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VOL. 130 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sparking Change

Lineup makes nonprofit conference a can’t-miss event

By Don Wade

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Memphis is not Silicon Valley. And the nonprofit sector is not the tech industry. But nonprofits could perhaps learn something from companies large and small that make Silicon Valley the tech epicenter.

“It’s the human condition. The only thing that gets us out of our comfort zone is a deliberate attempt,” said Lissette Rodriguez, managing director of PropelNext at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and a featured speaker at the 10th annual Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence Conference on April 30 at Temple Israel.

Phil Trenary is the president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber. He is one in the group of speakers at the 10th annual Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence Conference April 30 at Temple Israel.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“If you look at the tech industry,” Rodriguez said, “it evolved so quickly because it’s so competitive. If it wasn’t for that competition, would we have the same type of innovation? Probably not.”

Although an improved economy in recent years has alleviated some of the immediate financial pressures on nonprofits, Rodriguez said demand for services from nonprofits remains high and organizations aren’t always equipped to meet all the needs.

“To provide good services, you have to have a sound organization,” she said. “You have to run it well. I see a lot of organizations (across the country) challenged by that.”

Before joining the foundation, Rodriguez was senior vice president for field development at YouthBuild USA. She was charged with running large-scale training and technical assistance programs and provided capacity-building support to organizations in their early stages.

She gained experience in grant making as a senior program officer and director of the Fund for the Homeless at the Boston Foundation. She also was the founding executive director of Boston’s Casa Nueva Vida, a shelter for homeless Latinas and their children.

It’s that wide breadth of experience that Rodriguez and other featured speakers bring to the conference that have made it a can’t-miss event for Syd Lerner, executive director of Greater Memphis Greenline.

“It provides a broader perspective and you want to see the momentum of who’s doing what at a higher level,” Lerner said.

“I get something different out of it every year,” said Christine Weinreich, director of corporate and foundation relations in the office of institutional advancement at Southern College of Optometry. “But the thing I get every year is this amazing, diverse group of nonprofit leaders in attendance.”

Phil Trenary, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, noted the Memphis metro area ranked No. 2 for charitable giving in 2014.

“That shows just how powerful the nonprofit arena is in our community,” he said.

Trenary is a speaker at the April conference. He said nonprofits are an essential part of the chamber’s mission to grow Memphis’ middle class. The chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, a group of 100 community CEOs, partners with local nonprofits to accomplish coordinated, community-transformation efforts.

“We will continue to foster an environment of collaboration between business, nonprofit and government so that we can spark transformational change in Memphis,” Trenary said.

Other speakers include: Ruth McCambridge, editor-in-chief, Nonprofit Quarterly; William A. Schambra, senior fellow, Hudson Institute; and keynote speaker Lindsay Austin Louie, program officer, effective philanthropy group, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 30 at Temple Israel. Conference fees range from $50 for students to $160 for non-Alliance members and all walk-up registrants.

Although nonprofits don’t like to pit themselves against one another, they are undeniably in competition.

“You’re competing for funding and market share,” Rodriguez said. “Or establishing yourself in a community or a set of communities.”

Recently, the Alliance held its annual media panel session to help local nonprofits better understand how local media works and how nonprofits can more effectively get their message out to the public. An anchor from WMC Action News 5, an editor from The Commercial Appeal, a reporter from the Memphis Daily News, and a veteran public relations person were among the panelists.

“It helped with understanding what (media outlets) need and the timing of things,” Lerner said. “And the value of relationships.”

Said Weinreich: “The two things I got were the difference in approach between print and TV is not always something we appreciate, and the importance of managing the message.”

Weinreich shared the experience of working with a TV reporter that insisted on describing a service being provided as “free” when, technically, it wasn’t and medical reimbursements were involved.

“It’s OK to say that’s not OK,” Weinreich said. “Sometimes as nonprofits we feel we are beholden to the media.”

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