We occasionally put together thoughts based on what we learn from our partners and our funding colleagues. We share our thinking here as a way for you to get to know us, and with an invitation to hear your thoughts in return, either in a formal way which we might post here, or as we cross paths at future meetings or events.
The Role of Soil: Carbon Sink, Water Sponge
We may see the soil under our feet as simply dirt, with all the associated folk expressions – common as dirt, say. But farmers and scientists alike have long known that a healthy soil system is not just the key to our agricultural cycles; soil is one of the major building blocks of farm viability, floodwater management, carbon sequestration, ecosystem productivity, and a clean atmosphere.
Leaning Forward to 2017
It is with a renewed sense of urgency that High Meadows reviews our collective progress of last year and leans into new opportunities in 2017.
Acting on the Lessons of Irene
Tropical Storm Irene was a momentous event. The power of water in our mountainous state was a wake-up call that brought out Vermonters' power to unite, be smart, and prepare for our new reality of more frequent and intense storms. While state government and communities have been working to be better prepared and more resilient, we still have more to achieve to act on the lessons of Irene.
Katie Michels and Bill Roper researched how communities in Vermont and beyond have worked to build a watershed identity. This blog post was written for our 6 watershed resilience planning and action grantees. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions for how to help Vermont communities foster a sense of watershed identity.
The Vermont Food Funders Network is a learning network of funders who provide grants or loans to strengthen the Vermont food system. The Vermont Food Funders Network focused its April meeting on farmland access and affordability. Many of Vermont’s older farmers are retiring, and new farmers are running farm enterprises which require different land configurations. And, even if appropriate land is available, can a farmer afford to lease or own it? We were joined by guests from the Intervale Center, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Land for Good, Dirt Capital Partners, and the Vermont Land Trust to discuss the role of philanthropy in helping farmers find suitable land and afford to lease or purchase it for their operations.
Looking Ahead to 2016
In setting out the work plan for 2016 the board and staff examined what success looks like to us in our three areas of focus and recommitted to our values and approaches, stating more explicitly the need to address the social justice challenges climate change presents.
What We Learned and Accomplished Together in 2015
Over the past year the High Meadows Fund has been inspired by grantees who tackle big challenges with skill and tenacity, funders with whom we collaborate and learn, entrepreneurs with profitable approaches to making the world a better place, state and local leaders who improve the public policy that is so critical to building vibrant and sustainable communities, and colleagues who provide research, networks, peer learning and good fun to keep us focused and inspired. Thank you!
For a look at what we learned and accomplished together, click here.
Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, was awarded the inaugural Con Hogan award in October, 2015. We have excerpted from her speech accepting the honor:
...Con’s passion has been about the quality of the human condition from a social service perspective. My passion has also been about the quality of the human condition, although from an economic perspective. We’ve both come at our respective work by trying to change systems and structures. The longer I do this work, the more convinced I am that we need to change the very foundation of our society and culture. Fundamentally, we need to build a culture of care, kindness, abundance and connection, rather than perpetuating a culture of indifference, fear, scarcity and disconnection.
In early 2015 I (Stu Fram) traveled to Chicago for a two-day event hosted by the Mission Investors Exchange. The “institute” was a crash course on impact investing, and it was attended by representatives from a spectrum of foundations: In addition to significant geographic diversity, the foundations represented ran the gamut from those only beginning to consider engagement with impact investing to those with a robust history, and pipeline, of impact investments. “Impact investing,” despite its growing cachet, remains a nebulous concept.
The High Meadows Fund has decided to bring our investments more in line with our mission to promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment. To do this, we are eliminating the following from our investment portfolio: oil and gas companies, producers of coal, and utility companies that burn coal as their primary source of fuel.
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.
As a new resident of Burlington, Vermont's "big city," I've been struck by the town's population density relative to the suburban and rural areas where I grew up and went to to college. With 42,000 residents, there is no questions Burlington pales next to the New York Cities, Mumbais, and Tokyos of the world. But in Vermont it constitutes a veritable metropolis, and given its location in such close proximity to natural features like Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, it is a fitting place to consider humans' coexistence with the surrounding environment.
