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High Meadows Fund Announces Chapter Three

Long Trail viewpoint 2018 HMF 002 1

Philanthropy is most effective on big systemic challenges when it commits to doing work over time, diligently, with patience and curiosity. For nearly twenty years, the High Meadows Fund has played an instrumental role in Vermont communities. It has steadily advanced a mission that promotes vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality across Vermont. It has done so by engaging deeply with grant partners and leaders in the exercise of solving problems.

The impact of that legacy and that approach is felt in the vibrancy of communities across the state—fueled by watershed collaborations post-Irene and investments in goat dairies and energy entrepreneurs. When Lindsay, my wife, was in her residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, we lived in a condo on Route 5 in Wilder, Vermont, directly across the road from Vermod, the net-zero modular home company that High Meadows helped launch. We could hear the daily production start up each morning on warm days when the big bay doors were kept open.

As a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation, we have worked closely over the years with the High Meadows Fund staff and board of directors. Our organizations are deeply linked by structure, but in recent years, the interconnection has extended well beyond that. The “High Meadows approach” as it has come to be called, involves wading directly into the muddy and complex intersections of conservation and community, landscape and economy, of people and place as they play out across our state. It involves being willing to take risks. Early on in my time at the Community Foundation, I recall a High Meadows board meeting where the feedback was that too many projects were going smoothly. The board felt that meant too few risks were being taken. And while a belief in equity has long been part of their purpose and culture, more recently the board and staff have elevated equity, race, and environmental justice to consider how privilege affects decision-making and to better understand how to meld hard science around the changing climate with the social sciences of community and lived experience.

This evolution has been effective as well as inspiring.  Indeed, Gaye and the team have offered an approach that has highly informed the Vermont Community Foundation’s work to close the opportunity gap in Vermont. The spirit of engagement and listening, problem solving, curiosity, risk-taking, and partnership are now deeply embedded in that effort and we are grateful for the experience of learning alongside and from the High Meadows Fund.

This week, the High Meadows Fund announced it was embarking on a new chapter of its work. This involves a series of steps to a much closer operational partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation—steps for which we could not be more excited and humbled.

The mission, culture, and values of the High Meadows Fund are not changing. The board has recommitted the Fund to its mission of promoting vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality in Vermont. The board has also affirmed its belief in the engaged approach to work I described above and we at the Vermont Community Foundation are committed to carrying this mission forward.

So, what is changing?

First, the High Meadows Fund’s mission investments will shift to the Community Foundation’s Vermont Investments Pool, where they will be guided by our staff and investment committees in pursuit of the mission of the High Meadows Fund.

Second, by the end of 2021, the High Meadows Fund will transition from a Supporting Organization and become a Charitable Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation. The oversight of grantmaking and partner engagement will shift to Vice President Sarah Waring and the Community Foundation’s Grants and Community Investments team, guided and advised by a committee for the Fund that will seek to both incorporate more diverse lived experience and include some current board members who offer continuity and perspective on their previous work.  

Over the past eighteen months, the staff and board of the High Meadows Fund have explored issues of power, privilege, and equity as they relate to their mission and to the next chapter of the Fund. The Vermont Community Foundation has also been exploring bias and equity in grantmaking and community impact, having embedded that lens into the VT COVID-19 Response Fund Recovery Initiatives and the opportunity gap framework, as well as engaging in an in-depth organizational learning development exercise in 2021. Both organizations come into this new year seeking to explore new approaches to grantmaking and community impact.

We see this transition as an opportunity to grow and extend the High Meadows’ legacy of addressing the enormous challenges and opportunities we face in the coming decade. It also allows the Vermont Community Foundation to build on High Meadows’ grantmaking, convenings, and community engagement, and bring to bear the interest of other philanthropic leaders who share High Meadows’ values and vision. 

Addressing climate change and environmental justice, revitalizing farm and forest enterprises, improving Vermont’s housing stock and transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions and improve affordability—those are lofty goals that no single fund, or even philanthropy alone can tackle. But, by using philanthropic resources strategically to foster innovation and intersection, by following the path set by Gaye, the board, and the staff of the High Meadows Fund into those muddy places, the Vermont Community Foundation hopes to help build even greater private and public sector innovation and capital pursuit of vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment in Vermont for decades to come. We are excited and humbled to take on that work.

Gaye has included more details and about the transition in a blog post and opportunities to engage with their team over the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, I hope we can all take a moment to reflect and appreciate the incredible work and legacy of the High Meadows Fund in Vermont.