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IDEAS: Georgia Nonprofit Innovation at Work

As anyone who works in the sector knows, the nonprofit and philanthropic community is a vibrant hub of problem-solvers, thought leaders, and change-makers. None of that would be possible, however, without innovation to lead the way. Ideas drive us, serving as the seed that becomes a mission, a program, a campaign, or a better way of carrying out our important work.

Over the past few months, we’ve been talking with GCN members and partners about innovation. The ideas you’ve shared with us have been an inspiring reminder of ingenuity at work in our sector, and—as you’ll see—an incredible showcase of strategic and out-of-the-box thinking that’s growing community impact.

Presenting our first annual crop of IDEAS, all homegrown in Georgia.


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1      2      3      4      5    Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, 90.1 WABE, City of Refuge, Rainbow Village, and more.


Welcoming shoppers to their new market.

The germ for Georgia Organics’ big new idea came, like so much else does, from farmers. “Farmers told us the customer base at their farmers markets were too small,” said Danielle Moore, director of the My Market Club program. “We set out to discover why.”

Teaming up with Spitfire Strategies, Georgia Organics conducted a nationwide study that identified several common causes holding potential customers back: “From not knowing about the market at all, to people not realizing that they could get all their grocery shopping done there,” said Moore, potential customers were generally under-informed.

Seeing a need for education and engagement, Georgia Organics decided to start an on-site club to welcome people, orient them, and get them excited about returning. “We thought, what is working for those big box stores?” said Moore. “The answer: rewards! Rewards make people feel engaged and welcomed—like part of a club.”

You can find My Market Club’s volunteer ambassadors at eight farmers markets across the state, handing out loyalty cards and My Market tokens (as good as cash) to new visitors, and swag for returning shoppers (including t-shirts, totes, and coupons for program partner Chipotle), while serving as easy-to-see, easy-to-approach guides.

Moore reports that they’ve welcomed more than 7,500 new shoppers—including SNAP/EBT recipients—to Georgia farmers markets since the program began in late 2012. Demand among farmers for more My Market Club coverage, said Moore, has also grown quickly: “We started with six pilot markets, and this year we were lucky enough to be able to add two more. Next year, we’re looking to increase that number to 13.”


Wheels of a different kind

University of Georgia student Ian Crosby, a volunteer at BikeAthens, had an unusual idea for the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA): he wanted to deliver food for their Meals on Wheels program via bike. Working together with BikeAthens to design and build a suitable cart, and making sure an existing route would accommodate the added transit time, the ACCA and Crosby have piloted what they call Meals on Two Wheels. “In 18 months, Ian has delivered approximately 720 meals on his bike,” reported Director of Communications KaDee Holt. “It’s a great example of the innovative energy UGA student volunteers bring to our efforts to fight senior hunger.”


Inspiring next-gen nature lovers

After two years of growth in their youth education program, Trees Atlanta decided it was time to pilot a summer camp for their growing cadre of young nature enthusiasts. Modeled after their adult TreeKeepers program (now in its eighth year), Junior TreeKeepers debuted this summer with a two-week curriculum focusing on having fun while learning in the Atlanta BeltLine’s Arboretum—the world’s longest arboretum, installed by Trees Atlanta.

To create the program, said co-ED and COO Connie Veates, Trees Atlanta looked into the kinds of activities that local and national organizations like theirs were putting together for young audiences, and realized that there was truly a need for this type of programming in Atlanta. “Based on this research,” said Veates, “we then developed an Atlanta-specific curriculum, with a strong focus on getting youth outside to learn about the urban forest and experience service-oriented projects in a way that was really enjoyable.”

The Trees Atlanta mission includes “not only planting and caring for trees, but also educating people,” said Veates. “We are working to build environmental stewards, and we believe in starting at a young age.” Just a week into the program, Veates reported, “campers are already asking if they can come back next year.” They’ll certainly get the chance—Junior TreeKeepers will be back for summer 2015, expanding from two to four weeks.


A house united

On July 1, Decatur-based Our House and Atlanta’s Genesis Shelter made their merger official, joining forces to better serve homeless families across the metro area. During a period of financial stress and leadership transition, Genesis reached out to Our House, who had just completed a strategic plan calling for an expansion of their service area.

Moving forward, the board, which includes leadership from both organizations, will be overseen by Our House ED Tyese Lawyer, and will keep both shelters open in order to continue serving a total of 450 children and adults annually.


Shipping Smiles

In its third year, the Smiles4Military program run by Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta shipped more than 163,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies (up from 144,000 the year before) to servicemen and servicewomen stationed around the globe.

The idea for the program, now partnered with groups like USO of Georgia, Hugs for Soldiers, Wounded Warriors, and the Atlanta VA Medical Center, grew out of more than 13,000 girls’ desire to do something for area residents serving in Afghanistan, on the high seas, and other spots across the globe. “Girl Scout Cookies represent a comfort of home,” said CEO Amy Dosik. “This is an opportunity to show our support of families with loved ones on active duty, and a great way to teach Girl Scouts the importance of giving back to the community.”


Creating a Macon mega-jam

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Macon Film Festival (MaGa) decided it was time for a change: beginning in 2015, the 4-day series held before now each February will partner with the Bragg Jam Music, Arts, and Kids Festival to create a ten-day mega-event in the middle of July. Citing “separate yet similar missions,” MaGa President Julie Wilkerson said that joining forces makes perfect sense: “Mutual support makes it possible for us to present a week of arts programming that goes beyond what we could do on our own.”


Online Support for Nonprofit Founders

Every year, more than 60,000 groups apply for nonprofit status, and Program Associate Lauren Jeong is one of the professionals at the Foundation Center-Atlanta who counsels aspiring leaders on effective implementation of their ideas. To better serve them, Jeong explained, “the Center worked with Dr. Jesse Lecy of Syracuse University, and funding from IBM, to develop the Nonprofit Startup Assessment, an online tool that provides feedback on a variety of criteria critical to success when starting a nonprofit, including personal experience, financial stability, understanding of the local nonprofit landscape, and network reach.” Questions asked include, “Have you tested your program ideas?” and, “Where do you intend to get the majority of your funding in the first two years of operation?”

The tool then offers resources and direction to help users shore up weaknesses, build skills, and explore alternatives—such as partnering with an existing organization. The Nonprofit Startup Assessment is currently in beta testing, but already helping people think through the challenges of starting a nonprofit. One early user reported, “I was actually taking notes as I answered the questions. There was a lot I hadn’t thought of and I want to make sure I’m taking all the right steps.”


Innovation Showcase

Based on the idea that design is a way of looking at the world with an eye for changing it, this summer‘s Design for Social Impact exhibit at Museum of Design Atlanta offered a look at how designers, engineers, students, professors, architects, and social entrepreneurs from across the Southeast are using design to solve 21st century problems.


Page Next >>
1      2      3      4      5    Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, 90.1 WABE, City of Refuge, Rainbow Village, and more.


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