Early Days: Informal Meetings and Gatherings
The idea for a statewide association of grantmakers in Mississippi first emerged in the late 1990’s, with the work being led primarily by Dr. Ted Alexander, the President and CEO of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation in Picayune, and Tom Wacaster, then Executive Director of the Phil Hardin Foundation in Meridian. At that time, organized philanthropy in Mississippi, in terms of private foundations, community foundations and corporate giving programs, was a relatively new endeavor.
As late as 2004, there were only about 230 foundations in Mississippi, and $50 million in assets put a foundation among the top five in the state. Total giving by foundations in Mississippi in 2004 was only $50 million, and no foundations were making more than $5 million annually in grants. Most giving programs focused their interests locally or in certain regions of the state, with very little effort being made to coordinate philanthropic efforts statewide.
The first gatherings of grantmakers in Mississippi were generally organized as informal dinners, sometimes with a nationally-recognized speaker in philanthropy, with an opportunity for attendees to network and discuss common interests. Mississippi grantmakers also began having informal meetings at the annual conference of the Southeastern Council of Foundations, of which over a dozen were members. These gatherings led to other meetings, some hosted by the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, at which organizing an association was discussed, but without staff or a lead volunteer to ensure continuity, these did not lead to the organization of a formal association.
2009-2014: Emergence of MAG as a Formal Association
At an informal dinner held in conjunction with the Southeastern Council of Foundations’ annual conference in November 2009, representatives of Mississippi grantmakers agreed to make a more organized effort to move toward a permanent statewide association. A small group, or steering committee, was formed for the purpose of reaching out to Mississippi’s foundations and organizing formal meetings in 2010.
The initial meeting of what has now become the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers (MAG) was held at the Mississippi Science Museum in Jackson on June 15, 2010, with representatives from a dozen grantmakers in attendance. The group agreed to meet quarterly, elected officers and established annual dues of $200 for all members.
Letters were sent to about 100 grantmakers across Mississippi announcing the formation of MAG, and after meeting again in September and December, MAG had 26 dues-paying members by the end of 2010, at least half of which attended at least one meeting that year. MAG entered into an agreement with the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson for the provision of fiscal management services, including the receipt of dues and other funds.
In late 2010, MAG members authorized research into the structure, dues, and operating programs of other state associations around the country, and a summary report on this research was generated and reviewed by members. This work led to the development of By-laws for MAG, which were adopted in early 2011. MAG members in 2011 also began discussing in more detail MAG’s mission, activities or programs that should be pursued, and other strategic issues, including expansion of the Association’s membership.
There has been a quarterly meeting of MAG’s membership since June 2010. From 2011 forward, part of the program has included presentations by grantmakers, nonprofits, and others on their work in Mississippi communities. In 2011, MAG also designated its summer meeting as its annual meeting, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits.
Over the next five years, MAG held its annual meeting as part of Mississippi’s Positioned for Progress conference. This was a joint effort by MAG, the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, the Mississippi Association of Community Action Agencies and United Ways of Mississippi designed to raise awareness of the work of philanthropy and nonprofits in Mississippi. The combined annual conference attracted national speakers, provided unified educational and training opportunities, and increased MAG’s visibility across the state.
By 2013, MAG realized that to grow past the “meet and greet” meetings to development of structured and intentional programs with broad impact across Mississippi would require someone in a paid staff or consulting role to coordinate such work. Several MAG members made financial commitments over their dues payments, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation agreed to fund a part-time contract position for a Coordinator to build services for MAG members and increase MAG’s capacity to become a philanthropic “voice” in Mississippi.
Sammy Moon, a former program officer for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a native Mississippian then working with the United Way Worldwide, became MAG’s Coordinator in late 2013. Under Sammy’s leadership, MAG’s membership expanded to over 50 organizations, representing well over half of the state’s philanthropic assets and annual giving. MAG also established a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center for office and meeting space, along with back-office support at MSU’s CAVS Extension Center in Canton, MS.
MAG continues to hold quarterly membership meetings, each devoted to a topic of interest to the philanthropic community. After addressing membership business items and allowing for general announcements and sharing of information, an “In the Spotlight” session takes an in-depth look at the current topic of interest. Following lunch and networking, a more detailed program is presented, usually engaging MAG members and their work related to the topic of the meeting. Since 2016, an average of 45-50 people attend the quarterly meetings.
MAG members have also begun organizing themselves to take collaborative approached to common interests and issues. The Community Foundation Network, which includes all seven of Mississippi’s community foundations, has conducted research and designed an “Endow Mississippi” program for providing tax credits for endowment gifts to community foundations across the state. Legislation to this effect is scheduled to be introduced in 2018. Several United Ways across Mississippi became MAG members and created a United Way Network to discuss common issues and promote United Ways as grantmaking entities. An Education Affinity Group began meeting in the spring of 2017, with almost twenty members now starting to discuss program interests.
MAG has also led efforts to establish a statewide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to Mississippi. MAG members have worked with the Mississippi Department of Education and the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the University of Mississippi to design and implement the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Learning. Several MAG members pooled resources to create a Small Grants Fund that will help local communities plan and implement activities that become part of the statewide Campaign.
MAG joined the United Philanthropy Forum in 2017 and is working with the Forum to expand member services and benefits. MAG also contracted with Mike Ward, a founding board member of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits and former MAG steering committee member, to assist with program and membership development. MAG has also sponsored research and publications on Philanthropic Giving in Mississippi (2015), Mississippi’s Transfer of Wealth Opportunity Profile (2016), and Two Sides of the Same Coin (2017), a survey of perceptions by nonprofits and philanthropists about common strengths and challenges.