Memphis is home to so many amazing local and grassroots arts organizations, each equipped with unique perspectives, gifts, and challenges. Through MMI’s Grantmaking and Capacity Building (GMCB) program, we have the opportunity to work—and grow—alongside many of these organizations as they develop their programs and serve our city’s young people. As we’ve evolved in our work, we have embraced the framework of a journey map, taking unique journeys alongside each partner organization as they grow.
Many of our grantee partners begin their relationship with MMI in our Program Development Institute (PDI), which focuses on one component of that organization’s programming—whether that’s summer programming, their evaluation plan, or something else. Throughout our engagement, MMI provides leadership, technical training, and support for grassroots organizations to bolster grantees in building their capacity and enhancing the quality of their programs.
Some of the organizations who engage with us through PDI eventually move into the Institute for Nonprofit Excellence cohort. The INE centers sustainability across all four areas of our capacity building framework—organizational effectiveness, data readiness, program quality, and sustainability—so that our partners can take the next steps in serving the youth arts sector in Memphis. In this, our partners are our guides. We work with each organization to define for themselves what sustainability or thrivability could look like in their work.
This year, we welcomed three incredible local arts organizations into the INE program: Young Actors Guild, Blues City Cultural Center, and Perfecting Gifts, Inc.
Tawanna Brown, MMI’s Community Music Program Manager has been with MMI since 2016 and has worked closely with leaders at each of these organizations during their time in MMI’s PDI program. “Getting to know the organizations and gaining perspective on the unique and valuable gifts that each team offers young people, families, and the creative arts ecosystem has been a joy,” she says.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with leaders at each of these organizations. Stay tuned to learn more about the amazing work they’re doing for Memphis youth.
Like many of our partners, the GMCB program has itself been on a capacity building journey, and we’ve learned plenty about how to better support our partners and community along the way.
When programming began, we prioritized funding initiatives for organizations that we thought could have a broad impact on the arts ecosystem. But, says Dr. Rychetta Watkins, MMI’s Director of Grantmaking & Partnerships, we found that relying on those institutions to connect with the smaller organizations didn’t always—or even often—serve Memphis best. “Realizing that,” she says, “we took a step back to ask ourselves, ‘If we want our grantmaking practices to impact the Black community and to strengthen the Black arts ecosystem, how do we get more proximate to the work?’”
Over the last couple of years, we have retooled our program to better support Black-led organizations and their leaders directly. Because of philanthropic redlining, many of these are smaller, community-based organizations—some without a 501(c)(3). “In that way, we're different from a lot of funders who make nonprofit status a requirement,” says Watkins. “We’ve learned to make the investment in Black and brown-led organizations. Keeping grants open to emerging organizations is also important.”
“We realized that, especially with smaller organizations, there can be many variations from the conventional wisdom about organizational development,” Watkins explains. “Also, much of the literature about organizational development doesn’t fully account for the intersections between organizational development and the long-term impacts of racism—how it affects leadership, staffing, and partnerships, and funding.”
Often, traditional ways of thinking about sustainability and capacity building need to be updated to reflect where our partners are right now. “A big part of our learning has been redefining what we mean by capacity building, and that has led to a shift in thinking about entry points for organizations as well,” says Watkins.
The concept of journey mapping is itself a redefinition of MMI’s Grantmaking program. We’ve learned that, rather than sticking to a check-the-boxes approach, we need to provide something much more tailored and responsive. Success doesn’t look the same for every organization, and neither does the path to sustainability. By centering organizations and projecting organic next steps based on their stated goals and current trajectory, we’re able to be more flexible.
MMI’s Brown points to a few specific updates that GMCB has made in recent years to best serve the needs of our grantee partners and support them as they look to the future; for example, moving from requiring written to oral reporting to save partners time so that they can focus on their programs. We’ve also supplemented—even supplanted, in many cases—workshops with trained, contracted hands to do the work.
Ultimately, we’re all on this journey together. And our work, Brown says, “has been shaped and informed by the wisdom and insight of partners.”
Join us next week for our conversation with Sharonda Mitchell, Executive Director of Perfecting Gifts, Inc.