Looking Back on 2014 and Ahead to 2015

Before the High Meadows Fund ship set sail into 2015, we took some time to reflect back on our work in 2014.

One of the biggest take-aways from 2014 has been the lasting impact Tropical Storm Irene (2011) has had on our work. Since 2009, much of High Meadows’ focus has been on reducing Vermont’s reliance on imported fossil fuels to keep our buildings comfortable and to power our transportation system. Although this work remains a priority, Irene forced us to reflect on the implications the changing climate has on Vermont’s agriculture, land use, and community development. As a result, much of the work we now pursue has to do with both climate mitigation and adaptation.

Another lesson from 2014 was the recognition that change takes time. There has been a lot of discussion in philanthropic circles recently about measuring impact. It’s one thing for grantees to produce outputs, but it’s another to achieve outcomes (i.e., changed behavior). The recent emphasis on the latter is understandable: Those engaging in mission-based spending want to know their dollars are making an appreciable difference. The reality, however, is that realizing, let alone assessing, such “mission return” is something that often requires both patience and time.

For example, the arc of High Meadows’ work often starts with convenings and/or research around a particular issue. Depending on the results, we’ll consider funding a pilot project to test assumptions and feasibility. Only after a pilot project is completed will the work evolve, maybe, into actual implementation. And, implementation itself can take several years.  This process isn’t representative of everything we do, but the point is it can take as long as a decade before we know if a particular pursuit has resulted in any substantial change. And, this assessment is complicated by macro-economic and political forces over which we have no control. For example, rising oil prices or a global recession may carry much more weight with regard to overall GHG emissions than would our individual grantmaking.

Even so, we make an effort to assess the impact of our work. On the grantmaking page of our website we list each grant over $10,000 we’ve awarded along with our reasons for supporting it and what we’ve learned from the work of that organization. Further, we track and monitor progress of the state’s goals to gauge whether or not our priorities and the work we’re supporting are aligned with those of larger environmental and social missions.

We look forward to continuing our pursuit of High Meadows' mission to promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality in Vermont in 2015!

Stu Fram, Environmental Philanthropy Associate   -   February, 2015