by Kiesha Davis

This summer as we closed out the last learning session for leaders of youth serving music organizations in our Institute for Nonprofit Excellence (INE), a capacity building model developed as an approach to supporting the organizational development goals, we offered a panel discussion on nonprofit operational practices.  Over the prior months, cohort participants engaged with one another and experts from across the field on various topics to support their organizational aspirations to serve Memphis youth. This panel served as a capstone event that reflected on many of the touch points covered during previous sessions, but unknowingly the tone and tenor of the panel took a poignant turn.

Panelists included some of my favorite new colleagues here in Memphis, a veritable group of nonprofit rockstars with decades of experience in leading, innovating and pushing the sector toward its greatest heights. Their experiences range from arts administration, strategic planning, fund development, grant writing and program development — but what transpired in their offerings to the cohort was much broader than just their on-the-job expertise. I can’t recall the exact moment, but the discussion evolved into an authentic exchange about facing the challenges of leadership in today’s sector, the importance of self-care, and first-hand accounts of the brass tacks it takes to grow an organization.

That honest dialogue from a group of leaders that have done the work and were willing to openly share about the paths they embarked on to get to through it all was refreshing and came right on time. I could feel the tide of the participants’ attention turn, which opened the door for less guarded questions from the group to emerge. At one point, a question was asked about navigating the transition in roles within an organization in which one already worked. There were a couple of participants whose positions were evolving from lead program staff to lead executive staff of their respective organizations. Following that question, one of the cohort participants leaned over to me and simply said “Thank you.” He was one of those folks contemplating the transition in roles and his thanks was a gracious acknowledgement of the insights panelists shared, and how helpful it was to his changing situation. In that moment, I was reminded about the importance of our approach to meeting organizations where they are, especially in an ever evolving environment such as the times we are in now.

As our work deepens, we become more keenly aware of the need for intentional, in-depth and multifaceted approaches to supporting local music engagement programs to reach their optimum quality. On the heels of the launch of the INE we have kicked off our Program Development Institute (PDI), developed to foster the quality design, refinement and measurement of music engagement programs serving youth in communities that matter most to us.  As an extension of our support for critical partnerships across the local arts ecosystem, our team solicited a breadth of insights from organizational leaders and program teams to inquire about their needs, interests, and program aspirations. Our aim was to tune in to those aspects – honoring their voices – to inform our approach in helping those teams bolster the potential for increased capacity and ability to access funds to sustain programs for youth in the long term.

At MMI, our core values include honoring voice and embracing change. These values, among others, under-gird our work to  invest in youth development through transformative music engagement, creating equitable opportunities for black and brown youth in Memphis.

As Director of Grantmaking and Capacity Building, Kiesha leads a team responsible for the stewardship of Memphis Music Initiative’s (MMI) investments to build strong and efficient organizations. She leads the team in the development of strategies to foster organizational sustainability and improve the quality of music engagement programs for black and brown youth. Kiesha’s career has been dedicated to creating equitable opportunities for black youth in communities like Memphis. She brings to MMI extensive experience in building and fostering grantee relationships, amplifying collaborations to address community level outcomes and expertise in developing large scale multi-million dollar grantmaking frameworks. Kiesha’s broad based experience includes designing professional development programs to help elevate funder grantmaking capacity, fostering learning and momentum building for funder collaborations around shared objectives including expansion of philanthropic practices around equity and inclusion, and process development including data analysis for nonprofits.