Moving Up: A Community Foundation Gains Momentum in Tennessee

Tennessee ranks at the bottom of Southeast philanthropy, with about 821 foundations to fight the good fight, compared to 5,283 foundations in Florida and over 3,000 in North Carolina. Yet community foundations are a big deal in the Southeast right now and transforming unexpected regions into grantmaking machines.

The Memphis Business Journal recently highlighted the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM) for its big year and emerging as the largest grantmaker in the Memphis area. Community giving has now exceeded $1 billion, but this is more than just a milestone. On a broader scale, the funder’s increasingly high profile exemplifies philanthropy’s overall growth in the Southeast region.  

In Southern Trends Report: Philanthropy in the Southeast Region, a locally focused report published by the Southeastern Council of Foundations and the Foundation Center, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis ranked 10th in for total giving. With $88.9 million in total giving, this funder ranked right up there with Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and the Knight Foundation. No easy feat.

Meanwhile, the funder didn’t even make the top 25 list for total assets in the region at all. Not surprisingly, the report shared that CFGM is the top giver in the state of Tennessee, although the Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Community Foundation of Tennessee have more assets.

Related: What's Going On With Philanthropy in the American Southeast? Here's a Quick Look

Like many funders that are gaining prominence and a high profile these days, CFGM is really putting a lot of work into public-private partnerships. As a community funder, it does this through directing private money towards projects through direct giving and grant writing. It manages about 1,000 charitable funds today and over $450 million in assets. 

The minimum amount to start a fund at CFGM is $10,000, but the funder also has a Give 365 campaign that allows Memphis donors to give to local nonprofits with just $365 per year. This is a community foundation that’s been on the philanthropy scene since 1969.

“As we grew, we discovered new ways to put our financial expertise to work for government, as well,” shared foundation president Robert Fockler. “Most recently, we were pleased to be a part of the comprehensive public/private partnership that provided more than $8 million for the Harahan Bridge Project—both the design and construction of the new Big River Crossing trail and the lighting of the bridge.”

In line with general Southeast trends, most CFGM funds go towards education, in fact about half of overall grantmaking. CFGM education funding has risen in recent years, and funders in the Southeast continue to say that education is their top concern. Quality K-12 public education and early childhood education are expected to remain fixtures in CFGM’s giving for the foreseeable future.

Something else interesting about this funder is that it doesn’t strictly stick to the Memphis metro area. Discretionary grants are awarded throughout western Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, and northern Mississippi.

Another regional trend that CFGM is onboard with is nonprofit capacity building.  The funder awards grants between $5,500 and $40,000 to things like evaluating core programs, staff and board training, improving technology systems, and mergers between organizations. A listing of recent nonprofit capacity building grants, community wide grants, and intermediary can be viewed here. Nonprofits in the CFGM’s service area are encouraged to email Ashely Harper, director of grants & initiatives to discuss the details of working together.