Respecting our elders: the Plough Foundation’s aging initiative

High Ground News

May 14, 2014

Katie Midgley, Program Associate for the Plough Foundation, was hired in 2011 to help figure out how the foundation might be more proactive in the funding area of aging.

“I think there were several reasons why aging was selected as our area, to really get our feet wet in being more proactive instead of reactive,” she says. “Number one is because of the numbers. People are hearing a lot about baby boomers and the ‘silver tsunami’ and Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and what are we going to do about it?”

Midgley looked at past grants that Plough had awarded and saw an increase in funding related to aging.

“The numbers reiterated what our board already suspected. Memphis is no different than the rest of the country in that we are getting older and we will stay older, people are having fewer children and they’re living longer, so that’s really a population paradigm shift. I think that’s why we selected this issue as a foundation.”

As a result, the Plough Foundation Aging Initiative was created, and a request was put out for proposals among the area’s non-profit organizations and public and private sectors. It is the foundation’s first RFP in its 50-year history.

Plough completed more than 70 interviews of individuals and organizations with expertise in all aspects of aging, and commissioned a survey of more than 500 seniors aged 65 years old and up within Memphis and Shelby County. Based on the survey and in-house research on the topics of aging, two task groups were convened, one Aging in Place and Mobility and the other Elder Abuse and Maltreatment.

Finally, a speaker series was convened to educate the public. “We wanted to really sound an alarm bell,” says Mike Carpenter, Executive Director of the Plough Foundation. “We wanted to end that (speaker series) with this call for proposals to say, ‘We’ve rung the alarm bell, now we want to be partners with you in doing something about it.’ This is a way for us to engage the not-for-profit community, because with the RFP we’re able to be very specific about the kinds of things we’re looking for, the kinds of things we’re willing to fund. It has also allowed us to bring these interested groups to the table and have some pre-discussions about their ideas and to help direct them in ways that we’ve determined would be best for the community all around this issue.”

The total grant amounts are being left open-ended, which is also a first for Plough. Not wanting to limit the focus on this complex issue is one reason. Another, Carpenter says, is that “We don’t want to be put in a position where we get proposals that are maybe subpar and feel that we need to fund those to meet some arbitrary amount that we had set out. We feel like our commitment to this is going to be larger than any single grant that we’ve made in our history.”

While the amount may not be written in stone, it is expected to be larger than the typical $12 to $13 million that Plough awards each year, an amount which won’t be affected by these grants . . . (read more)