Like Many Great Ideas

It was the fall of 2016, and I was the chair of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits. The Mississippi Association of Grantmakers (MAG) was in its formative years but already making waves in philanthropic circles. Perhaps for the first time in Mississippi history, nonprofit leaders and funders were in the same room talking openly about a shared vision and goals for advancing the state.

The two organizations successfully collaborated on a joint conference, “Positioned for Progress”, and with it, attracted new stakeholders to the table. These connections planted a seed that the two organizations might be stronger as one.

Despite this momentum, I will always credit the beginnings of the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy to a meal with then MAG Director Sammy Moon. We were debriefing the conference and generally discussing what comes next for the two organizations over lunch. The scribbling began on a napkin, and soon the “two sides of the same coin” idea emerged. The merger was set in motion.

Two years, hundreds of hours, and a few road trips later, the separate organizations disbanded and started anew as one. As fate would have it, I was at the lunch meeting where the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits’ board cast its final vote to dissolve and join The Alliance.

Not long after, I was attending a meeting of community leaders in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I overheard a conversation about Mississippi. As I braced for the usual, “At least we’re not Mississippi,” I heard something else, something remarkable: “How did Mississippi do it? Maybe we should invite someone from The Alliance to our next meeting? How can we attract funders to our conversations? We need to learn from them how to engage nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to work together.”

It was a lightbulb moment. We had done something remarkable in our state. Through the Alliance, Mississippi is breaking new ground and getting national recognition for pooling its collective generosity, creativity, and accountability to improve our communities and ensure all Mississippians have the resources they need to succeed. It feels good to be first. And it all started on the back of a napkin.