M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

As we announced in recent updates, the Murdock Trust is undergoing a sectoral redesign. While we will continue to refine this work through seeking feedback from diverse interest-holders and experts, we are pleased that after months of constituent input and strategic planning, we can share the initial vision and strategy for our five updated sectors. This redesign and the resulting sectoral model do not change the types of organizations we support; they simply recategorize and focus our efforts so that each grant can be better understood as part of the ecosystem in which its ripple effects will be most felt.  

This five-part Sector Strategy Blog Series is a chance for each sector’s lead to introduce their vision. See the other blogs in the series here: Arts, Culture, & Education; Civic Engagement & Community Services; Health & Environmental Stewardship; and Scientific Research.  

Written by Kimberly Thornbury, Vice President, Nonprofit Leadership & Development

Nonprofits are essential to a vibrant and flourishing society. For nearly fifty years, the Murdock Trust has witnessed the incredible impact nonprofits can have on their communities, nurturing health, human dignity, creativity, belonging, and progress.  

As a capacity-building funder, the Murdock Trust seeks opportunities for strategic investment in innovative ideas and strategies that forge sustainable futures for nonprofits. Grants are a large part of this work, but equally important is investing in the people who make nonprofits run. We model this work after the deep care our benefactor, Jack Murdock, exemplified for his employees at Tektronix and the way he poured into their professional development and wellbeing as leaders. He was a people-first leader, so we are a people-focused funder. The Nonprofit Leadership & Development sector of the Murdock Trust seeks to carry on this work through empowering leaders in the Pacific Northwest to make positive change in their organizations.  

Over nearly five decades of walking alongside nonprofits, we (along with industry research leaders like McKinsey and Bridgespan) have observed that strength in key areas yields disproportionate impact across the organization: strong, nurtured leadership; an empowered, aligned board; and a thoughtful, strategic development plan. To that end, we have designed a variety of programs, conferences, and cohorts, as well as some strategic grant opportunities, to cultivate strength in these areas that have proven effective for hundreds of nonprofits.

Board Leadership and Development

Leadership Development

A strong executive director is one of the best predictors of a nonprofit’s health. According to one study, what the CEO controls accounts for around 45% of an organization’s success (McKinsey). Top leaders often manage the day-to-day operations of a team, represent the organization publicly, drive vision, and lead change. It’s a tall order for one person, which is why we believe leaders should never lead alone.  

From a two-year Peer Cohorts program that creates community around the shared experiences of top executives, to a Women in Leadership conference that equips and empowers women in mid-management to thrive in their career, to an annual Leadership Now conference that draws top speakers on current topics, we invest in today’s leaders. We also look toward our future trailblazers with our Vision and Call internship program, which helps organizations train their future leaders intentionally and sustainably.   

Board Development

No matter how stellar the executive director may be, an organization will not thrive with an underperforming board. We have been honored to walk alongside hundreds of nonprofits in their journey toward stronger board leadership. With confidence, we can say that when boards are trained to work within sound governance principles, cultivate a thriving organizational culture, establish a sustainable business model, and forge strategic plans, they are equipped to propel mission-driven impact. We offer Board Leadership & Development programs and training networks for a variety of groups, designed to equip nonprofit boards with the tools to do just that.

Woman smiling and listening as another woman talks
Green Room Board Leadership & Development


Above all else, nonprofits rely on the generosity of their communities. This makes it critical to have a fund development plan that works for your organization. Fundraising is often just storytelling done right, and can create lifelong, loyal community partners as committed to your mission as you are. The Trust seeks to support those on the front lines of fundraising and giving through opportunities like Essentials of Development, a program designed to guide small to midsized organizations into a place of fundraising and storytelling success.  


In addition to our programming across these three areas, the Nonprofit Leadership & Development sector offers capacity-building grants for nonprofit support associations, leadership organizations, and others that scale the impact of the nonprofit community. At the end of the day, these grants do much of the same work that our programs do: they empower those closest to the work to maximize potential within the nonprofit sector. 

Looking Ahead & Working Together

In our years walking alongside nonprofits, we have witnessed nonprofits go from single-facility emergency shelters to 11-facility organizations offering more than 600 beds across locations. We have seen international organizations grow from serving 4,000 children to 150,000 children and families annually. We know that this is in part due to the steadfast commitment of top leaders, boards, and development teams who invest in their own acumen and aptitude to lead healthy nonprofits. While grants and programs are often a small part of this journey, they can be a significant catalyst for growth and development that enables nonprofits to serve their community long into the future.  

Above all, we know that we do not do this work alone, and that a commitment to growing together is often the best place to start. A problem a peer leader is facing today might be the challenge you face tomorrow. Remaining rooted in relationship, engaged in dialogue, and attentive to solutions that benefit all are core practices of a nonprofit community that is truly in this work together. For decades, we have had a front-row seat to the beautiful harmony of this sector at its best moments, and we remain committed to this vision for all the moments to come.  

Thank you to each nonprofit who is part of this region’s story. Let’s grow together.   

Learn more about the Nonprofit Leadership & Development sector here. 

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The Trust guides nonprofit organizations through every level of their development through grants and other resources.

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