Philanthropic Engagement in Memphis, TN
Last month, Memphis-area leaders from local foundations, city government, non-profit organizations, and private sector companies were joined by national experts for peer-to-peer learning, sharing and strategizing during the Philanthropic Engagement Network Peer Exchange.
In recent years, state and federal funding to cities has decreased, resulting in philanthropic organizations playing a more significant role in advancing innovation and mobilizing resources. In cities like Memphis, foundations have demonstrated a sustained interest in building a more equitable society by directly investing in our community. Because we rely more and more on foundations to help close the resource gap, Memphis recognizes the need to better understand how to conceptualize and manage philanthropic relationships, attract more philanthropic partners to the city, and manage relationships with internal and external competitors for philanthropic dollars.
With support from the German Marshall Fund and the Surdna Foundation, we welcomed Jeremy Johnson, the philanthropic liaison for the City of Newark, Katie Grace, program manager from the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University, and Benjamin Kennedy, deputy director at the Kresge Foundation to share their expertise and knowledge of municipalities building capacity and planning to successfully engage local and national foundations. Ultimately, our goal was to develop a framework for Memphis and think deeply about the local capacity we already have or will need to build to support philanthropic engagement efforts.
The Philanthropic Engagement Network Peer Exchange provided a forum for stakeholders with varied interests, but with some role in or connection to Memphis’ philanthropic landscape, to come together for open and candid conversations about their priorities and goals and how they fit into the broader context of the city’s needs. The Peer Exchange also created an opportunity to engage the help of AmeriCorps VISTA members who recently came to Memphis to focus on building capacity at non-profits and local government agencies to strengthen programs that help individuals and communities out of poverty.
The two day sessions included an overview of existing relationships with philanthropic organizations, understanding national best practices with a focus on what works in Detroit, MI and Newark, NJ, and brainstorming what types of engagement strategies might be successful in Memphis. Visiting experts stressed the importance of building relationships, learning and sharing information, and aligning strategies that can lead to investment. The Peer Exchange also incorporated tours of local sites that serve as models for successful philanthropic engagement and that demonstrate the impact of strategic partnerships breathing new life into once thriving areas of the city. Participants visited the Broad Avenue Arts District, a historically significant community that has been revitalized and transformed with support from philanthropic organizations into a vibrant arts destination in the heart of the city. We also toured the Memphis Slim Collaboratory in the Soulsville neighborhood. An initiative of Community LIFT, this innovative center offers music rehearsal space, a training recording studio, computer lab, workshops and career training in the music industry, and pulls support from local universities as well as local and national foundations.
During the Peer Exchange, conversations centered around creating a new structure for engagement between the City of Memphis and local philanthropies. A major takeaway was that we had not established methods of clear or regular communications and exchanging ideas, often resulting in undefined or competing priorities. Participants agreed to regularly engage representatives from the City with the Memphis Grantmakers Forum as a first step. As an established network of philanthropic individuals and organizations dedicated to responsible, sustainable philanthropy in the Greater Memphis region, the Memphis Grantmakers Forum emerged as a natural fit to create more deliberate partnerships between the philanthropic community and City leaders.
The Philanthropic Engagement Network Peer Exchange allowed leaders working to ensure Memphis lives up to its potential to be a thriving, cutting edge city, to identify what works in building partnerships with the philanthropic community, while recognizing where we fall short. As a result, we have determined a clear direction and created a framework for more structured philanthropic engagement. We look forward to continuing the conversations and developing a strategic vision that incorporates the lessons learned during the Peer Exchange and benefits our city.
From June 4-6, 2014, the city of Memphis hosted a peer exchange in support of the city’s philanthropic engagement strategy. The peer exchange is part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Leadership Activities, hosted by the Urban and Regional Policy Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. This was a report on the peer exchange in by Surayyah Hasan, SC2 Fellow for Memphis.
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