Lessons from 2017 Guide 2018 and Beyond

As we leave 2017 behind, I want to share some reflections and let you know about a few adjustments in the works at the High Meadows Fund.

In 2017 High Meadows completed a first phase of grantmaking and coaching to six teams from watershed communities across Vermont. These Watershed Resilience grants grew out of lessons from the last decade of storms that revealed how vulnerable Vermont is to flooding and damage from erosion as climate change increases the frequency and severity of heavy storms. It is critical that Vermonters make land-use decisions based on these new weather patterns and in concert with their upstream and downstream neighbors.

We recently posted a report about lessons from these six watershed teams because we believe their work – both their successes and challenges – are instructive for others who want to understand the risks of climate change and become more prepared and able to respond to its threats to our communities, roadways, homes and lives.

The watershed resilience report’s key lessons also apply to farm and forest value chains and promoting more energy efficient homes: change takes time; language matters; diverse perspectives and life experiences make for greater impact; think and act upstream and downstream; and most people would rather hear how and why they should change their behavior from friends and familiars than from well-meaning visitors with clipboards.

In 2017, consultant, Miriam Shark, interviewed many of our grantees and other colleagues, seeking clarity about HMF’s role in their work and where we might increase the impact of the time and resources we invest. What we heard is guiding our plans for the coming three years and beyond.

Besides grant and investment dollars, High Meadows invests staff time in our areas of focus. We offer learning and network opportunities to our grant partners. In Miriam’s interviews we heard this support beyond the grant check is impactful and valued.

We also heard encouragement of key elements of our approach – taking informed risks, working at the intersections of challenges such as land use and water quality, and looking for practical applications of environmental values. We want to continue those elements of our “sweet spot”.

Reflecting the interviews, Miriam encouraged High Meadows to make our work more visible so others can learn from it: build leadership capacity among our partners; seek opportunities to aggregate our grantees to address challenges in a coordinated way; and partner with like-minded funders who share our values and would like to contribute to the success of the initiatives we support.

Partly in response to this feedback, you can see more storytelling and more regular blog posts on our website, largely thanks to Will Lathrop, who joined our team in 2017.

We are particularly excited about new opportunities to build on our relationship with the Vermont Community Foundation and its affiliated fundholders. VCF’s Opportunity Gap challenges us to give greater attention to ensuring low income and rural Vermonters benefit from clean energy initiatives and farm and forest enterprise development.

High Meadows plans to continue to support the Vermont Food Funders Network. We also anticipate offering opportunities for other grantmakers to learn alongside us and co-fund or otherwise collaborate with us. To be clear, we are approaching this primarily as side-by-side collaboration, not raising new funds into the High Meadows Fund itself.

In order to give more attention to communications and collaboration, we will be adding a full-time Program Manager to the High Meadows team in 2018. We hope to post that position in the first quarter of 2018, with the goal of hiring in April.

Thank you for your contribution to Vermont’s vibrant communities and healthy natural environment. We deeply appreciate the amazing work of our many partners and colleagues.