In the District of Columbia, CFOs of child welfare organizations meet periodically to discuss government contracting and other financial issues. If they don’t already exist, similar “peer learning groups” could be established in Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network or other formal or ad hoc nonprofit associations. A member of one of the groups could prepare a report using the Community Platform showing the key financial ratios of the peer group of participating organizations and use that as the basis for a discussion about what strategies are working for dealing with cash flow problems, generating new earned and contributed income, or budgeting.
Financial advisors, such as CPA firms, could provide comparative analyses using the Community Platform for their clients to help them understand if their financial strengths and weaknesses are unique to them or are field-wide. (If they are field-wide, the solutions may be very different then if they are unique to an individual organization.)
Financial managers can click on a graph to copy and save it for use in a Powerpoint presentation for board members, bankers, or others who may want to get a snapshot of an organization’s financial performance.
Funders and policymakers often struggle to understand if their grantees and their communities are best served by general operating support or program-specific funding. Analysis of the financial health of grantees can help shed light on this question. Funders can create custom lists of grantees and map them in relation to other organizations. Are they distributed consistent with the goals of the funder? Do some neighborhoods receive a disproportionate number of grants? These are among the questions the tool can help with.
Other questions include:
Options for encouraging use of the tool:
In Brevard County, Florida, the Community Foundation is working with the Second Harvest Food Bank, United Way, Brevard 2-1-1, Brevard Interfaith Coalition, Leadership Brevard, the Harris Corporation (a Fortune 500 company), Feeding America, and others to map “food deserts,” food pantries and other food resources, and indicators of need by census tract. The Interfaith Coalition plans to recruit new congregations to provide food pantries where gaps in coverage are found. A custom landing page on Connect Brevard is being created so policymakers and residents interested in this issue can quickly jump to a map to see where the resources are in relationship to needs and get access to other resources and information on the issue.
The first step is outreach through state and local nonprofit associations and funders to encourage their members to take advantage of the system.
Once we have a few users, we will find and document (possibly with a short video as well as in writing) examples of organizations that are sharing resources successfully. Our sense is that many organizations would find sharing resources and personnel valuable if they were to try it. However, busy schedules, inertia, and a bit of trepidation about the potential for problems means that sharing doesn’t happen as often as it ought to. Providing an easy-to-use system and a gentle nudge from umbrella associations and funders seems likely to encourage more organizations to try it.
The nonprofit sector appears fragmented in many communities. The staff and volunteers of small grassroots organizations – as well as many larger organizations – are often preoccupied with their core missions or financial survival and have had scant opportunity to connect to other organizations—especially those outside their immediate area of activities. Yet there are often opportunities for collaboration that benefit both the collaborating organizations as well as the broader community.
For example, in the Pleasant Plains neighborhood of Washington, DC, this year, a small coalition of nonprofit organizations came together to create the Pleasant Plains Neighborhood Network and produced a monthly newsletter. The arts organization has primary responsibility for producing the newsletter while the students who participate with the local mentoring and tutoring program hand deliver the newsletter to every home in the neighborhood, since many of the residents lack access to the internet.
The Community Platform facilitates the creation of these networks by providing organizations with access to lists and maps of all the nonprofit organizations in their community and descriptions of their programs and activities. Registered teams of users can also assign team members to contact individual organizations and track information on the contacts in private team notes. The teams can then create a custom list of network members that can be tracked and mapped separately from the other organizations in the community.
In Washington DC’s Ward 1, a diverse and gentrifying area immediately north of the city’s downtown area, 70 people from approximately 50 local nonprofit organizations met to create Strengthening Ward One Together (SWOT). The lead organization is the ward’s family support collaborative, a ten-year old organization created by the city council which has become a major human service provider in its own right. The members of SWOT are planning to canvass the community (although activities around the U.S. Census may delay the project). The goals are several:
The Community Inventory can serve several purposes in developing projects like this. The Individuals module, when completed, will permit the system to be used for tracking individuals’ views on their neighborhoods, their role as volunteers, and their self-identified needs. It will also give organizations the ability to track contacts with or services provided.
With the addition of the Individuals module, the system could provide a basic platform for organizations to share information on the services that young people and their families are receiving from a tutoring program, a community center, and an anti-violence program that are working together to lower dropout rates in a community. The Harlem Children’s Zone model, which provides comprehensive wrap-around services for young people ranging from its charter school to health and human services could be facilitated by our platform. Alternatively, we have built APIs to permit sharing of data with other web-based systems and this same approach could be used to integrate with existing case management systems such as Efforts-to-Outcomes or with new products more narrowly tailored to providing community-wide shared case management services.
Campus-community programs like those affiliated with Campus Compact or classes in community sociology or community development can use the Community Platform for a number of different types of projects:
Many but not all communities are served by information and referral services such as the “211” systems run by many United Way agencies. Our system has the data collection, classification and search tools to support these sorts of efforts. Ideally, in communities that have existing systems, we would like to exchange data. For example, we can easily create a real-time feed of our program and organization data for a directory service. For all but the best funded, this would provide them with some new organizations that they don’t have in their files. We, in turn, could benefit from the highly detailed program data that these services often collect.
A PTA, Communities in Schools (CIS) school resource director, or other staff or volunteers working with the school decide to systematically map the local resources and needs of the school area and to tie that to school performance, volunteer opportunities, and more. The Schools Module provides a way to do that.