City visionary: Rick Masson

Rick Masson, a trusted and experienced leader in public strategy, is back at the helm of the Plough Foundation.
After holding the foundation’s CEO position for five and half years (from 2003 to 2008), his talents took him elsewhere. However, Masson said it has been easy to “come back home.”
The obvious fit is that the Plough Foundation is committed to Memphis — and so is Rick Masson.
With a career that encompasses a myriad of positions, all poised to benefit the Greater Memphis community, Masson has a true passion for moving Memphis forward. He served in city government for 23 years, including four years as CFO and seven years as CAO, and then moved from the government sector to the nonprofit arena as Executive Director of the Plough Foundation.
“The Plough Foundation was always a big supporter of Shelby Farms Park,” explained Masson. “I was slated to be on the planning committee for a Master Plan for Shelby Farms Park. After receiving a phone call from then County Mayor AC Wharton, I accepted the position to be chairman of that committee. From chairman I moved into the Executive Director for the conservancy, helping to launch that nonprofit organization. Some of our milestones included redoing the playground, helping with the Greenline and finding funding for the bridge over the Wolf River.”
In 2010, Masson decided to take some time off, when the phone rang again and then City Mayor Wharton asked Masson to help with the General Services Division of City Government, making recommendations on personnel as a consultant.
Since then, Masson has been involved in a wide variety of public strategy, project-based work for both government and nonprofit organizations, working the last three years through Caissa Public Strategy. He was also named to the board of the Plough Foundation several years ago, so when the opportunity opened up to come back in a full-time fashion, Masson enthusiastically said yes.
Having seen the issues from both sides of the proverbial coin, Masson is in a unique position to lead The Plough Foundation.
“It is the board’s job to make decisions about the areas of importance to the foundation and award grants to that end. It is then my job is to provide our board with information about the broader issues being addressed, and help guide the board to be able to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.”
When asked what resonates most with him in regards to the Plough Foundation, Masson said, “It has served as a vital funding source for so many important projects in our city. Memphis is a better place because of the Plough Foundation. And we are able to help fund a wide variety of organizations, with all of the money staying in the Memphis community (because it was the vision of Abe Plough, the foundation’s founder, as a means of giving back to the community where he had made his money).”
Masson continued, “We try to assist with a lot of the tough issues our community faces, including education, social services, substance abuse, homelessness and more. And those nonprofit agencies that receive Plough Foundation funding view it as a ‘seal of approval,’ a sort of stamp of credibility, knowing that their projects have been fully vetted and their ability to exercise their impact has our backing.”
Having been back at The Plough Foundation for only a few weeks, Masson said it was too early to determine what other directions he might move Plough into, but he was certain that first and foremost, the foundation will continue with aging initiatives, coordinating the elder abuse program and other related initiatives that came out of extensive research done by The Plough Foundation.
“As was Mr. Plough’s wish, the culture of anonymity is still prevalent at The Plough Foundation,” said Masson. “We look forward to addressing new initiatives and providing multi-year funding, especially for ‘challenge grants.’ It is the demand side of the grant-making process that determines the amount of money that is granted each year, and we give tens of millions of dollars over a three-to-four year period.”
“As we address quality of life issues, it is an incredibly satisfying job to have an opportunity to make our community a better place in which to live,” said Masson.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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