News Column

New software shows potential to improve Athens nonprofit sector, make impact in local social issues

June 22, 2014

By April Burkhart, Athens Banner-Herald, Ga.



June 22--New computer software soon scheduled for implementation should help Athens area nonprofits better target their resources to help the poor.

Community Connection of Northeast Georgia plans to adopt software created by The Urban Institute'sNational Center for Charitable Statistics called Community Platform with the help of Athens Area Community Foundation, Family Connection-Communities In Schools, and Athens Health Network.

Community Connection will be one of the first agencies in the U.S. to adopt the software. Only about 12 agencies nationwide currently are using Community Platform.

"The software offers some functionality we think will be important to the work we're doing and some of the challenges people are facing in Athens," said Community Connection Executive Director Fenwick Broyard, who's 2-1-1 information and referral service hot line will be used to feed information about Athens area needs into the software. "We want to use it to create a community-wide needs assessment, identify what the priority areas of concern in Athens are and start targeting our energies and resources towards addressing those priorities.

"This will help us become more effective, efficient and intentional about how we direct our resources towards overcoming the challenges associated with persistent poverty."

Using the software, Community Connection will take information from 2-1-1 callers and import it into the Community Platform system where it will be translated into a Graphic Information System map. Geographic data points for existing nonprofit agencies will then be added to the map, creating a visual to determine if the people offering services reside in areas where the greatest community needs exist.

Broyard hopes to start using the software in early fall.

Broyard already was working to create a community assessment map when Community Foundation Executive Director Delene Porter heard about the software and put him in contact with The Urban Institute. He then opted for the less labor intensive and cost effective software after learning it included detailed financial information going back 20 years on revenues, expenditures, charitable donations, assets, and liabilities of nonprofits as well as mapping features.

Porter said she's excited to help bring the software to Athens because she often gets calls from donors asking about needs in the community and pulls information on various agencies to create a menu of funding opportunities they might be interested in. If she could provide stronger data for her donors, she believes they could make a more strategic impact on local social issues.

"Under the Community Foundation umbrella there are 38 donor advised fund holders and seven nonprofit agencies that have their endowments with the foundation. That's a lot of philanthropically minded people who have decided to set assets aside for community good," she said. "This group wants to know how to be most effective with their giving. If I could arm them with street level data about needs in the community it might inform how they do some of their grant making."

Porter also hopes the software will help build community.

"Our region is full of resources, but there's a disconnect in the community," she said. "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."

Community Platform functions that can help build community and foster communication include the ability to map existing assets in the community, determine if duplication of services is taking place and track the financial performance of organizations. A centralized directory of goods and services also can be created to help organizations develop partnerships and share equipment, facilities, goods, services and volunteers.

The software isn't about poking holes in area organizations, Porter said. It's about looking for ways to help organizations perform better.

"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," Broyard added. "If you ask agencies what the main areas of need are in Athens, each one would come up with their top 10. 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."

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Follow faith, health and Blueprint reporter April Burkhart at www.facebook.com/AprilBurkhartABH.

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(c)2014 Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Ga.)

Visit the Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Ga.) at www.onlineathens.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)


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