is based on inaccurate information. In fact, a recent study confirmed that false news stories can spread “farther, faster and more broadly than the truth.”
So, with that in mind, here are a few answers to questions that have been asked recently about the work of the Murdock Trust.
Has the Murdock Trust experienced inaccurate information about its work?
Yes. Increasingly we find that organizations in every sector we serve experience some of this. We’ve written previously on the impact of cyber bullying on organizations and have since heard from several of our applicants, grantees and partner groups on their experience being targeted by such attacks. We’ve all witnessed the negative impact of this activity.
At the Murdock Trust, we want to be able to focus on the work of lifting up the organizations that are doing positive things in local communities across the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, we find a collection of inaccurate perceptions, stemming from false and misleading statements, continue to be out there on the internet and social media about our work on a few specific grants.
In our experience, some misleading statements come from pure misunderstanding. In some more disappointing situations, special interest groups advocating for a political or social position choose to intentionally mischaracterize our work in order to stir up negativity and to raise support for their organization. Often these groups, which can work on both the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum, fail to disclose their own motives, funding sources or aims and work behind a smoke screen in order to advance an agenda. To further complicate things, these misrepresentations are sometimes repeated as fact, muddying the waters as to what is accurate and what is untrue.
Our mission is to enrich and uplift communities across the Pacific Northwest. These false and misleading statements are deeply hurtful to the good work so many seek to do on behalf of our communities. It is disappointing when groups mischaracterize our work, or the work of others, and our commitment to serve the common good and help individuals, families and communities to flourish. We also know we aren’t the only ones working for the common good and welcome ways we can work together.
We recognize there are those who may have come to the table with deep-rooted ideological differences with one of our grantees or perhaps a certain grant we made. We understand and respect differences of opinion, strategies and solutions.
Even in the challenging times we are in, we continue to welcome the opportunity to meet and respond to questions. We encourage groups who differ to reach out to one another and meet or talk and seek to find common ground. We find that when such meetings occur, we all learn.
How does the Murdock Trust choose organizations to give money to?
In short, we don’t “choose” or “give money to organizations” at all. A misconception that is helpful to address is how our grants are awarded. Applying for a grant from the Murdock Trust is a rigorous process that begins with a specific, defined project. We start by asking, “is the organization serving the sectors we support: arts, science, health and human services or education?” If yes, applicants then work closely with a program director to review the scope of the project, its financial impact on the organization and numerous other criteria that are detailed on our website. Once a grant is approved, grantees must provide updates on the progress of the defined project to ensure the funds are being used or applied as awarded.
Some organizations have received several grants from the Trust over the years. Each gift is considered and evaluated individually. It is worth noting that we receive high marks from applicants and grantees alike due to our thoughtful process and its help to organizations as they work through their grant applications with the Trust and other funders.
Does the Murdock Trust give money to organizations to use however they like?
No, the Murdock Trust does not simply hand out checks to organizations to use as they see fit. We look for well-led, well-governed organizations and well-planned projects that will make a positive difference in the community. For example, our trustees do not meet and say “We really like the Union Gospel Mission. Let’s give them $250,000.” In reality, the Union Gospel Mission comes to the Trust with a specific proposal. As a hypothetical example, “We would like to build a new shelter in Spokane, Washington. The total cost of the project is $1.4 million. We are requesting a grant of $250,000 to support this project.” If a grant is made, we require documentation that funds were only used for that specific project.
It is important to underscore so everyone understands that, just because the Trust gives a grant to one particular group, it is not a tacit endorsement of every project or program they are pursuing, nor does the Trust lend support to those other programs. It is also not a criticism of the work that we do not fund. A grant is only a sign of support for the specific project outlined in the proposal.
There are some foundations that give “operating support” or general support grants to organizations. We appreciate that they have a different approach, philosophy or mission, but that is not our method or mission.
Is the Murdock Trust anti-LGBTQ?
Absolutely not. The Murdock Trust does not support projects that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. In fact, our organization has remained committed to human flourishing and human rights throughout our history. We collaborate with very diverse leaders, including many members of the LGBTQ community, as we have worked on projects and supported the work of diverse nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest. The organizations to which we have provided grants serve very diverse populations, including the LGBTQ community.
We understand that some do not like a grant we made to the Alliance Defending Freedom in 2016. The ADF is a nonprofit group that works on a variety of issues across the country.
One of their projects was helping college campuses across the country wrestling with the issue of First Amendment rights. How can schools allow students the freedom to share information and express opinions while maintaining a safe environment for all?
The Murdock Trust provided funding to the ADF for a project where they partner with colleges and universities in the Pacific Northwest to draft policies that allow students to fairly and safely express their first amendment rights. Murdock Trust grants have been in no way tied to ADF’s work on so-called “bathroom legislation” on the east coast.
