The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
January 23, 2012

Virtual community, real outcomes

January 23, 2012

Sandi Scannelli had big plans for the Community Foundation of Brevard when she took over its helm in 2010. First and foremost, she wanted to bring together the nonprofit community in the Florida county.

“There are so many public charities in the county,” Scannelli told the Brevard Business News, but there was “no clearinghouse that brings all the information together.”

That is, until she met Tom Pollak, a senior researcher at Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.

Pollak, program director for the National Center for Charitable Statistics, met Scannelli at a conference and told the nonprofit executive about the NCCS Community Platform—a web tool that combines public data on nonprofits and open technology to help communities and nonprofit organizations work together more effectively.

The Community Foundation collaborated with Urban Institute to develop ConnectBrevard.org, which according to Scannelli is “designed for people who want to volunteer, individuals who want to contribute resources, including people and dollars, into a cause or organization that is aligned with their community priorities.”

As communities, nonprofits, and governments learn to deal with the new reality of limited budgets, increased demands for programs and services, and heightened expectations for effective outcomes, aids such as the NCCS Community Platform come in handy.

“This could really help organizations around the country better align their programs, better coordinate their services, and better present the nonprofit sector as a whole in relationship to community needs,” Pollak said.

The web tool is now being developed in 10 states and counties across the United States. The Connecticut Data Collaborative, for instance, is described on its website as a “central portal where all Connecticut organizations and residents can access a wide range of data from federal, state, local, and private sources relating to the health, well-being, and economy of the residents of the state of Connecticut.”

University of Connecticut’s David Garvey, who directs the site’s development, told the Hartford Business Journal that the website will be able to match specific community needs to nonprofits, assess the financial health of nonprofits for interested stakeholders and funders, and connect nonprofits with one another.

The NCCS Community Platform holds great promise for communities, governments, and nonprofits that find themselves bound together in a shared well-being and future. The question is, will more municipalities adopt it anytime soon? Better yet, are public and private funders willing to invest in such a helpful tool?

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Comments

Scannelli's observation is one that I share. I have been working on developing a site to bring together the disparate communities of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Service Providers, and Evaluation Consultants. However, my interest is not in their typical relationship, but in moving each to be in community sharing vital information that helps the other perform their role better. ProposalNetwork.org is my attempt at making this happen. Hopefully for the betterment of the social sector these tools for virtual community take hold.