BySutton Mora Hayes
The Midsouth has a new set of online tools to help citizens better understand their region—and support the nonprofit organizations that are working to make it better. WHEREweLIVEmidsouth.org (WWL) and WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org (WTG) work together (WWL|WTG) to provide the public with current, accurate information about the health and livability of this region while also connecting them with nonprofit agencies that are working to improve its communities.
While numerous cities across the country currently boast similar websites, WWL|WTG is unique in linking the two sites together as a seamless system. Visitors are directed intuitively from one site to the other, maximizing the usefulness and impact of both. More than two years of planning went into the development of this project, which was launched in November 2015, led by the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (Community Foundation) and supported by an unprecedented collaboration among 17 other local foundations, corporations and nonprofit funders.
WWL|WTG work together to give residents access to information about their community and to help them make decisions regarding impacting the issues that are important to them. Unlike anything else in the Midsouth, these tools let people use data to drive change.
The websites empower local residents with useful data about their neighborhoods, their cities and the organizations that are asking for their support. Residents are thinking harder about how their donations are really making an immediate, tangible impact in the world around them. Community Foundation and its project partners have a responsibility to be local leaders in this movement toward transparency, openness and community empowerment.
WWL allows people to look at the Midsouth area in different ways, from a regional macro level all the way down to the block where they live. The dashboard uses data from a variety of public sources to show people objective, current information on many different livability and health factors, such as:
WWL showcases data from both national and local sources. The site’s interactive maps allow users to compare counties, cities, ZIP codes or census tracts along hundreds of data sets, which will be updated several times a year. Any community organization that needs a platform to showcase its data may request inclusion on the site.
WTG is a directory of nonprofit organizations in the Greater Memphis area. Organizations can create their own profiles and provide information about their mission, staff, major programs and finances. There are currently over 155 nonprofits listed in the website’s directory. Visitors to the site can search these profiles and find organizations that are working on issues important to them (e.g., after-school tutoring programs in South Memphis, animal services agencies in East Memphis, environmental causes in Midtown).
WTG was built in partnership with Guidestar, the nation’s leading source of information about nonprofit organizations. The financial data is imported directly from IRS Form 990 presented by Guidestar, but the rest of the profile is built out by the individual nonprofits themselves. Since each profile is set up the same, users can compare nonprofits in a more consistent way than reviewing just the organizations’ 990s or websites.
WTG allows people to immediately make a financial contribution of any size to the nonprofits included in the directory. Community Foundation staff review all information submitted by the nonprofits for accuracy and clarity.
WWL features easily understandable community indicators showing the status of a community using information collected from hundreds of data sets. As an example, you may look for information, sorted by ZIP code, around community development, one of nine categories searchable on the site. A dropdown provides many options to look at (e.g., percent of developed parcels, average age of commercial buildings, the distance to the nearest park). You can dig down to your street level or look at the region as a whole. (See Figure 1.)
WWL allows visitors to directly link to information about community development (as well as 14 other local issues) on WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org. There, you can read about the status of the community development industry in the Midsouth. Each snapshot of local issues is written by a content leader in that area. In this example, the community development section was provided by the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis.
On the WTG site, visitors can get a deeper analysis of content areas beyond the map and can link to additional resources to get even more information. Over time, the site development partners intend to grow the resources to include community plans, data reports and other useful information. These pages should be the one-stop shop for important issues affecting the Midsouth.
Finally, visitors can also view related organizations that are working in community development on WTG. If you are trying to find out where to engage—financially, as a volunteer or as a possible employee—your search is now much more targeted, with the option to really focus on the organizations that are doing the work in which you are interested. Organization profiles typically include information on mission and areas served, programs, management, governance and financials (see Figure 2). If you are so inclined, you can then donate directly to the organization.
All of the funding and site development partners hope that this will allow users to be more strategic in their giving, but we also hope that neighborhood leaders will use WWL|WTG to help guide planning for their neighborhoods, and that government and business leaders will use the sites to learn more about the communities in which they are investing. The possibilities are endless, and the more people use WWL|WTG, the more each site can be refined to provide exactly what the community needs.
We invite you to explore the sites and take a deeper dive into the areas most important to you—education, community engagement, jobs, etc. If you work with an organization that may want to become a data partner or if you know a nonprofit that would benefit from being listed in the directory, please have them contact Mia Madison, director of community information, WHEREtoGIVEmidsouth.org, at 901-722-0020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.