Fundraising for Sustainability: Memphis Farmers Market Revenue Strategies

      Posted On: November 3, 2009

Member Voice, by Sharon Leicham, co-founder, Board Member, and Immediate Past Chair of the Memphis Farmers Market

In the spring of 2005, a group of downtown residents in Memphis, Tennessee met to discuss the need for a farmers market downtown. We met with the Memphis Center City Commission and formed a committee to research the feasibility of opening a market. Among our challenges were finding a venue that people would feel safe visiting, finding local farmers to populate the market, and fundraising.

We applied for IRS 501(c)(3) status and, while waiting for a response (which took over a year), we partnered with the Center City Development Corporation as a fiscal agent. With their help, we were able to secure start-up funding from a local foundation. As it turned out, we were not granted (c)(3) status and  instead greanted a (c)(4) designation. That made obtaining grants almost impossible without an agent.

Plowing ahead, the Memphis Farmers Market (MFM) opened downtown in 2006 downtown, with 20 vendors  in an outdoor covered pavilion adjacent to Memphis’ Historic Central Station.

In 2008, we lost our fiscal agent and the ability to secure most grants. However, we were able to secure capital improvement grants for our facility and site improvements. The reality of the situation then, as it is now, is that fundraising is our biggest challenge. We are reapplying for (c)(3) status and are focused on earned income. Our 2009 operating budget totals $118,000 and includes marketing services, depreciation, operations, a part-time market manager, promotional items and facility and site improvements.

Our 2009 revenue stream includes:

Memberships/Sponsorships 11%

This has been our most challenging fundraising function. It is imperative to have people

Memphis Farmers Market Harvest Celebration Fundraiser

Memphis Farmers Market Harvest Celebration

skilled in asking for money to solicit memberships and, in particular, sponsorships. We have found more success selling sponsorships for our annual Harvest Celebration than to the market in general. This year’s Harvest Celebrations sponsorships have brought in close to $20,000 in cash and in-kind. It appears that people prefer to give to specific events.

Fundraisers                23%

Our biggest fundraiser of the year is our annual Harvest Celebration held after the market closes each fall. We invite 16 local restaurants to provide tastings, offer free refreshments, wine, and beer, as well as hold live and silent auctions. We sell tickets, but the auction provides the largest source of revenue generating between $20,000 and $30,000.

Each month we sponsor MFM Dinner Tours featuring local restaurants. The chefs shop the market for menu items and prepare market dinners based on the ingredients they find. A minimum of 30% of the net profits from the dinners goes to the market.

Vendor fees 18%

We presently have 70+ vendors. Full season vendors pay $450 per stall, monthly vendors $85, weekly vendors $25.  A list of all our vendors is available to the public on our web site at

Grants                        17%

The majority of our grant revenue is for capital improvement and marketing grants. We received capital improvement grants from Memphis Housing & Community Development and the Assisi Foundation of Memphis to install electrical wiring for data transfer, a storeroom adjacent to the market, fans, and access improvements. We are also fortunate to receive marketing grants from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture along with a forestry grant to plant 44 trees on the site.

Coffee Sales/Promo Sales/Cookbook          30%

We added a coffee cart to the market in 2008 and it has contributed greatly to our bottom

Promotional Items for Sale

Promotional Items for Sale

line. We sell coffee, iced coffee, lemonade, pastries, etc. Our promotional t-shirts, hats, aprons, coffee cups, and logo tote bags consistently provide a positive revenue stream and our new market cookbook has been an overwhelming success.

It all sounds very positive (and it is), but fundraising is an ongoing challenge as we continually come up with other means of raising funds to keep the market operating successfully and fulfilling its mission.  I look forward to sharing revenue stream ideas with other FMC members.  Please visit our web site at to learn more.

FMC members rank funding, infrastructure, and capacity among their top challenges to continued success. Thirty-eight percent are recognized 501(c)(3)s, while  on the other end of the spectrum, 38% presently have no IRS 501 status at all.  Here, FMC member Memphis Farmers Market shares its strategies to raise operating funds.

Want to write for the market beet’s ‘Member Voice’?   We’d love to hear from you!  Submit your piece (max 700 words) or article idea  to by December 10th for consideration in the Winter issue.