Fostering that “pay-it-forward spirit”: 3 awesome orgs that solved problems by building community - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 11, 2015 12:05 pm

Fostering that “pay-it-forward spirit”: 3 awesome orgs that solved problems by building community

Three leaders presented on the community aspect of impact — how neighborhoods and people drive business and mission goals — during Generocity's first Impact Solutions meetup.

Caitlin Butler of the Mural Arts Program presents on the Neighborhood Time Exchange. (Photo by Mo Manklang)

(Photo by Mo Manklang)

At the heart of social impact are the people being served by social impact initiatives.

This past Thursday, Dec. 10, Generocity held its first Impact Solutions meetup — a programmed happy hour meant to offer real solutions to problems faced by triple-bottom-line organizations via lightning talks by local leaders. This month, our focus was on the community aspect of impact — how neighborhoods and people drive business and mission goals.

Our presenters were Amanda Cameron, donor relations and communications coordinator of Norris Square Neighborhood Project; Beth Adams, partnership manager of Community Recycling; and Caitlin Butler, director of development of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Amanda Cameron: Donor relations and communications coordinator, Norris Square Neighborhood Project

West Kensington nonprofit NSNP already managed a few community gardens in the neighborhood and sold the harvests at farm stands. The neighbors, though, wanted a wider variety of vegetables. So, over this past summer, NSNP set out to raise $8,000 to build a greenhouse in its neighborhood.

With a $500,000 operating budget, “we have to be really scrappy,” Cameron said, “and so does our community.”

It started a fundraising campaign on HIPGive, a crowdfunding platform for Latino-led, Latino-serving organizations. Many of West Kensington’s residents are economically disadvantaged, though, so the organization had to be creative about how it asked for money.

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The organization got local youth on board in all aspects of fundraising, especially in telling the story of why the greenhouse was important “in a non-paternalistic way,” Cameron said. Along the way, NSNP taught the kids how food systems work and how to garden, emphasizing its community-minded mission.

NSNP also brought the campaign offline so seniors in the neighborhood without computers could learn about the project and “have community buy-in.” Some people who donated gave only $5, but that $5 was significant because it’s a lot of money for a neighbor of small means.

Cameron attributes the project’s success to the fact that NSNP had already been doing engagement in the community for years.

“It’s always going to be a push and pull” of trust within the community, she said, but by taking a grassroots approach to fundraising, the organization was able to reach its fundraising goal and engage with its community.

Beth Adams: Partnership manager, Community Recycling

Though Community Recycling is a for-profit organization, social impact is still at the forefront of its mission: The company is “dedicated to raising awareness for recycling for reuse” while improving lives and sustaining economies globally, according to Adams.

Community Recycling collects used shoes and clothing in good condition and sells them to secondhand vendors in the United States and around the world, thus diverting those items from landfills.

“We provide an engaging way to people to connect across communities locally and globally through the simple act of recycling,” Adams said.

The organization stands out because of its commitment to transparency — “People want to know where those items are going for reuse,” Adams said — and its method of providing free return labels so partnering organizations can ship the collection boxes directly to their final locations. Cutting down on stops the boxes make reduces overhead and increases efficiency.

“People will recycle if you make it easy,” she said.

Community Recycling also fosters engagement: Donors can include notes about the significance of their donated items in the collection boxes and then track the boxes to their final destinations. This makes the practice of recycling about people making connections to people, Adams said.

Caitlin Butler: Director of development, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

Mural Arts’ goal of using “art to ignite change” was put into play in West Philly this year with the first iteration of the Neighborhood Time Exchange, a three-month residency program in which artists offered their talents to the community in exchange for free studio space.

“Everybody has time as a resource,” Butler explained — and in many cases, time resources are more robust and can serve a community’s needs better than economic resources.

Artists were given 20 hours of studio time as well as a living stipend and materials resources to be able to do their work in exchange for 20 hours devoted to aiding the community in whatever way its members requested. For instance, one artist helped clean up a vacant lot, an endeavor that ended up being mutually beneficial because the artist then used materials found in the lot in their work.

Mural Arts also hoped to foster a “pay-it-forward spirit” in program participants — that those in the community benefitting from artists’ time would in turn give elsewhere — as well as the organic growth of relationships.

The program was successful enough that Mural Arts will soon enact it in two new neighborhoods: South Philly and Tacony.

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