Peer Power Hire Takes New Approach to Fundraising

August 22nd, 2017

Memphis Business Journal | Michelle Corbet

During a whirlwind tour of Whitehaven and East high schools and meetings with teachers, students and school administrators, Dennis Ring remembers texting his wife: "Dang it. They are doing some really great things here."

"They," in this case, was the Peer Power Foundation, a Memphis-based nonprofit that recruits and trains high-performing high school and college students to tutor and mentor their peers.

Earlier this summer, Ring was named the organization's new development director.

He initially came to town because of his wife's job. Ring is the husband of Dr. Kristen RingHutchison School's new Head.

Peer Power began recruiting Dennis Ring after his wife accepted the job at Hutchison last May. But, before his family moved to Memphis from Daphne, Alabama — where the couple worked as provost and development director at college preparatory Bayside Academy, respectively — Dennis Ring visited Whitehaven and East high schools to meet with students and teachers to see what Peer Power was all about.

"When I was contacted about the director of development job, to be honest, I wanted to get here and find my way before I got into anything," Ring said.

Initially, Ring considered the job because he was asked by friends, including Peer Power founder Charlie McVean. Ring is a former teacher, administrator, coach and athletic director and, after seeing the organization first hand, he was impressed with Peer Power's effect not only on students, but teachers.

Adding paid University of Memphis student tutors to high school classrooms had regenerated and re-ignited the fire in some of the teachers by changing the student-teacher ratio, Ring said.

"That moved me because I know how hard it is to keep teachers," Ring said. "With a national shortage of teachers, and here in Memphis, we’re helping the people who are going to make a difference in getting these kids to graduate.”

Dennis Ring accepted the job on May 11, a year to the day that Kristen Ringaccepted her job at Hutchison.

“I look at [development] as an extension of teaching,” Dennis Ring said. “People say, ‘How can you ask for money?’ And I say, ‘I don’t really ask for money. I tell you the things we’re doing and share with you what our needs are and people respond.'”

Each tutor costs Peer Power about $1,000 each year, which puts the organization's budget close to $2 million in order to tutor 2,000 high school students a year.

Not wanting to be seen as the guy who asks for money, generally, Ring doesn't bring up the subject of fundraising until somebody else does.

"As we mesh into the Memphis community, it is important that I listen more than I talk," Ring said. "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, so hearing what people are interested in is important."

Historically, Peer Power founder McVean has provided most of the organization's funding, but its future success will be built on the sustainability of financial gifts.

Although it has had some amazing benefactors, Peer Power has to develop a community of donors to keep it going, Ring said.

"I’m meeting people. We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of telling the story and having people say, 'I can’t give $1 million, but I can give $250,'" Ring said. "All of a sudden, we’ve taken care of a quarter of the cost to tutor a student."

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April L. Jones

During my time with the program, I have had the privilege of working with outstanding individuals and future professionals.  From being involved in the program, my whole perspective of involvement and service oriented learning has grown.  The program can be analogous to wearing contact lenses; imagine that your doctor has given you a prescription to wear corrective lenses.  If you only wore one contact lens, your vision would be foggy and unclear.  Before Peer Power came to many schools, the aspirations and mental pictures of the many were bleak, foggy, and dim.  Yet once the fusion of Peer Power and the Memphis City School systems began, the goals and expectations of students became clearer and more focused in the same way as a great pair of contacts.  I am convinced that this program will continuously reach new pinnacles as fresh ideas and different individuals blend.  I am an eye witness to this each time I meet a new scholar and college mentor.