This is neither an endorsement nor denouncement of any work undertaken by ADF or any of our other grantees. The Murdock Trust does not endorse any specific political agenda. We value first amendment rights and believe the exercise of those rights are critical to the work of democracy, something that was also highly valued by our benefactor, Jack Murdock.
Does the Murdock Trust support “conversion therapy?”
Absolutely not. Mental health is very important to our work and critical to the success of projects and programs across all sectors.
The Murdock Trust provided funding a number of years ago to the faith-based counseling group, Portland Fellowship, as they worked to build a new facility in order to offer voluntary counseling to individuals of faith. We value and work with both faith-based and non-faith-based mental health groups across the region.
We are aware of the pain that can be caused by “conversion counseling therapy.” This is not a practice that we endorse, support or fund (it is also our understanding that, despite rumor, Portland Fellowship does not engage in this type of therapy). We have supported and encouraged members of the faith community and those in the LGBTQ community to talk with one another—to seek to build bridges instead of walls.
Is the Murdock Trust supportive of women’s health and women’s issues?
Yes. In fact, we are one of the most robust funders of women’s health across the Pacific Northwest. The Murdock Trust has provided millions of dollars to build and maximize the capacity of rural health providers and related mental health services to ensure communities have access to healthcare resources they otherwise would not, such as 3D mammography and mobile mammography equipment. We have funded several projects and programs specifically serving the medical needs of women, including organizations like Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska, Kenaitze Indian Tribe, African American Health Coalition, and Asian Health and Service Center. We support many of the Northwest’s largest academic medical centers, as well as medical and mental health providers of a wide range of sizes serving a diverse range of locations, including rural hospitals and pregnancy centers that provide health services. These centers are often founded and run by women with community support.
The Murdock Trust has also provided millions of dollars in funding to organizations geared toward inspiring and empowering women, such as Junior Achievement, Washington FIRST Robotics, YWCA, the Young Women Empowered, Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Days for Girls International, Teen Challenge International’s female addiction recovery program and scores of others.
Is the Murdock Trust committed to helping all workers prosper and flourish?
Yes. The Murdock Trust wants to ensure that everyone has the freedom to pursue employment that is fulfilling and for which they are fairly compensated.
As documented extensively by media, workers sometimes have received conflicting information as to how workers are best served and whether our communities are well served when government bodies get too closely associated with religious groups, unions, business or any other entity. We fund a wide variety of organizations, including those with and without unions.
Healthy communities thrive when clear boundaries and robust partnerships exist across sectors with robust collaboration. For more on this helpful framing on communities, please watch these two videos from the Thriving Cities project.
We also believe that individuals should be educated with the facts and then be allowed to make choices for themselves. Additionally, we also believe that businesses should care for their greatest resources—the workers—in the best way possible and support businesses that work for the “triple bottom line” —profit for sure, but also the people who make up the organization and the community that houses and supports the organization. This was a core belief our benefactor, Jack Murdock, and his business partner, Howard Vollum, practiced in the innovative company they founded, Tektronix.
In closing, when you work with such a broad array of groups and individuals, it is impossible to agree with every stance taken by every grantee or every statement made by every volunteer or staff member or every project pursued by every organization. Disagreement happens. The real challenge is how can we come together and work through those obstacles when we do disagree and still collaborate on proactive and productive solutions.
We recognize this disagreement exists, and we welcome civil discussion and debate around these sorts of topics, but we also do not believe that disagreeing on one subject should stop us from supporting positive work that is underway or collaborating on things on which we do agree.
We understand that even after reading this explanation of the facts, some of you may still disagree with one or more of our funding decisions, and we respect that. However, we hope that after reading this you will better understand our thought process and that our work does not at all align with the inaccurate information special interest groups may offer.
If you want to understand the “heartbeat” of the Murdock mission and our work, we encourage you to watch this video and see what we are really doing every day and visit our website. The Murdock Trust invests in transformational ideas. We build relationships for the common good. We work with purpose and enthusiasm, to support projects that teach, nurture and develop; organizations that declare “what if” and ask “why not?”; and programs that bridge cultures, beliefs and generations. We’re drawn to pursuits that rebuild and renew, innovate and transform, and strengthen and inspire in service of families and individuals. We dig in deep, shoulder to shoulder, helping nonprofits sharpen their approach and sustain their mission. Because when a powerful idea fulfills its promise, lives are changed, communities thrive and our entire region prospers.
Our only goal is to help support the countless organizations and nonprofits that are working to serve the common good in our communities. We are not perfect. They are not perfect. We will not always agree on everything. We are also not the only funder serving the Pacific Northwest. There is a diverse collection of foundations that serve a variety of sectors. Funders also have diverse methods and missions across our region and the country. But the only way we can move forward in our communities is by coming together and engaging in productive, proactive discussion, collaboration and hard work to address the challenges we do agree on like homelessness, economic development, education, prison reform and more.
Please feel free to email any follow-up questions you may have.