Doing it Better in Brooklyn

Posted: April 10, 2015

Doing it BetterI’m always intrigued by doing-it-better examples. Regular readers of my dashboard know it’s one of my mantras. So when I see a great model of a nonprofit that’s “doing it better,” I like to call it out. That’s what I saw on a recent visit to the Brooklyn Community Foundation. The foundation’s new Brooklyn Accelerator is a dynamic umbrella title for programs that are part of its community impact strategy. In fact, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy just presented the Brooklyn Community Foundation with a 2015 Impact Award for “leadership and innovation in solving the country’s toughest problems.” That seems recommendation enough for other locally focused foundations to take notice. For specifics, here’s my take on what makes the Brooklyn Community Foundation so effective.

Community Informed and Connected

 How do you determine the kind of support that community members need? Ask! That’s the message from Brooklyn. Before it arrived at the Accelerator, the foundation launched an Insights project last year and got input from a thousand residents on the borough’s biggest challenges and opportunities to leverage. Among the insights: “Donors want to learn more about exciting local nonprofits. Nonprofits are always seeking more resources, donors and board members. As Brooklyn’s community foundation, we are perfectly positioned to fill this need and be a connector for the community,” says Cecilia Clarke, President and CEO.

Precisely! Every foundation – community and others with a local mission – should consider their role from the perspective of connector and networker. How can you link current and prospective donors to your work? How might collaborations with other nonprofits evolve? I’m a natural networker and know from experience the power of connecting parties that share interests and needs. Community foundations in particular can be pivotal networkers.

Real-Time Support

 What’s the Brooklyn Accelerator approach to serving as a community connector? For starters, the foundation lets community groups use its conference room and other building space for regular meetings or one-time events free of charge. Consider the potential connections when a local foundation becomes a literal community hub. Yes, there must be heat, light, wear-and-tear costs involved in that kind of gesture. Still, the Brooklyn Community Foundation has clearly set its priorities. Through its Incubator Project, the foundation is doing even more: offering free office space, along with a stipend, to three startup nonprofits.

Of course, not every organization has the means for that degree of generosity. Yet to me, what makes the Brooklyn Community Foundation such an inspiring example is its commitment to being proactive and central as a community organization. It’s out there with a message even in its project titles to be insightful in finding its best purpose, to speed community development, to nurture others who can contribute as well. I believe the lesson from Brooklyn applies to every nonprofit: find ways to do what you do better – then “put the pedal to the metal” on service and effectiveness!

Looking to “accelerate” your nonprofit’s effectiveness? Let’s talk. If you missed my recent dashboard on nonprofit capacity, read it here.