Washington philanthropic powerhouse Julie L. Rogers announced Tuesday that she plans to step down as president and chief executive of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, which has dispensed more than $153 million in grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the D.C. area during her 28-year career.
Rogers, 62, is credited with helping to shape Washington’s philanthropic community. Under her tenure, the Meyer Foundation’s assets rose from $50 million in 1986 to $210 million this year. Rogers, who was named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the region’s “100 Most Powerful Women,” is only the third chief executive since the foundation was founded in 1944 by Agnes E. Meyer, a journalist, and Eugene Meyer, then publisher of The Washington Post.
“I am deeply passionate about this work and serving poor families in the region,” said Rogers, whose tenure will end next June. “You get to a point where after 28 fabulous years, it is just time to give yourself room to explore different interests and other ways of serving and giving back.
“I will draw a breath and figure out how the next chapters might evolve in a way that is slightly more relaxed but allows me to continue to do the work with them.”
The impact that Rogers has made on nonprofit groups in the Washington area extends beyond the 6,000 grants that have been made since she was appointed chief executive in 1986, nonprofit leaders said. They lauded her for establishing collaborative efforts among nonprofit organizations, government leaders, businesses and donors in the Washington area.
“My immediate reaction [to Rogers’s announcement] was, ‘Say it ain’t so.’ She is an institution and part of the fabric of this city,” said Barbara Krumsiek, chief executive of Calvert Investments and former chair of the Meyer Foundation’s board of directors. She called Rogers “an architect of effective giving in the city.”
Krumsiek said that when she first moved to Washington from New York 16 years ago, she began to inquire about the city’s philanthropy community. Calvert Investments wanted to get a sense of the nature of the nonprofit community, what the needs were in the District and how they could be met through charitable giving.
“[Rogers’s] name was the first and most loudly shouted name as someone to connect with, as really the guru of philanthropy in Washington,” Krumsiek said. “She is leaving quite a legacy.”
Joshua B. Bernstein, chairman of the Meyer Foundation’s board, said the organization will spend the next year searching for a new president. “I can’t imagine someone can replace Julie,” Bernstein said. “There is nobody identified. It is a blank slate.”
Rogers is best known across the country for her role in founding the Washington AIDS Partnership in 1988, which has given out more than $22 million in grants to help support HIV/AIDS education, prevention and advocacy in the D.C. area.
She also championed the development of affordable housing in Washington by co-founding the Community Development Support Collaborative, which piled up nearly $20 million in donations from 26 investors, the foundation said. And she worked “to build connections and a stronger collective voice for the region’s philanthropic community” through the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.
Under Rogers’s tenure, the Meyer Foundation helped struggling organizations flourish. Lori Kaplan, president and CEO of the Latin American Youth Center, said Rogers played a pivotal role in the success of the youth center.
In 2006, Rogers created the Meyer Foundation’s Exponent Awards program to shine a spotlight on the extraordinary work that leaders of nonprofit groups do.
“They are invisible to most people in the region,” she said. “They work so hard to raise the money, and they are never household names. Boards of directors don’t often understand how complicated the jobs are and what the sacrifices are for people who are often working for low wage. Sometimes their work is 24-7.”
Rogers recalled coming to the aid of Sonia Gutierrez, who had just created a program for new immigrants. “Overnight, the D.C. Council cut all the funding,” Rogers said. “She had to close up and move to her basement and start over. We were able to give her some money. I knew where to send her to get her back on her feet.” Gutierrez now runs the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Northwest.
Rogers grew up in the Midwest in a Methodist family that, she said, “believed in service and giving back.” After graduating from Duke University and receiving a master’s degree in teaching from George Washington University, Rogers became an elementary teacher in Wheaton.
“I had a lot of kids from single-parent families,” she recalled. Rogers said that it was then that she “began to understand at a deep level what it takes for poor families to thrive.”
After a stint as the staff director of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, she went to work at the Meyer Foundation. At its helm, Rogers not only distributed more than $6 million in grants each year but designed programs to help nonprofit groups run better.
Carol Thompson Cole, chief executive of Venture Philanthropy Partners, said Rogers’s passion “is bringing people together to get it done. When anyone is ready to get something started in the community or advance a project, Julie is one of the first people you go to. . . . She is a voice of reality but one who never gives up. Persistence is at her core.”