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The Plough Foundation

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A model for funders getting started in aging

The Plough Foundation is an independent private foundation that provides grants to nonprofit organizations in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee. Its funding addresses a wide variety of needs in the community, including early childhood education, health care, public safety, and cultural arts.

Over the last decade, the Foundation initiated public-private partnerships to address broad problems such as homelessness, crime, and economic development.

Different issues affect our community at different times.The Plough Foundation recognizes the challenges of an aging population and has decided to dedicate substantial human capital and other resources to address this change.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about challenges Boomers are beginning to face as they age,” says Plough program director Barbara Jacobs, “especially in areas such as health, transportation, and caregiver support. So we decided to take a closer look at aging in our community—who is serving the needs of older adults, what needs are being addressed, and what services could be improved.”

Plough’s approach to learning about issues of aging serves as an outstanding model for other organizations developing a similar interest.

First steps

To learn more about the field, the Foundation brought program associate Katie Midgley on board in August 2011 to look into the scope of services for the elderly in Shelby County. She began by gathering data on local age demographics and looking over previous Plough grants that had supported construction of an Alzheimer's day-services building, purchase of vehicles for the local Meals on Wheels program, and upgrades to technology that improved communication systems at a local nursing facility.

The demographic data she gathered confirmed what she and the leadership at Plough had already suspected: as in so many communities across the country, the elder population in Shelby County was expanding quickly with Boomers crossing the retirement threshold. As a result, she identified and interviewed over 70 major players in the community, including representatives from social service agencies, universities, and government, all of whom had some expertise on aging issues in and around Memphis. She also initiated roundtable discussions about critical issues challenging older adults, including crime and abuse, health problems, social service needs, and housing.

GIA Conference

In October of that year, Katie attended her first GIA Conference, where she discovered a whole new world of possibilities in the aging field—grantmaking ideas, organizations, experts, contacts, and initiatives. It was there that she heard about Mia Oberlink and Phil Stafford from the AdvantAge Initiative, a community-building effort focused on creating vibrant and elder-friendly ("AdvantAged") communities that are prepared to meet the needs and nurture the aspirations of older adults.

Katie’s conference experience proved so positive that, upon her return home, she immediately recommended the Plough Foundation apply for GIA membership. She also helped GIA update its toolkit, For All Ages: The GIA Guide to Funding Across the Lifespan.

On January 16, 2013, Katie Midgley led a webinar about the process titled Does Aging Really Count? The Plough Foundation Tells Its Story. You can view the webinar here.

Important Findings

In reviewing the data she had gathered from her interviews, seven important issues emerged:

  • Caregiver support and respite
  • Transportation
  • Basic needs (financial needs, buying prescriptions, etc.)
  • Home repair and modification
  • Elder maltreatment
  • End of life care plans, advanced directives, etc.
  • Preventing isolation

Still, the picture wasn’t complete. There remained one group she needed to consult: older adults. After the Plough board approved funding in February of 2012, the AdvantAge group was commissioned to do a survey of over 500 seniors in Memphis and Shelby County to gauge the elder-friendliness of the community.

The results pointed to an immediate need: communication. As it turned out, the city and county offer quite a few services for the elderly, but many older adults are unaware of them. This suggested at least one way in which Plough could play an important role in serving the older adult community.

Plough continues to research best practices within the seven areas of need its research had uncovered and is now poised to make a wide reaching, positive impact in the Shelby County aging community.



Help us pursue our mission and strengthen grantmaking to support the needs and potential of older people.