Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Innovative Nonprofit Leads the Way: Finding Jobs and Raising Funds During COVID-19

Art by Joshua King

Are you missing events as much as we are? As nonprofits feel the pinch of canceled fundraisers, organizations like Advance Memphis are leaning into the same innovation that has helped them serve people for years.

Stop and count: how many of your favorite events have been canceled this year? Now, another question: how many of those events were fundraisers?

Whether they were wine tastings or concerts, golf tournaments or 5k races, those events represented a huge portion of nonprofit budgets. Cancellations that were disappointing for us were downright destructive for nonprofits. Some experts estimate that as many as one-third of nonprofits may close in the wake of the pandemic. This is a big deal in Memphis, where service organizations provide essential support in a city with a poverty rate that is far too high.

But what Memphis may lack in riches we often make up for in creativity, and one nonprofit has demonstrated the power of the hustle for 20 years now. Against the odds, Advance Memphis has built a powerful workforce development program in South Memphis—and now they’re hoping to support that work by hosting a fundraising event that demonstrates the innovation that has characterized their work since day one. 

Advance Memphis sits on Vance Avenue just outside of downtown—but its footprint extends to two large warehouses on Suzette (just off Crump) and on South Bellevue Boulevard. Advance helps hundreds of residents of two zip codes, 38126 and 38106, find employment in those warehouses and at more than 20 employers across the city. One of Advance Memphis’s foundational innovations came about ten years ago when they started their own staffing company. Because of our city’s warehousing and distribution jobs, short term employment is a very real part of building a resume for many Memphians. The leaders at Advance Memphis knew that they could serve their community better by managing that part of the process, and last year, the employees of Advance Memphis Staffing worked almost 93,070 hours and earned over $927,726. 

Pictured at Art for Jobs in 2019 is Steve Nash, founder of Advance Memphis with Juanita Johnson, who helped him found the Advance Memphis Staffing program about 10 years ago. This innovative team have helped hundreds of their neighbors in South Memphis go to work.

Advance Memphis also hosts HSE/GED classes, trauma-informed training, workforce development and financial literacy training, and an entrepreneurial program called LAUNCH. Graduates go on to do things that some of us take for granted: get a first job, go to college, even start a business. And some of them get to do things they’ve dreamed about for a long time: complete highschool with a HSE/GED, get a job after jail, and even begin to conquer trauma that has held them back. Helping residents of underserved neighborhoods start businesses was another Advance Memphis innovation, and last year the top 5 businesses that have grown from the LAUNCH program earned $422,000. In short, Advance Memphis and the folks in 38126 and 38106 are making things happen in response to poverty in South Memphis—and now they’re ready to make a fundraising event happen despite COVID-19. 

This piece by Memphis artist Carl Scott is available online as part of Art for Jobs 2020.

Art for Jobs is Advance Memphis’s only fundraiser. Their first innovation with the event was to break fundraising norms by allowing donating artists to choose to receive up to 50% of the sale of their piece, recognizing that many artists wanted to donate, but couldn’t afford to give their work away. Their next innovation was to move the event into their first warehouse, creating a unique way to showcase the artist’s work alongside the work of the community in that space. And this year, they’re taking innovation to new levels, with an event that is partly live, partly online, and completely fun. 

Here’s how to participate in this art sale that has always been first-come, first-serve, with set prices on the art (it’s not an auction!). 

  • SEE ART ONLINE: First, you can view the work in the online gallery.
  • OR IN PERSON! How does a private gallery tour sound? Get a free ticket for a time slot to go see the work in person, in a safe and socially distanced way. 
  • SHOP! FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE: Mark your calendar for Thursday, September 24th, at 5:30pm. That’s when everyone will be allowed to begin making purchases from the online gallery—from the safety and comfort of your couch.
  • ENJOY YOUR ART! Or if you didn’t find the perfect piece, make a gift to this amazing organization

The generous artists who’ve contributed to this year’s event are incredible talents, and three featured artists lead the way: Beth Winterburn, Carl Scott, and Claudia Tullos-Leonard. There are other gems to be found, with originals by Chuck Johnson and Rachel Rieves, prints of Michael Partee’s work, and watercolors by Megan Grinder. Prices begin at $25 and go up, so there’s something for everyone. 

Whether you invest in the innovative employment opportunities at Advance Memphis or choose another great Memphis organization to support, keep our local nonprofits in mind and—if you can—find a way to give back, even if the parties are on hold. 

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