Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation and the Southern Partners Fund
Barbara Meyer, founder and president of the Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation was not always comfortable with the wealth she inherited from her father. Meyer was 24 when her father died in 1965, leaving her several thousand dollars in UPS stock. By 1984, the stock was worth $2 million, providing the funds with which Meyer started the Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation (“BAMM”), a family foundation focused on rural grassroots community organizing in 14 southeastern states. Ten years later, as part of the foundation’s tenth anniversary, the board pledged to transfer the foundation’s entire endowment of $7.5 million to what was to become Southern Partners Fund (“SPF”), founded and governed BAMM grantee leaders—grassroots community organizers throughout the rural South. Meyer developed her passion for working with farmworkers while, as a member of the League of Women Voters, she was actively involved in the League’s study on farmworkers. Through this work, she recognized the differences between treating a social problem’s symptoms as opposed to addressing its root causes. She also came to strongly believe that the people experiencing a problem are the only ones who can develop a truly viable long-term solution. Meyer believed that wealth did not confer knowledge and that a foundation’s goal should be to empower local communities—helping them recognize the power they have and learn how to use it. This case explores Meyer’s role in the creation of the Southern Partners Fund, the values and beliefs behind SPF’s unique approach and the foundation’s achievements.
The unique values, beliefs and practices of a grassroots philanthropic organization, grantee and beneficiary empowerment, family foundations, foundation endowment spend-down and transferring philanthropic leadership.