GOODworks: Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

GOODworks: Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

Memphis has a reputation as a giving community. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis plays a major role in the coordination of those efforts.


The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis was founded in 1969 out of what was then known as Future Memphis, an effort born out of the city sanitation workers’ strike. The foundation’s mission is to grow and support charitable giving in the city.


The Community Foundation’s mission of strengthening the community through philanthropy is fulfilled thanks to nearly 1,000 donors – individuals, families and companies – who work with the organization as a charitable partner.


In fiscal year 2017, donors made gifts of $102.5 million to the foundation, and it directed grants of $161.6 million to various nonprofit organizations. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis offers donor-advised funds and other charitable fund options that helps donors who want to be strategic in giving.


“Through sound planning and investing, and with the spending flexibility that donor-advised funds offer, the Community Foundation helps donors ultimately do more for the organizations and causes they care about most,” said Bob Fockler, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. “The collective impact is greater than a few wealthy families or charitable organizations. Memphis is a grassroots, blue collar place. The Community Foundation is a great example of that.”


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Since its founding nearly 50 years ago, total historical gifts received from donors is $1.3 billion, and total historical grants made to nonprofit organizations is $1.1 billion. Those efforts touch areas that include literacy and education, health and human services, community economic development, the environment and the arts.


Efforts have grown a great deal over the past five years, going from an average of just less than $34 million a year to $161.6 million in the most recent fiscal year. Fockler said there are multiple reasons.


“First, we’ve done a better job of telling our story and attracting donors,” he said. “Part of that is what’s going on in Memphis. Specific issues that are hot today, with the main one being public education. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the last three, four years on K through 12 education.”


Those investments have included acquisition of physical space for charter schools. Arts also have gained in popularity, in part thanks to the new location for Ballet Memphis in Overton Square. The Community Foundation also has stepped in to help donors give to communities hit by recent natural disasters.


One of the newest ways the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis serves the community is, a community information system that is the only resource of its kind in the area. It centralizes public data in a way that is convenient for nonprofit organizations and is accessible to donors.


Comprised of two websites, and, it launched in late 2015. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, along with collaboration with several philanthropic organizations, corporations and nonprofit partners, developed the sites in an effort to bring needed coordination and serve as a one-stop resource for the giving community.


“There is a lot going on in Memphis that people don’t always know where the facts are from,” Fockler said. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for everyone in our city to make the impact they want, where they want, as soon as they want. Memphis is big enough that I don’t know where all the facts are but it’s small enough that I should be able to get the information.”


WHEREweLIVEmidsouth is a database that allows users to identify areas of need based on statistical information that’s compiled from various public data resources. WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth serves as a directory of Memphis-area nonprofit organizations, a place where individual donors can find organizations connected to the work that concerns him or her, whether that’s a food pantry, clothes closet, literacy program or homeless shelter. More than 250 organizations are uploaded to the site so far.


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“One of the advantages of WHEREtoGIVE is it has major information a funder wants to know before making a grant,” Fockler said. “It has greatly streamlined what funders want to see in a grant application.”


The two sites work together to provide current and accurate information about the Memphis metro area while connecting users to nonprofit organizations that are focused on community improvements in various ways. The two sites can be used separately, and each contains a wealth of useful information.


When used together, the two sites reveal potential that lies in individual neighborhoods and shows the local nonprofit organizations doing the work there. The individual nonprofit organizations create their own free profiles on the site. Organizations create profiles that list its mission, staff and board of directors, various programs and services, and financial information.


While the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis works to connect donors to organizations, the effort depended on numerous organizations and nonprofits in Memphis to get off the ground, giving broad buy-in across the community.


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Another way the Community Foundation encourages Memphians to give back is through GiVE 365, an effort launched in 2010 that is a way to give daily. Anyone can participate, but GiVE 365 has its roots in the idea of giving emerging philanthropists an opportunity to make a collective impact on the community.


GiVE 365 is a dollar-a-day giving circle that lets members pool resources to make a larger impact. Those individual $365 annual donations pooled together go a long way in making an impact. In fact, since its inception GiVE 365 has grown to 240 members and has provided $438,190 in grants to 54 community groups and initiatives. GiVE 365 also has an endowment that has grown to more than $520,000.


GiVE 365 gives its members exposure to a diverse range of social issues and the community-based efforts working to address them while leveraging financial and human capital for a collective impact to a wide range of nonprofit and community-based projects.


A kickoff event was held in October, but anyone can join at any time on the website. Participants can donate monthly, annually or even make a one-time lifetime membership give of $3,650.


GiVE 365 involvement isn’t seen as a gateway to fund creation.


“The purpose of GiVE 365 is truly to get people involved in philanthropy. If down the road they want to open a fund that’s great, but the purpose isn’t to get them in the door and cross sell,” Fockler said. “The purpose is for GiVE 365 alone. We’ve had several donors open funds with us recently, so it does happen but it’s very strong in our culture that GiVE 365 is its own purpose and own mission.”


The minimum to open a fund is $10,000, so GiVE 365 gives an access point to more donors. No matter what way donors decide to contribute, the Community Foundation works to make it easy.


“Usually there is a trigger point for someone to make a first give. Sometimes they have cash on hand or get a bonus at work or a small inheritance,” Fockler said. “They start supporting things they care about, maybe church or their child’s school or an arts group.”


There are several ways for individuals or organizations to get involved. The Community Foundation can manage corporate giving programs. Individuals can get involved in GiVE 365 or open funds. There also are volunteer committees that decide where grants go. The Community Foundation also manages endowment and reserve funds for nonprofits.


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