Community Foundation hopes to bridge nonprofit divide

– by Susan R. Miller

February 9

The Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties is taking the next step in what has been an 18-month journey to develop a “transformational civic leadership initiative.”

On Monday, the foundation said the John S. and James L Knight Foundation awarded it $1 million to launch a program designed to connect nonprofits using the Internet.

That program grew out of discussions that began in August 2007, when the Knight Foundation awarded the Community Foundation $507,854 to develop the initiative

At that time, Community Foundation leaders said the charge they were given was “abstract.”

In the year-and-a-half since, foundation leaders have worked to define just what that initiative should be and what kind of program should be created. And, after much discussion and planning, the foundation has come up with a project dubbed “digital public square,” which they say will allow nonprofit organizations and community members to share information and discuss issues critical to the county via the Internet.

But, such projects don’t come cheap. The $1 million grant will be used to pay for support staff, develop the Internet site and provide grants to participants, said Leslie Lilly, president and CEO of the foundation. The site is under construction and should be launched by early spring.

The goal, she said, is to connect one of the most disconnected counties in the country.

“The ultimate outcome is that we start to connect constituencies who have a shared interest in trying to address the tough issues and that they result in face-to-face meetings,” Lilly said.

Issues ranging from water conservation to how to dealing with an aging population will be part of the discussion.

And, at a time when nonprofits are struggling financially, the hope is that the site will provide them with opportunities for collaboration.

“We are all going to have to do more with less, and the benefits of collaboration speak to that issue,” Lilly said. “I think it will be a necessity to be more creative to work together to get things done.”

– by Susan R. Miller