IS members represent nonprofits, foundations, and corporations engaged in every kind of charitable endeavor, with missions that reflect the nearly infinite ways of working for the common good. New member Momentum Nonprofit Partners, based in Memphis, TN, works to provide training, technical assistance, and policy support to the nonprofit sector in West Tennessee, East Arkansas, and North Mississippi to create equitable, measurable, and lasting change.

We talked with Kevin Dean, chief executive officer for Momentum Nonprofit Partners, about the changes the organization made in 2017 to rebrand and recreate their model, and about their work today.

Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you arrived at your present position.

KD: I ran a literacy organization and after five years there, followed by a few months working as a consultant for a foundation. My work with the foundation was to research capacity building deficits in Memphis, which led me to Momentum, previously named Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we really overhauled the direction of the organization. With our new strategic plan came changes to our staff, a new name, new board of directors, and new programming. We took on a greater focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our resource and training offerings and we prioritized the professional development of next-generation leadership. In 2018, we merged with the Mid-South Philanthropy Network, and that has created a wider lens of philanthropy for our work.

Q. What does a typical day look like for your team? What’s a day that you remember as special or extraordinary?

KD: We have a staff of seven or eight people, but about 400 nonprofit organizations that are members. We take a relationship-focused approach to our work.  We really want to know our members and be a resource for them in both formal and informal ways.  A typical day often involves meeting someone from our membership or another organization for coffee – it might be with an executive director or an organization facing challenges. We do a lot of meetings with nonprofits at the coffee and cupcake shop across the street.

Typically we might also have a training or convening taking place in our building. Generally we are doing about half of our work in our office and about half out in the community. Working alongside our members and partners to learn along with them is important to us. They’re family to us.

In 2017 we officially became Momentum Nonprofit Partners. That was really more of a process of months than one day, but the day we celebrated that change was really special. We held a celebratory announcement event for about 400 people including a band and a bar, and it was really a celebration. Though the previous iteration of the organization existed for 25 years, we were excited to show how we were evolving with the times. Using the hashtag #everythingchanges, we didn’t announce anything—including our new staff—until our big announcement party.  Everything truly did change, and it has helped the organization thrive.

Q. What are some of the challenges your organization faces and how have you responded to them?

KD: With the changes in 2017, we grew very quickly. With multi-million dollar investment in the new organization, the expectations were very high. We had to develop a strategic plan and didn’t have a lot of time to experiment, but we still had to learn and adjust as we went through the process of developing the new organization. One of the big changes for Momentum was that we started offering free membership. That meant, and continues to mean, that we need to find other sources of revenue to support our work to continue to decrease barriers to entry for nonprofits, particularly smaller and newer nonprofits, to be involved as members. Many of our members are grassroots organizations with limited budgets, and we want to remove any barriers they may have to becoming a part of Momentum.

Q. Describe some of the programs or services Momentum Nonprofit Partners offers.

KD: We offer training, events, and networking opportunities designed to share knowledge, build leadership skills, and provide tools to help the nonprofit sector respond to community needs. I would especially highlight our diversity, equity, and inclusion training for capacity-building organizations, and the work we are doing to encourage action on greater diversity for nonprofit boards.

We’re particularly proud of the intake process that we use for new members. We walk them through an assessment of their work that creates actionable suggestions to build the capacity of their organization, and steps they can take to improve their work. We suggest other trainings they might take advantage of to address the specific needs and challenges they have.

Q. What is one of your favorite places to be in your community?

KD: The cupcake shop that I mentioned before that’s across the street from our office, Muddy’s Bake Shop, means a lot to our staff and to the community in Memphis. The cupcakes are great, the coffee’s good, and it’s a place where we can meet members and other partners that takes out the formality – it’s a place that represents how we value our commitment to the community, and a place where we can see other colleagues in the nonprofit sector out and about.

Q. Since we first talked with Kevin Dean, the charitable community has faced the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. How is Momentum Nonprofit Partners responding?

KD. Momentum Nonprofit Partners has served as the information hub for the nonprofit community in Memphis since the launch of the COVID-19 crisis. The staff has been working at a frantic pace to keep up with the demand, providing guidance on the CARES Act and SBA loans, helping to develop the Mid-South COVID-19 Relief Fund, providing resources for nonprofits, surveying organizations about their PPE needs, etc. We offer weekly COVID-19 Information Sessions to our members.

The good news is that Momentum Nonprofit Partners was prepared and easily transitioned to this new normal.  We were ready for this crisis.  We were one of the first organizations in our area to go remote.  We had already purchased teleconferencing subscriptions. Our training program was upended but easily moved online. It’s no coincidence that my coworker, Dorian Spears, and I worked on Hurricane Katrina relief fifteen years ago, and this work informed how we planned internally, but also how we have responded to the needs of our constituents.
Learn more about Momentum Nonprofit Partners at or watch a new video about their work.

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Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society, Common Goods, COVID-19 Response, IS Member, IS Staff, Leadership Development, Organizational Relationships