Insight, Innovation and Strategy are in our DNA

Southern Growth Studio is in the business of generating deep insights from the perspectives of clients, donors, staff, members, and other key stakeholders. Our ability to discover opportunity under layers of data, perceptions, and between the lines is why clients hire us. We use a number of innovation, research, and design methods—often in concert—to unearth valuable stakeholder insights and growth opportunities your organization can confidently act upon. While each engagement is executed according to the specific problem we are hired to solve, we generally follow three overarching methodologies: market research, ethnography, and design thinking. The fusion of these methods transforms data into insights, which are used to build solutions that meet and exceed the objectives of the project.

The nonprofit landscape has changed

Demographic, technological, economic and environmental shifts are causing rapid changes in the landscape of social services and philanthropy. Keeping pace with these changes is one of the key challenges facing the public and nonprofit sector. To remain relevant, agencies will need to understand the ways in which their constituents navigate the world around them in order to create the solutions that drive true and impactful change.

At the Studio, we believe that human-centered design and an innovative mindset are the keys to addressing social change in the 21st century. People are at the center of everything we do; we utilize a number of human-centered design methodologies to design solutions that work with real people in the real world. Whether it’s evaluating a program, designing a new service model, reaching untapped donor networks, or improving organizational performance, our multi-disciplinary team is trained to go deep into the hearts and minds of your stakeholders to ask: What do people really need?

How do we know we are helping?

Our approach

Southern Growth Studio utilizes a multidisciplinary, adaptive approach to problem solving, with experts in marketing, management consulting, anthropology, nonprofit, finance, business, and innovation. Our philosophy is that the people we are designing for, whether clients, donors, or staff, are the experts; walking in their shoes helps us unearth new insights and develop solutions that work with them. Human-Centered Design, as defined by IDEO, “sits at the intersection of empathy and creativity … to create products, services and experiences that improve the lives of people living in poverty.”

The majority of our projects include qualitative methodologies like ethnography, participant observation, focus groups, and co-creation sessions, among many others. We visit and learn about your clients and donors in their homes, workplaces, and leisure settings. Our team is trained to listen for unarticulated needs or tensions, which are impossible to find in traditional surveys. We understand that a one-size-fits-all template will never yield the driving insights required to make a difference in your field. Our team will work collaboratively with your leadership, including staff and board members, to understand the full complexity of whatever challenge your agency is facing, and will design a custom project plan that suits your needs and budget.

Example Offerings


    • Client journey mapping
    • Donor experience
    • Donor / volunteer / community engagement
    • Donor Segmentation & Personas
    • Needs and feasibility assessments
    • Brand Positioning and Messaging
    • In-depth Ethnographic Insights


    • Program and Service Model Design
    • Client / Stakeholder Co-Creation
    • Prototyping, Testing, and Launch
    • Innovation Process Facilitation
    • Innovation Workshops
    • Embedded Innovation (long-term cultural coaching)


  • Strategic planning
  • Program evaluation
  • Grant reporting
  • Organizational performance and process evaluation
  • Embedding innovation / organizational culture
  • Industry and competitive analysis
  • Brand strategy and marketing positioning
  • Training and workshops
  • Change management

Past and current nonprofit clients

  • Heifer International
  • LeMoyne Owen College
  • Porter Leath
  • Gestalt Community Schools
  • Overton Park
  • Downtown Memphis Commission
  • Memphis College of Art
  • Lichterman Nature Center / Pink Palace Family of Museums
  • Boys and Girls Club of Memphis
  • Jewish Federation
  • Temple Israel Fellowship
  • Delta School
  • ECHO / Church Health
  • Memphis Innovation Delivery Team

In working to generate neighborhood economic vitality in core city neighborhoods, our team was in need of quickly capturing the input of four diverse groups of stakeholders. We partnered with Southern Growth Studio to help us work with both city and community stakeholders to identify the issues that were contributing to low economic vitality and to develop and refine innovative ideas of how the city could accelerate economic growth.

Our schedule was aggressive and Southern Growth Studio was able to both meet our time demands and accomplish our goals. The methodology that Southern Growth Studio applied was engaging and fast-paced and energized our stakeholders, giving us a stronger working relationship.

You have gotten some really great thinking out of the groups. Thanks so much for your help with the contributing issues and ideation phase of this project. We could not have done this without you!

– Thomas A. Pacello, Mayor of Memphis’ Innovation Delivery Team

Case Studies


Need: An efficient marketing segmentation strategy to build sustainable relationships with donor base.

Approach: Through over 500 field intercepts, empathy interviews and online surveys, multiple donor personas were codified and developed. The Studio team designed dynamic journey maps to chart key touch points and refine the donor’s experience.

Results: The organization shifted from a transactional relationship to an experiential strategy that deepened relationships with their donor base. Events, marketing messages and communication platforms were adjusted according to the specific persona types.


Need: Reimagine catalogue and giving experiences to bolster new and existing donor base.

Approach: The Studio engaged with over 100 potential, lapsed, and active Heifer donors throughout the country to develop a deeper understanding of donors and prospects. Through these efforts, we identified six key need states for an impactful donor experience.

Results: We provided a portfolio of short-term, implementable solutions with concrete strategies to increase individual donor revenue.


Need: Shift Gestalt Community Schools from direct instruction curriculum to project-based learning model.

Approach: Southern Growth Studio proposed Design Thinking as a step-by-step model for project-based learning. We piloted a d.Think project during the summer with middle school students from the Power Center Academy.

Results: Students learned the the entire d.Think process in real time as they developed real-world solutions to address the problem of food insecurity in Memphis.


Need: Evaluate and improve recruitment efforts to attract and retain top talent, and to position Porter-Leath as an employer of choice.

Approach: Southern Growth Studio conducted in-depth research with top-performing Porter-Leath employees and similar professionals at area schools, juvenile facilities, and foster care centers. From here, we uncovered key persona types most likely to thrive at Porter Leath.

Results: The Studio developed a Recruiting Strategy Playbook, which included strategies for finding,recruiting and retaining top talent.