In 1984, I started the Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation with an initial investment of $400,000. Our focus was rural grassroots community organizing in fourteen southeastern states.

My United Farm Worker experience had taught me that it was important to address the cause, not just the symptoms of injustice (WHY are people hungry), and that the real expertise for solving community problems lies with a community’s own leaders; not with academic or large nonprofit institutions. So I invited community leaders “and others from the same race and class as the groups we intended to fund” to join my family foundation board. Community leaders shared their lived experience, giving us insights we could never have gotten any other way.

Our first ten years of grantmaking confirmed my UFW experience. Once more I saw that the real experts were grassroots community leaders with a history and vested interest in their community. Once more, I saw that community organizing is an important element in attaining lasting change.
In 1994, The Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation board invited eighteen carefully chosen grassroots community leaders from the rural south to explore their interest in forming a new grantmaking entity, which they would create and govern. They were stunned, but three meetings later they said yes.

During Southern Partners Fund's (SPF) four years of formation, we provided the container, a safe space for community leaders to build trust in themselves and in one another, and most importantly, build relationships that would stand the test of time.

In 1998, my dream came true. SPF founders signed incorporation papers in my living room. Together, they had drawn up their own bylaws and had developed a grantmaking program focused on community organizing in the rural south. In the process, they had created a revolutionary new philanthropic resource.