Putting ALL our money where our mouth is with a contracting policy

 Chef Naoko describing the food at an NWHF board dinner at her restaurant Shizuku.

Chef Naoko describing the food at an NWHF board dinner at her restaurant Shizuku.

We are proud of everything we have done at Northwest Health Foundation to ensure our grant dollars go to the communities who have the most opportunity to create positive change for everyone in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Over 75% of our grant dollars go to organizations led by people of color. Half of our grants go to organizations outside of the Portland metro area. And one out of ten go to disability communities. It has taken long-term, intentional work to reach these numbers.

However, our budget is more than just grants. We spend quite a bit of money operating as an organization, hiring consultants to support our grantees, contracting with caterers and hotels, maintaining the Center for Philanthropy (our downtown Portland office space) and more.

In 2012, when Nichole June Maher took over as Northwest Health Foundation's president and chief executive officer, she requested an audit of our operating dollars. She wanted to know what percentage of our operating budget was spent on hiring racial/ethnic minority, disability, LGBTQ and Oregon-owned firms. We were deeply dismayed to discover that only one half of one percent went to minority-owned firms, and 100% of our paid consultants were white.

Eager to make a change, our leadership team and board immediately began to research philanthropic best practices around minority contracting. Unfortunately, at the time, they couldn't find a single example within our philanthropic network of an organization that had passed a policy to prioritize contractors from specific communities. 

 A Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities gathering at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort in Warm Springs, Oregon.

A Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities gathering at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort in Warm Springs, Oregon.

So we drafted our own policy centering minority, disability, LGBTQ and Oregon-owned companies, as well as companies that pay a living wage and provide quality health insurance and paid leave. We became members of the minority-led chambers of commerce in Portland and began to build our own list of vendors and caterers.

We also set a goal. Given that Northwest Health Foundation existed for almost 20 years contracting with majority white-owned businesses, we decided we should spend at least the next 20 years with a focus on supporting racial/ethnic minority-owned businesses, with a secondary goal of supporting Oregon-based, LGBTQ- and women-owned businesses.

Five years later, we have made significant progress. 95% of our consultants are people of color, and many are people of color with disabilities. Approximately 70% of our controllable business expenses go to minority-, LGBTQ- and disability-owned firms. (That's not counting women- and Oregon-owned firms.) This includes our plumber, our painters, our auditors, our lobbyist, Tribally-owned hotels across Oregon, amazing caterers and restaurants, photographers... We could go on.

The most important lesson we have learned is it's not hard to meet these goals. There are plenty of incredible businesses out there owned and operated by people who reflect all of Oregon and Southwest Washington's communities and support our values. 

Now, we challenge you philanthropic organizations and nonprofits across our region. Adopt a similar policy. Leverage all of your resources. Join us in supporting Oregon and Southwest Washington's opportunity communities.

A few tips for success:

  • You must have a long-term strategy and long-term commitment. Work at it every day.
  • Every member of your team can be a leader in this work. While it is critical for your board and senior leadership to commit to this goal, it's the staff who really make it happen through their day-to-day decisions and the relationships they build.
  • Use all of your influence. For example, anytime anyone calls to reserve one of our meeting rooms, we encourage them to use a minority-owned and -operated caterer.
  • Don't think of this as charity. It's a good business practice. At NWHF, every aspect of our operations and customer services has improved with this shift.