New member The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust seeks to build capacity in nonprofits driving innovative and sustainable outcomes across the Pacific Northwest. We recently connected with the Trust’s CEO, Romanita Hairston, who joined the foundation in July 2022.
Independent Sector: Tell us about your organization’s areas of interest, the communities you serve, and how your work helps to advance an equitable and healthy sector and nation where all people can thrive.
Romanita Hairston: The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust is committed to helping build capacity in nonprofit organizations serving the Pacific Northwest and working for the common good in innovative and sustainable ways. We do this through several channels — including grantmaking, initiatives, and programming focused on nonprofit leadership and development, along with hosting and participating in convenings with community and sector leaders. Our work is focused on multiple sectors that help all individuals, families, and communities flourish and thrive, including the arts, education, scientific research, healthcare, and human services. Since opening our doors in 1975, the Murdock Trust has invested more than $1.3 billion in nonprofit organizations serving the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Our benefactor, Jack Murdock, recognized that the needs of our region would evolve over time, and our model is designed to adapt to the emerging needs of those we serve. We are led by a philosophy of listening to those on the front lines of service in our community. We recognize that the needs of Native Alaska will differ from those of urban Seattle, which will differ from rural Montana or suburban Boise. Our role is to engage relationally with the leaders in those regions, listen to their most pressing needs, and to come alongside them to partner.
IS: How does your foundation’s theory of change and funding practices assist nonprofit grant recipients and their work, especially in the wake of COVID-19, economic challenges, climate change, and our nation’s racial reckoning?
RH: As a primarily responsive funder with a broad set of sectors and geographies in which we serve, we consistent engage with leaders on –the ground in the communities we seek to serve to help guide our investments. We strive to listen to those serving the diverse needs of our region and understand how investing in their theory of change improves outcomes for those they serve. This allows us to focus on interventions and programs that are most appropriate based on need, resources, geography, sector, and cultural considerations — leveraging the expertise of the region.
We believe strongly in the power of connection and relationship building. Data has shown that communities thrive when diverse coalitions can be formed, bringing together partners who otherwise would not cross paths, to find a shared solution to an intractable challenge. As we listen to subject matter experts across our diverse geography and sectors, we develop initiatives that are designed to help move forward strategies, innovations, and programs that can have accelerating and synergistic impact. Our goal over nearly five decades of serving the region is to utilize our resources and position to help bring diverse leaders together and help foster innovative solutions based on the unique needs and background of the community and/or sector impacted.
We also believe strongly in the importance of seeking a “third way” in today’s divisive climate. Rather than focusing on the extremes of any given issue, our attention is on helping find common ground and creating space for thoughtful conversation that advances solutions that serve the common good and ultimately strengthen our democracy.
IS: Independent Sector brings together a diverse community of changemakers at nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs that are working to achieve a racially just and healthy sector and nation where all people in the U.S. thrive. What influenced your decision to become an Independent Sector member? How does your work align with Independent Sector’s mission and our member organizations?
RH: Data shows that communities thrive when unconventional coalitions can be formed, bringing together diverse partners who otherwise may never have crossed paths to collaborate on a solution to a shared challenge. In today’s divisive climate, it is getting harder and harder to find spaces where this type of approach is utilized. We are grateful to organizations like Independent Sector that invest in creating space for a broad array of viewpoints to come together and discuss real solutions to the intractable challenges of today.
IS: Independent Sector collaborates with individuals and the charitable community to create a racially just and healthy sector and nation. How does your work help to support or advance these objectives?
RH: The heart of the mission of the Murdock Trust is a desire to see every individual, family, and community have an opportunity to flourish and thrive. Our focus is on partnering with leaders and investing in programs and projects across our region that provide resources, programs, and opportunities,allowing those impacted by the issues and challenges they address to flourish and thrive. The projects we support work at every level of the value chain of impact ranging from early identification to intervention.
IS: What is most special about the communities or people you serve?
RH: The Pacific Northwest is a unique region that is home to a wide array of communities that reflect a broad diversity of cultures and backgrounds. In a single day, our team can engage with innovative technologies developed in Seattle to better serve the healthcare needs of residents in rural Washington; learn about partnerships helping connect Native youth with their culture and heritage through arts education; and witness grassroots community organizations helping suburban foster parents access resources from their neighbors and local community.