As a young professional who has devoted her career to the non-profit sector, Sutton Mora Hayes works as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM), which helps Mid-Southerners invest in the causes and organizations that they care most about, under the belief that our community is made stronger through smart, strategic philanthropy. The organization’s popular Give 365 program is a dollar-a-day giving fund that allows members to pool their money to provide grants to non-profits that are working to better the city. Since its inception in 1969, the Community Foundation has given more than $823 million to local causes. Please meet one the foundations’ leaders, the witty and driven Sutton Mora Hayes, today’s FACE of Memphis.
Tell us about your family.
I’ve been married to my husband, Kerry, for 10 years. We met in college in St. Louis. He runs his own public relations and strategies firm. We live in Cooper-Young and have no kids, no pets and one plant that I’ve valiantly kept alive for the past 14 years.
Describe your early career. Where did you work and what were your jobs?
I’ve bounced around a lot. Right out of college, I moved to Chicago and started working for a test prep company. Living in Chicago developed an interest that I had in city planning and in 2003, I moved back to Memphis to get a Masters in City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis. Since graduating from U of M, I’ve run a community development corporation, a statewide environmental organization and led the outreach effort in Tennessee for a national education reform organization. I’ve almost always worked in the nonprofit sector, which led me to foundation work. I was one of those nonprofit people who thought if I could just work for the foundations, they’d understand why I need this grant! I think I’ve brought that perspective to this job. I think about our grants and our nonprofit partners from their perspective, as well as the perspective of the foundation.
What do you find most rewarding in your work at the Community Foundation? What is the most challenging aspect?
Our job is really pretty awesome. We get to help people who want to make a difference find the right path to make that difference. Whenever we’re able to make those connections for our donors, that’s really cool. Last year, we worked with a lot of the other funders in town to launch two new websites, WHEREweLIVEmidsouth.org and WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org. They are designed to give anyone in our community access to information about their neighborhoods and the nonprofits that work in their community. The sites turned out even better than we had originally hoped, and it is very rewarding to hear all the positive feedback we’ve received since we launched in November. The most challenging aspect is that we still have very real problems in this community that need to be addressed. The donors of the Community Foundation gave out more than $114 million last year. That’s a lot of money. Yet, four in 10 people in Memphis live below the poverty line. There is only so much that money alone can do. We also need supportive public policy that upholds the idea that every person should have access to a good job; their children should have access to good schools; and we should all live in safe, beautiful neighborhoods.
What are your favorite local causes (beyond CFGM, of course)?
My husband and I are big supporters of Facing History and Ourselves. We had the honor of co-hosting their annual dinner last year, and we are always so impressed by the students that develop in that program. Facing History students study the Holocaust, other ethnic genocides, the Civil Rights movements and other points in history to learn how that history can and should inform the choices that they make today. It’s powerful work, and our city is better for it. We also support a new nonprofit, JustCity, and more specifically its Clean Slate Fund, which helps people who qualify pay for the expungements that they need in order to get jobs, apartments and a general leg up in life.
You live in Cooper-Young. What do you like best about your neighborhood?
My favorite thing about Cooper-Young is that I get to walk to Tsunami whenever I want. That is the number one perk. When I get home from work on Fridays, I might not get in my car again until Monday, which is great. I love being able to walk to everything.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
The launching of the two websites last year was a big deal. We had to bring together a lot of people to make it happen, and the results have been beyond my expectations, so far. We put together a great team to run the system, and I’m really looking forward to where it goes. I think Memphis has a unique asset in those sites and it will be cool to see how the community uses them both to make our region better.
What inspires you?
This sounds cheesy, but the generosity of Memphians inspires me. I get to see it every day and the data backs it up, but the people in this city are the most generous in the country. We have real problems and although it’s not always covered in the news, we have generous, passionate people who are working to solve those problems. The least I can do is help get them the resources that they need to be successful.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad told me that I was never going to have a job in which I wouldn’t be replaceable. So, I needed to work like I wanted to keep my job. But also, if the job was wrong for me, I shouldn’t stick around for the sake of the job or because I thought they wouldn’t be able to do it without me. There’s always someone else that could get hired; do what was healthy and right for me.
What are you most looking forward to in Memphis in the next five years?
There are some major investments being made in the education space right now. I’m eager to see how that plays out for our city and our kids. I’m excited to see the Crosstown Concourse finally open. I don’t think that we have any idea how cool it is really going to be. I think it’s going to be bigger and better than any of us are even able to imagine at this point.
What would someone be surprised to learn about you?
I saw N*Sync in concert four times. And I am not sad about that at all.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without?
Chai from Starbucks, riding in the car with the windows down and NFL “Sunday Ticket.”
Thanks to Micki Martin for her wonderful photographs!
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