Youth hikers at the top of Ben Johnson Mountain on the dedication day of the mountain’s new name hosted by OBP, June 2021. Photo courtesy of OBP.

Northern Willamette Valley

Preserving Oregon’s Black Heritage

When uncertain times collided with its vision , Oregon Black Pioneers (OBP) laid a path for long-term growth and impact by creating an OCF endowment partner fund.

OBP is a Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to researching, recognizing and commemorating the culture and heritage of African Americans in Oregon – the only historical society in Oregon dedicated to this work statewide. The organization reaches audiences throughout the state through exhibitions, public programs and publications.

OBP President Kim Moreland at the unveiling of a new historical marker for Portland’s first Black business owner, Abner Francis, September 2021. Photo courtesy of OBP.

In 2020 OBP hired its first executive director, Zachary Stocks, as the organization looked to ward a capital campaign to raise funds to eventually build a permanent museum in Salem. Events during Zachary’s first six months on the job required quick thinking about the organization’s long-term plans.

Zachary Stocks, Executive Director of Oregon Black Pioneers

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for cultural nonprofits around the country. When schools, workplaces, and museums closed, we suddenly found ourselves without an audience for our programs. We felt very vulnerable all of a sudden in our development, because people were facing financial crises of their own and didn’t necessarily have the capacity to give any longer.” Zachary recalls. “While this global health crisis may be temporary, future pandemics or natural disasters could put us in this same position again. We knew we needed new paths for financial sustainability.”

Zachary reached out to OCF to explore fundraising and sustainability options, and in December 2020, OBP established a permanent endowment.

An endowment partner fund with OCF allows OBP to invest for long term growth. While the organization can’t always rely on grants or ticket sales, its fund will continue to grow and continue to be an attractive and reassuring choice for major donors.

As the fund grows, Zachary says OBP can count on it to underwrite the costs of partial staffing, equipment, or major purchases. Supporters who believe in the mission can contribute toward plans for research and exhibitions by directing donations to OBP for the endowment. “We will know that a portion of our resources will be protected and continue growing over time while we also pursue traditional development opportunities,” he says. “It gives us a new avenue to better reach supporters and test out different fundraising models.”

Freeman's Second-Hand Store, Portland (Oregon Historical Society)

Freeman's Second-Hand Store, Portland (Oregon Historical Society)

OCF’s experience working with nonprofits in the arts and culture sector reassured OBP that its particular needs would be understood. “OCF becomes a champion for the organizations who invest through it, providing crucial marketing support to reach donors that our organization could not do alone,” Zachary notes. “Now we can be on the radar of individuals looking to make estate gifts and bequests – an area of fundraising that OBP has never pursued before.”

Another factor in OBP’s decision to establish the fund with OCF was an option to invest funds in OCF’s “social impact pool,” a portfolio of socially responsible investments — an important factor for an organization with strong values.

Zachary says he found it easy to work with OCF.

“Oregon Community Foundation has been fast and personable! We were able have all of our questions answered over the course of a few emails and one phone call, and the application process could not have been easier,” he notes. “Every person we’ve spoken with at OCF has been friendly and knowledgeable and has gone out of their way to help us, knowing that this was the first time we’d done anything like this.”

OCF also has provided financial support to OBP since 2012 through both donor advised and discretionary resources to support interactive exhibits, civil rights education, and most recently in October 2020 through the Arts and Culture Recovery program.