Philanthropy

A Conversation with Retiring Murdock Trust CEO Steve Moore (Part 2 of 2)


After 16 years as chief executive officer and executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in Vancouver, Wash., Steve Moore is retiring at the end of next month, when Romanita Hairston will succeed him in the role.

During Moore’s tenure at its helm, the Trust—one of the largest philanthropies in the Pacific Northwest—has continued to take a long-term worldview that takes ideas seriously, while placing strong grantmaking-program emphases on the importance of place and in the development of nonprofit leadership. The Trust is a steady and solid presence in American philanthropy.

Moore himself is a welcoming and comfortable conversationalist whose kindness seems as natural and expansive as the mountains behind him. He was nice enough to join me for a conversation last week. In the first of two parts of our discussion, which is here, we talk about the foundation’s namesake, Jack Murdock, and his fellow Tektronix founder Howard Vollum; the opportunities and challenges of planning for a philanthropy to exist in perpetuity, and the consequences of ideas, both good and bad.

In the second part—the almost 18-minute video below—Moore addresses what’s changed in the nonprofit sector overall and its philanthropic component in particular since he began at the Trust, seeking short- and long-term results in grantmaking, the use of metrics to gauge its success, and what the future holds for nonprofitdom, the Murdock Trust, and him.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that people in many places in philanthropy are less inclined for collaboration,” Moore tells me.

They like to tell nonprofits to collaborate, but they really like to just do their own thing and just tell people what to do. I think there’s a certain arrogance in philanthropy at times that’s hard for nonprofits to overcome and it’s too bad because I think we have a lot to learn. And I think that we need to approach things as much as we can as really equal partners and learners.

As for seeking short- or long-term results in grantmaking, “I would say both big and small and mid-sized [foundations] can very easily get caught up in the sweep of things,” Moore says.

It’s very difficult sometimes to navigate. I’ve seen this with regional philanthropic associations that just get caught up in things and … they want to coerce other philanthropy—you know, “All the foundations, we’ve got to get behind this. You’ve got to be on the right side of history on this. You got to do this.” So there’s a kind of manipulative kind of a way. I just think that’s not as healthy, not as helpful either for the sector or for nonprofits, or for the communities that were all ultimately seeking to serve.

Looking forward, “what I find is that, particularly coming out of the pandemic, leaders are exhausted and leadership teams are really trying to figure out how to reboot their strategies, given the new realities that we live in,” he says. He wants to help them—or, of course, continue to do so.

“I just think that for such a time as this, it’s just such an incredible time that we live in and there’s a great opportunity for what I would call a redemptive and generative kind of way of working and thinking,” Moore concludes. “It’s not going to be easy. I mean, this is not going to be easy in the next decade, but it has the potential to be very fruitful and very much of an opportunity. This is when entrepreneurs really step up. This is a great time.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Giving Review on May 27, 2022.

Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
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