Increasing A Community’s Knowledge of Local Nonprofits: A New Model From Brevard County

In this new age of technology and tools, where can people go to learn about their community’s nonprofit sector to help make informed decisions about community needs and charitable giving?

A new model from Brevard County offers one answer. Through a partnership with the Urban Institute’s National Center on Charitable Statistics (NCCS), the Community Foundation for Brevard, an FPN member, has created Connect Brevard, a web-based tool built on a platform developed by NCCS. Launched in September 2011, Connect Brevard provides a comprehensive picture of Brevard County’s residents, social services and most pressing needs all in one place. The site offers all the publicly available information on every tax-exempt organization in Brevard County from IRS tax filings and census bureau data, which can be supplemented with information from local organizations. NCCS’s Community Platform software is being marketed and developed in more than 10 states and counties nationwide, but with the help of the foundation’s advisory teams of local leaders, Brevard County was the first in the nation to launch the site.

In a recent FPN webinar, Sandi Scannelli, President/CEO of the Community Foundation for Brevard and Tom Pollak, NCCS Program Director at the Urban Institute, gave an overview of Connect Brevard and the Community Platform software. According to Scannelli, in the short time that Connect Brevard has been in operation, the county has learned a great deal about itself. For example, the Brevard County discovered that its volunteers give many more hours per volunteer than the national average (No. 8 in the country), and that arts groups in the county were particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

The site is also helping to thread people together across the county. Scannelli cited numerous examples of the site’s connectivity power: a private foundation used the site to generate a list of animal welfare groups in the county; local media are using the site for research on philanthropy-related news stories; a company used the site to find a nearby food pantry to which it could donate 200 meals left over from an employee picnic; and the list goes on.

Despites its small size, the community foundation’s visibility in Brevard County has increased significantly over the past year, and Scannelli gives Connect Brevard most of the credit for that growth. “Because of Connect Brevard and what this has done in bringing people together…it’s really elevated the community foundation in ways that I don’t know that I could have done otherwise,” Scannelli told webinar participants.

There is another story here beyond the great work and partnership between the community foundation and NCCS: It is the power of connections. Scannelli and Pollak were brought together because Sandi happened to sit next to Tom at a conference luncheon. Tom asked, “What is the biggest issue your foundation is facing?” From that question was born a valuable partnership between a major national resource and a small Florida foundation – and it only happened because Scannelli decided to attend the conference. Whenever you think about cutting conferences and meetings from your budget, think again. Despite all of today’s technological advances, sometimes great things can happen through connections made possible by those personal interactions at face-to-face programs and convenings.

You can view the archived webinar on Florida Philanthropic Network’s website, along with related resources.

– Maggie Gunther Osborn, Vice President, Florida Philanthropic Network

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