VOL. 133 | NO. 4 | Thursday, January 4, 2018
While tax law changes have some worried about the impact on charitable giving in 2018, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis president Robert Fockler points to Memphis’s historical standing as a generous city and his foundation’s own growth as reasons he is not worried as the calendar flips to a new year.
A number of nonprofits have moved their homes into Crosstown Concourse, including Crosstown Arts, which was instrumental in planning and ensuring the urban village was developed. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)
In November, the latest data from the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed Memphis had jumped over Salt Lake City to become the nation’s most generous metropolitan area despite having a high poverty rate. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis also had a robust year, handling $161 million in grants for fiscal 2017 – the fifth straight year that the nonprofit increased its grant total.
“We’re running ahead of last year already,” Fockler said, noting that their fiscal years ends in April.
He also takes heart in Memphis’ status as the most generous city in the land.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’ve been bragging about being No. 2. Memphis isn’t a wealthy city, but certainly a generous one.”
Also, a city that has a different attitude about itself, he believes. Fockler says Memphis’s psychology, if you will, is much healthier than it was 20 years ago.
“For a long time, we thought everything we touched would turn to lead,” he said.
That has changed and so has the reputation of the city in nonprofit circles nationally.
“When I travel throughout the country, people talk about Memphis,” said Youth Villages CEO Pat Lawler.
Of course, there is still an important discussion to be had here: How is it that Memphis can both be the most generous city in America and still have a major, systemic poverty problem?
It’s a question that those at United Way of the Mid-South are constantly addressing, says chief communications and engagement officer Lori Spicer Robertson.
She says much of the city’s generosity can be traced to being in the Bible Belt: “A lot of church and faith-based giving.”
United Way of the Mid-South had hoped to formally launch its “Driving the Dream” campaign aimed at reducing poverty in 2017 after running a pilot program in 2016. But now, the program won’t launch until February. Much of 2017, she says, was focused on adjusting their brand and business model, adding, “In the past, we weren’t as donor-centric as we wanted to be.”
Among the highlights from Youth Villages’ year was breaking ground on Bill’s Place, a $22 million expansion to help children with the most serious mental, emotional and behavioral challenges combined with medical issues. Youth Villages also was part of a clinical trial in Shelby County and across Tennessee with the goal of helping the age 18-22 population exiting the juvenile court system.
Crosstown Concourse opened in 2017.
“It’s a big deal,” Fockler said. “It’s the nexus of nonprofit organizations – educational and philanthropy. It’s got 17 nonprofit organizations” and it will continue to have a positive influence on that neighborhood.
The former Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence became Momentum Nonprofit Partners under new CEO Kevin Dean.
“We felt like a complete overhaul of the brand was important, almost like sun-setting ’alliance’ with this new startup ‘momentum,’” Dean told The Daily News in November. “They’re going to be two very different things.”
Explore Bike Share moved closer to its rollout and is now expecting to hit the streets this spring with 60 stations and 600 bikes. The organization’s board of directors hired Trey Moore to run the organization; he returns to Memphis after almost 20 years of nonprofit experience in Atlanta.
Lauren Taylor, senior program director of Hyde Family Foundations, a founding funder for Explore Bike Share, said these “accessible bicycles will unlock new transportation experiences in neighborhoods across the city.”
Shelby Farms Park celebrated the one-year anniversary of its Heart of the Park enhancement and welcomed nearly 3 million visitors. Change was afoot at Overton Park with news that the Brooks Museum would be moving Downtown. Also, Ballet Memphis left its building beyond the Interstate 240 loop in Memphis – the building was purchased by the Tennessee Shakespeare Company – and relocated to Overton Square.
Clayborn Temple opened for events in 2017 and more renovations are to come, with Fockler expecting it to become an ever-larger focal point in the city.
Fockler said the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis had a “crazy December” as the combination of the change in tax laws and a “roaring stock market” led to a spike in donations.
“Best December I remember,” he said, noting that normally they open 30 to 40 funds in a year and opened 24 in December alone.
“I’m not sure what the new tax structure will hold for us,” he said. “Some of our peers think it’ll be a drag on charitable giving. But I’m not too worried about it hurting the charitable giving spirit in Memphis in 2018.”