New community foundation president starts this month

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Matt Morton plans on doing a lot of listening this month as he officially becomes the fifth president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington (CFSWW).

Morton’s first day on the job will be April 18. The foundation announced his hire last month. 

Morton comes from across the river where he served as the director of the Meyer Memorial Trust’s Equitable Education Portfolio.

Though he’s lived and worked in Portland since 1998, he has roots in Southwest Washington. Morton said he grew up on the same land as his grandmother west of Olympia. After he graduated from Oregon State University with a master’s degree in education, Morton moved to Portland for a job opportunity and stayed in the area.

Initially, Morton planned to go into administration in higher education, though volunteering with the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) piqued his interest in nonprofit work. Morton, who is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, was previously the deputy director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. He eventually became the executive director of NAYA before he joined Meyer Memorial Trust in January of 2016.

Morton said he joined the trust after a strategic planning process created equitable education as one of its four portfolios. 

“They had a title and a vision of meaningful public education for all,” Morton said. 

The opportunity allowed him to build a framework from the ground up for Meyer Memorial Trust. He heard about challenges in education from communities and determined how philanthropy could help solve the issues they were experiencing.

During his time at the trust, Morton said his team was able to secure about $50 million in grant funding. At Meyer, he said his focus was on the bookends of public education, which included students entering into K-12, and those who graduated and entered into the workforce.

Randall Grove, the board chair of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, said the foundation is honored to have Morton join their team. 

“His track record of leadership and building trusted relationships stretches across many facets of our work, which also equips him with a keen understanding of the strengths, challenges and needs of our communities and partners,” stated Grove in a news release.

The CFSWW announced its current president,  Jennifer Rhoads, decided to step down from the position in October. Rhoads was the president for nine years. 

The search included a pool of 40 applicants from the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres. Morton’s experience and connection with Washington led to “unanimous support” from board and community members who were tasked with finding a new foundation president, the release stated.

Through connections he made in philanthropy in the region, Morton said he was impressed by the foundation’s work. During the selection process he said he was drawn to the “intentionality” of those involved with the foundation and their commitment to the region.

“You look for some signals that this is a good fit for you,” Morton said.

During the transition, Rhoads will remain with the foundation for up to six months to help Morton get settled. In the release, she said Morton has an “excellent background and a clear commitment to equity.”

“Matt is ready to hit the ground running and innately understands the foundation’s role and trajectory in this community,” Rhoads said.

During her nearly decade-long tenure, Rhoads oversaw more than $100 million in grants and grew charitable assets fivefold, the release stated.

Morton specifically focused on education in his most recent role, but he said equity is a multifaceted issue. Education is a part of it, as is the affordability of housing and economic development opportunities, he said.

“We sometimes think in these silos … here’s education, here’s housing. That’s not how a community looks at it,” Morton said. “The affordability and stability of your housing absolutely is related to how well you are going to do in school.”

Morton said the first thing he needs to do when he steps into the president role at the foundation is to start listening. He plans to hold a listening tour so he can hear about the community’s issues and priorities.

“I’m not going to come with the presumption that I know what you need,” Morton said. 

He said the role of philanthropic organizations is to support communities who already know the best way to tackle the issues they face. 

Morton said he isn’t coming in with a mindset of making significant changes. He spoke positively about the talent of the foundation’s staff, its board’s engagement and the positive relationships it has with community stakeholders.

“Hopefully, how I’m coming across will be I’m here to listen,” Morton said. “I’m here to find those common causes.”



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