Frank Merrick, founder and president of Foundation Management Inc., breaks down the mission of his company to three words: brokering good deeds.
He and his staff of nine serve as a back office to foundations, including 12 private family foundations and the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, which holds $225 million in assets for more than 850 philanthropic funds statewide — from the Ada Library Friends Fund and Duncan Regional Hospital Health Foundation Funds to the Shawnee Family YMCA Fund and the Waynoka Historical Society Fund.
“We don't manage the money for the foundations, or decide who gets the grants,” Merrick said. “But we've designed an efficient model for both the giver and the asker.”
FMI handles everything from planning meetings and retreats for foundations to keeping their books and customizing and processing grant applications.
From his offices at 2932 NW 122, Merrick, 57, sat down with The Oklahoman on Monday to talk about how he, 13 years ago, created what he calls his dream job. This is an edited transcript:
Q: The Merrick Family Foundation is one of a dozen private trusts your company helps manage. Has philanthropy always been a part of your life?
A: It has. My grandfather, Ward S. Merrick, and his stepmother established the trust in 1948 after the death of my great-grandfather — Frank Merrick for whom I was named. My grandfather and his father moved from Chicago to Oklahoma to drill oil wells. I only learned a year ago, from historian Bob Blackburn, that my grandparents owned Fort Washita in the Durant/Ada area and gave it to the state of Oklahoma in '69. But I remember digging up the remains of a soldier there when I was about 8. I also remember the newspaper headlines when my grandparents created the first chair at the University of Oklahoma when I was in junior high. My grandfather was one of the founders of the OU Foundation.
Q: Tell us about your childhood.
A: I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Ardmore area — with a brother and sister, four and two years older, and another brother, two years younger. My first job was in the fifth grade, throwing The Daily Ardmoreite on afternoons and Sunday mornings. In high school, I worked for a retail clothing store and saved enough money to buy my first car, a '73 four-door Thunderbird, the day I graduated high school. My father, who earned a geology degree from OU, refused to buy us kids cars until we successfully passed two years of college. He was diagnosed with M.S. when I was 16, but we didn't lose him until I was in my late 40s. He fought going into a wheelchair and, instead, continued to walk kind of like a drunk guy, before his last year of life when he used a scooter. My mother — Marianne Brown Bachman — remarried and lives in Edmond.
Q: And college? Did you successfully pass two years?
A: I graduated high school a semester early, in January '74, and went to OSU, where I pledged Sigma Nu and started working for Harold's clothing store and, later, as a recruiter for OSU and as owner-operator of my own lawn business. My dad didn't want me to work, but I told him my allowance wasn't big enough. I worked every day of college, which helped me justify that I didn't make straight A's. I graduated with a GPA just shy of 3.0. My third semester, I made a 1.4 and my dad sent me a letter, saying “Do not enroll the next semester. You've got a job in the oil fields.” I appealed to him for one more chance — and got it. After I passed two years of college, he did buy me a brand new Ford Granada, but I hated it. I liked my Thunderbird better.
Q: And following college graduation?
A: I started working for Stillwater National Bank my senior year and, when I graduated, stayed with them as a loan officer and manager of their SBA program. Then in 1980, when my father was sick, my family asked me to come home to Ardmore to run the oil and gas business and Merrick Family Foundation.
Q: What led you to start FMI?
A: It feels like it happened almost subconsciously. In '94, we sold our oil and gas business and I moved to Oklahoma City, where I worked three years as a professional fundraiser for Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. I worked the next three years in the trust department for Bank of Oklahoma, where I learned money management. It was then I hatched the idea that there was a need for an organization that could provide a professional back office to philanthropic family trusts. In 2000, I called my wife and told her I quit my job. She asked how many clients I had. I told her one, who was paying $750 a month. Then she asked me if I had an office. I told her yes, which I was leasing for $750 a month. It was then that she hit the panic button. But along with the client, whom I served at BOK, I was hired to manage the Merrick Family Foundation and we've grown exponentially from there. In addition to managing foundations, FMI (runs) disaster assistance funds established by Sonic Industries, OG&E, Chesapeake Energy and others to aid employees hit with financial hardships.
Q: Tell us more about what your family foundation supports.
A: Most recently, we've worked closely with OSU on student health initiatives — from working to eliminate tobacco use and foster healthy diets to promoting exercise and avoiding drug and alcohol use. We were very instrumental two years ago in launching the Homeless Alliance at 33rd and Virginia in Oklahoma City, where up to 500 people eat breakfast and/or lunch every day and receive medical, legal and other resources to help them get off the streets and live on their own. Christmas week, I and my staff helped hand out more than 500 baskets filled with toilet paper, socks and other necessities.