Grand Rapids nonprofits connect in new ways

Forging Grand, New Connections

With over 30 food shelves, child and senior nutrition programs, soup kitchens and shelters reliant on their efforts, the staff at the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank knows that organization is a key element to serving their community. Tasks like managing the warehouse to stocking the store fronts are performed by employees and volunteers daily, but when it comes to special events or coordinating volunteers who spend time at more than one location things can become more complex.

With numerous non-profit organizations in the Grand Rapids area looking to successfully put on fundraisers and expand their outreach, it can be difficult planning a standalone event, but in April of 2008 a group of organizations decided to streamline their planning process by forming the Grand Rapids Area Non-Profit Directors (GRAND) Group.

The GRAND Group (which includes KAXE, the Reif Center, Itasca Arts, ICTV, The Second Harvest Central Food Bank, the United Way and others) hit the ground running, looking for a uniting tool, “One of the things we talked about early on was finding ways for us to participate together, to share things if necessary,” said Susan Estee of the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank.

The group’s final decision was to use an online calendar, supported by Google, in order for the organizations to stay connected. “We were looking at having a calendar so that we could make sure that when we were planning events or fundraisers, that we wouldn’t be competing with the other non profits for the same dates,” said Estee.

Another benefit of the calendar offered by Google is the application cost: free with a Google account.

The concept of using low-cost or free programs is seen as vital by Ann Treacy, a consultant who worked with the group. “I think that’s the gateway for most nonprofit organizations, government agencies and small businesses,” she explained.

Treacy helped guide the group through the implementation process as they had applied to the Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Resource Program, which provided them with her expertise while they advanced their broadband capabilities. “In today’s economy, nonprofit organizations are asked to do more with less. They are generally understaffed so each staff member wears multiple hats, “explained Treacy, “There are tools out there, such as Google Calendar that can help make the most of staff time.”

Treacy’s assistance to the group proved to be an integral step, as members have varying levels of technical savvy. “It was very important,” explained Estee, “Ann was able to provide expertise in a real world way, she knew where we were coming from.”

The group’s decision to connect through an online calendar marks the first step towards a greater benefit that, according to Treacy, has implications that go past streamlining communications, “As remote meetings get better and better, I think distance will no longer be a barrier to work or services.”