Legacy #1: Community Platform Software Has Transformative Potential for Philanthropic Giving in Northeast Georgia

Community-level action is where progress must occur to address community problems, beat back poverty, improve education, and reach our nation’s potential…

– The Community Platform Website

Thanks to a $3,500 matching grant this summer from the Athens Area Community, Community Connection of Northeast Georgia has purchased a cutting-edge engagement, analysis, and leadership tool called The Community Platform which will help area agencies better identify needs and target resources to address complex community deficiencies and build on community assets in Clarke and surrounding counties. “Helping our agencies and donors be strategic- get the “biggest bang for their buck”- requires good data about current needs and on-going analysis about how our investments are making a difference over time,” says Delene Porter. The software, developed by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, is a vital piece in the puzzle of helping agencies like Community Connection, Athens Health Network, AACF, and Family Connection and Communities in Schools connect the dots between local needs, available resources, and results.

The Community Platform is already creating a buzz of anticipation in the local non-profit and philanthropic community due in large part to local media coverage and word of mouth. This summer, from June to July, The Athens Banner-Herald published a series of articles chronicling the acquisition of the online tool along with opinion pieces by Community Connection executive director Fenwick Broyard, Laura Alexander, executive director of Athens Health Network, and AACF’s very own Delene Porter.

Each director expressed a similar degree of optimism about the software’s ability to not only improve community collaborative efforts but to also bring about strategic actions that can result in significant change in Northeast Georgia. This optimism appears well founded; other communities from North Carolina to California have had solid success with online tool. Ultimately, however, it’s the software’s versatility and multi-functionality that cannot be denied. Among its numerous modules are GIS mapping of local needs and resources, customization tools for web design and email notifications, online sharing of nonprofit resources, tools for collaboration, a program for determining when and where duplication of services is occurring, strategic deployment of resources toward targeted areas, and tracking of program outcomes.

In an article in the Banner-Herald dated June 21, Broyard cited the tool’s collaborative potential as a particular strength: “The idea is to work with all of the groups in town who already collect information for their own community needs assessments and fold it all into one central location.” Once this has been accomplished, Community Platform’s programs can help with the winnowing process to determine which needs are most pressing: “The software will help us measure that against street level data from people on the ground who can tell us what their needs are and help us discover what the top 10 issues in Athens really are so we can start working on them.”

AACF’s Porter expressed similar excitement about the software’s potential for helping her connect Donor Advised Funds with the causes about which they are most passionate. In the aforementioned Banner-Herald article (June 21), Porter emphasized that although AACF has “a lot of philanthropically minded people who have decided to set assets aside for community good,” there are challenges inherent to connecting donors with causes that best match their mission. In this regard, Community Platform, she believes, will be a game-changer: “This software combined with a new street-level, asset-mapping approach to I&R will generate amazing data to help inform grant making.” Ultimately, this could be the true breakthrough for AACF and its 38 donor advised funds and 7 non-profit agencies. Better information and street level data will allow Porter to make sure that designated funds go into the hands of those who most need them.

As Porter told the Banner-Herald, “Our region is full of resources but there is a disconnect in the community. I want us to help people invest in each other, not just express needs and complain about how there are too many services but get hard data and really figure out what’s going on and feed that information into everyone’s strategic planning and thinking.” Bridging that disconnect, connecting the dots so to speak, is both Porter and Broyard’s endgame. Once hard data begins to inform planning and thinking on a consistent basis, the real objective of providing services to those in need can’t help but fall into place.

Community Connection’s Broyard hopes to implement Community Platform sometime this fall. AACF’s Porter will help DAF holders use the results to inform their grantmaking. We look forward to sharing the initial findings with our readers in the next issue of Legacy, the Athens Area Community Foundation’s Quarterly Newsletter.

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