New websites change giving game in Memphis

Two new websites launched last month that aim to help Memphians make easier philanthropic choices by providing a one-stop resource for all organizations serving the Memphis area and data on where community need exists.
Memphis is a city of great need, but also one filled with many organizations addressing them. The problem, though, is a lack of coordination among organizations providing similar services. And for many Memphians, discovering the best organizations that serve a specific need sometimes is difficult at best.

Two new websites look to bring that needed coordination while providing a one-stop resource for all organizations serving the Memphis area.

WHEREweLIVEmidsouth.org and WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org are meant to help Memphians understand the organizations working in the city as well as the specific neighborhoods where those needs are greatest. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis developed the sites with the help and collaboration of a number of philanthropic organizations, corporations and nonprofit partners.

“There is a lot going on in Memphis that people don’t always know where the facts are from,” said Robert Fockler, President of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. “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.”

The two websites launched Nov. 24. A couple of years in the making, the sites work together to provide the public with current, accurate information about the health and livability of the Memphis metro area while also connecting them with nonprofit organizations that are working to improve the community.

They are two separate sites but are interconnected in so many ways. The sites give people information about communities while providing avenues to get involved in those areas. The sites will use actual data to drive change.

Data will be drawn from a variety of public sources, and curated and organized by staff at the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability and the University of Memphis. The city’s vast number of nonprofit agencies will create their own free profiles.

“Our whole thing is about people having access to data so they can do more for their communities,” said Sutton Mora Hayes, Vice President of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. “There is no hidden agenda. People have a right to access this data and it’s been hard so we’re trying to make it easier. We’re looking forward to how they will use it and create change in their community.”

WHEREweLIVE is a dashboard that allows people to look at Memphis in different ways – from a regional, macro level down to the city block they are interested in. It uses data from a variety of public sources to show objective, current information on a variety of livability and health factors for an area.

Looking for how many miles of bike lanes are in a ZIP code or the number of health clinics within a certain mile radius of an address? The site provides those items and so much more.

WHEREtoGIVE is more of a directory of all the nonprofit organizations and various agencies that serve the Memphis area. Organizations are asked to create profiles that list their mission, staff and board of directors, various programs and services, and financial information.

Visitors to the site can search the profiles to find organizations that work in a focused area or serve a specific need.

A number of Memphis organizations are bought in, so to speak. The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis developed the sites, but several other organizations and nonprofits helped. The project cost $400,000, all of which is from private sources, including: ArtsMemphis, Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, FedEx Corp., First Tennessee Foundation, Hope Christian Community Foundation, Hyde Family Foundations, Jewish Foundation of Memphis, Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation, Sylvia Goldsmith Marks, Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, Plough Foundation, Poplar Foundation, Pyramid Peak Foundation, United Way of the Mid-South, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and the Bloomberg Award for Partners for Places Grant Program.

In short, the community is behind the effort.

“For us it meets our goals for livable communities and encouraging the philanthropy of others,” said Lauren Taylor, Program Director for Livable Communities for Hyde Family Foundations. “To create a day-to-day community indicator has been a priority for us. One of our priorities in livable communities is to strengthen neighborhoods from inside-out leadership. Our goal is increasing the number of people who are physically active and engaged.”

A similar platform listing agencies exists in nearly 20 other cities. But the coordination between a site listing the services and another site that gives data on the specific needs in a concentrated area only exists in Memphis. While a number of other cities have one or the other, Memphis is the only city that now has both sites talking to each other, Fockler said.

Each nonprofit organization has its own profile. When creating it the organization can tag themselves in one of three categories. Church Health Center, for example, might tag itself as health care first so it shows up higher in the list of health care organizations when people are searching for those agencies.

The information nonprofit organizations provide should make the grant process easier.

“While we have our process and our questions we ask, when someone asks for us to fund a project the data that’s provided can be hit or miss,” Taylor said. “Some organizations are thorough and some are selective. We now have WHEREweLIVE where we can go and fact check the information, dig a little deeper. For the organizations that are under-resourced or individuals who don’t have the time to dig through data sets that’s incredibly valuable. … Then go to the WHEREtoGIVE side you can compare apples to apples and see the programs. It’s a level playing field.”

But it’s not just helpful in the application process. Taylor said the sites will enable funding organizations like hers to create baselines for services and over time see if the work is actually making a difference.

Organizations that participate are required to update their profiles once a year. Financials are automatically loaded for the last three years. The organization profile pages also have a Donate Now button for anyone wanting to contribute, offering up one more point of contact to give the vast number of nonprofit organizations in Memphis a way to get closer to the community.

The Community Foundation serves as the neutral auditing agency, Hayes said.

“The information is from the experts in each of these fields,” she said. “When talking about health the information came from the health department. We brought together all these partners to talk about what they are good at. If we can streamline what everybody is talking about then we have less overlap.”

And over time, she said, it will hopefully create trust that people can feel between neighborhoods and organizations, seeing them as one talking to each other.

Overlap is actually an issue in the nonprofit world. If used to its full potential, the WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org site will show users the organizations that are working on a specific need in a given area.

“From the funding community we get a lot of people who call and say they have a great idea for a nonprofit,” Hayes said. “We’re hoping in the long run this becomes a resource. If I’m in Frayser and working on something, I can look at this and see what is offered there. There is a lot of duplication in the nonprofit community. Hopefully organizations can see who they can partner with or maybe there is some way to learn from each other.”

An important next step is getting more of the nonprofit community on board so the platform is a more complete representation of what and who is at work in Memphis.

There are 100 profiles created but more than 300 agencies in the pipeline.

“The next six months are more important than the last six months,” Fockler said. “Understanding how people use it and encouraging them. We need people to use it. For the nonprofits, we need them to get their peers to use it. It is incumbent on us to get as many people on it as we can.

“If we only have 100 agencies it won’t be what it needs to be. But the 100 on there we were smart going after 30 of the most important agencies. If people come on the site and don’t see the Church Health Center or MIFA or the Food Bank they’ll scratch their heads and say, ‘What’s going on?’”

The long-term hope is that a critical mass of nonprofit organizations will be in the system, meaning if agencies aren’t listed it almost will be like they don’t exist.

“It’s a carrot-and-stick thing,” Fockler said. “We know a number of funders will require this to be able to apply for a grant.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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