For the High Meadows Fund, whose mission is to "promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality in Vermont," this balance between people and planet serves as the foundation of our work. I often have to remind myself that, contrary to linguistic convention, we're not just an environmental organization, we're a socio-environmental organization.
A national funders' network recently circulated notice about an impact assessment report of the Beldon Foundation. Beldon was an environmental fund whose board designed its philanthropic strategy around a ten-year spending horizon. They made $120 million of grants during that time and the last of their grants included funding for an impact assessment to be conducted five years after they closed shop.
As you can imagine, there were significant lasting impacts from the Beldon Fund's investments and they are worth reading. I found the challenges and lessons for other funders particularly interesting. More information about the successes, challenges, and lessons for other funders is available in the full report.
We appreciate that many of our partners already focus on outcomes instead of just activities when they assess and report back to us the impact of their work. We like the way Jason Saul articulates this approach and thought it was worth sharing with those who visit our site.
Originally posted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on 5/29/14 by Jason Saul
In my 20-plus years working in the nonprofit world, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen nonprofits make is measuring activities instead of outcomes. I understand why: Measuring activities is easier, and nonprofits have limited time to dedicate to measurement. But measuring activities isn’t going to help nonprofits demonstrate their value and secure more funds.
When groups measure program efforts—teaching, training, negotiating, feeding, researching, and so on—they’re measuring activities. Outcomes, on the other hand, are the results of those activities: changed awareness, behavior, condition, or status. There are outcomes that pertain to individuals (like increased graduation rates or improved literacy), organizational outcomes (like more revenue or a better reputation), and systemic outcomes (like changed policies or greater investment).
By Darby Bradley, High Meadows Fund board
One of the organizations that the High Meadows Fund has supported is the Northern Forest Center (NFC). In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the boards of both organizations. Through its Model Neighborhood Projects, NFC has been promoting the installation of high efficiency wood pellet boilers in homes, apartment buildings, and businesses in Berlin, NH, Farmington, ME and, soon, Lyndonville, VT. The objective is to replace heating oil with a locally-produced fuel, create more jobs in the forest industry, and keep our heating dollars circulating in the local economy. So far, the homeowners who have installed these automated boilers (and tightened up their home insulation at the same time) have been very pleased with the convenience, fuel savings, and comfort of these systems.
By Stu Fram, High Meadows Fund staff
I recently traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for the annual meeting of the Climate and Energy Funders Group, an association of philanthropic organizations whose work supports clean energy and climate-related initiatives.
Most foundations represented at this conference dwarf High Meadows, both in size and in scope of work – many fund nationally and across many issue areas. However, there was common ground in a proposition that emerged during many of the sessions I attended:
The environmental community needs to pivot from focusing on problems to focusing on solutions.
By Stu Fram, High Meadows Fund staff
Is "resilience" just "sustainability" rebranded? A sexier version of the environmental movement's decades-old aspiration? Or, is it a useful word that asks us to address new and important questions? Although many have grown cynical of the word in light of its increasingly prevalent usage, I think it constitutes more than a superficial injection into the environmental lexicon.
By Gaye Symington, High Meadows Fund president
When I first heard other climate funders speak about adaptation, it was mostly in the context of the impact of rising sea levels on coastal cities like Boston and New York or droughts impacting the west. We have plenty of rainfall and Vermont is a land-locked state, so I figured we should stick with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
By Gaye Symington, High Meadows Fund president
Through High Meadows’ work since Tropical Storm Irene, I’ve developed a working definition of resilience, borrowing heavily from the Roadmap to Resilience of the Resilient Vermont Project.
To be resilient, a community must:
By Stu Fram, High Meadows Fund staff member
My undergraduate experience was, for the most part, predictably conventional. In four years of college, I, like so many, learned a lot about myself, made a few bad decisions, experienced the woeful pangs of unrequited love, and had sobering revelations about the world’s injustices and the naivete to think I could singlehandedly sow the seeds of change.
By Stu Fram, High Meadows Fund staff
Two years ago, Vermont set an ambitious goal: By 2050, 90% of the state’s energy will come from renewable sources such as solar, hydro, and wind. At present, renewables comprise just 11% of the state’s energy portfolio, which means a lot will have to change in the next 37 years – how we travel, power our buildings, and heat/cool our homes, for example – if we expect to realize this clean energy future.