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[Innovation Series] An Interview with Kelly Brooks of SHARE Charlotte

As part of our online Innovation Series, Patton McDowell and Associates (PMA) interviewed Kelly Brooks on her organization’s role in collaboration within the Charlotte nonprofit community. Thank you to Kelly for sharing her thoughts on collaboration and innovation with PMA.

Kelly Brooks, Chief Connector, SHARE Charlotte

Kelly Brooks, Chief Connector, SHARE Charlotte

SHARE Charlotte Founder Kelly Brooks is an entrepreneur with a history of strengthening systems and improving process. Before taking time off to raise a family, Kelly served as Director of Consumer Marketing, Special Projects & Publishing for NASCAR, and served as Editorial Manager for Seventeen Magazine. She spent time in Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles and Florida before settling in Charlotte, NC. She launched SHARE Charlotte in December 2012 and has seen it grow considerably in a short period of time.

SHARE Charlotte is a really fascinating venture. Can you describe it for our readers?

SHARE Charlotte is a free, easy and local website that consolidates the nonprofits in Charlotte and makes them more easily accessible to the people who live here and want to get involved. Access to nonprofits in Charlotte can be challenging, and finding one that matches your interests is not always so easy. We’ve created a search engine to make finding a nonprofit and/or a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests a lot easier. SHARE also offers a Non-Profit Event Calendar, which lists both fundraising and marketing events.

You went live with SHARE Charlotte in December 2012. How has it been received so far?

Extremely well! We are so pleased to have over 180 nonprofits and 400 Neighbors interacting on the site so far. Our website, and concept for that matter, have been validated. This spring we moved into development of Phase 2 of the site, which offers a search engine for volunteer opportunities, among many other technological enhancements. Actually, that functionality is rolling out to the nonprofits this week and will go live to Neighbors by the middle of June!

We are super excited about this progress. We met with over 20 nonprofits and as many Neighbors as we researched what the challenges were in the volunteering arena. We found that there seems to be a disconnect between the volunteer and the nonprofit, which is mostly based on expectations. Our solution offers to bridge that gap by creating simple job descriptions for each volunteer opportunity.

Whereas nonprofits typically self-describe based on the impact they have, as in “education” or “homelessness,” your site categorizes by the population served as the entry point?

Yes! Our experience starts with the “WHO?” – as in, who you want to help. We have seven categories (Kids, Military, Seniors, Adults, Families, Animals and the Environment) from which to choose, in addition to a keyword (a cause) or nonprofit name search.

The audience for SHARE Charlotte is our “Neighbors” – my neighbor, your neighbor – who want to get involved in the community but don’t have the time and energy to find the nonprofit that matches their specific interests. To make the search as easy as possible we found that it’s most efficient to first categorize the nonprofits by the audience they serve. Once a neighbor begins their search they can further refine it by the category of service (arts & culture, youth development, health, etc.). And in June, they’ll be able to search specifically for volunteer opportunities!

When a nonprofit signs up on SHARE Charlotte, they indicate who they serve, which can be more than one option. They also select the services they provide, so a user has multiple ways to explore the nonprofits.

So, let’s say I find a nonprofit that interests me on SHARE Charlotte. What will be listed there?

Every organization on SHARE has a profile page (their own micro-site), which is meant to be a “Cliff’s Notes” version of who they are and what they do. Our goal is to provide Neighbors with less jargon and more straightforward information so they can get a quick idea of what the nonprofit is about.

In addition to the basic information on the nonprofit’s profile page, Neighbors will also find volunteer opportunities as well as fundraising event information. They can connect to the nonprofit directly from SHARE Charlotte to apply for volunteer opportunities, donate money and get information on upcoming events.

Nonprofits have full control through a special login, where they can update their information as frequently as they want.

How is your site different than, say, using Google? Couldn’t I just search Google for nonprofits?

Yes, but you would likely only find a few of the larger nonprofits in Charlotte. You won’t find probably 90% of organizations that are doing amazing work with very low budgets. We received the most amazing complement from someone I really admire, Shelly Moore at the Humane Society of Charlotte. Shelly said, “SHARE Charlotte has created a level playing field for all the nonprofits in Charlotte.” You know, she’s right. If you are a current 501c3 and you serve Mecklenburg County, then you are invited to be part of SHARE – the only exceptions currently being churches, schools and clubs. Everyone gets a fair shot here.

Why don’t nonprofits do a better job of making their events and activities more accessible?

The nonprofits are working hard to get their message out and SHARE Charlotte is here to support them. Marketing and communications resources are hard to come by for a lot of nonprofits. Some don’t have the budget and/or they don’t have the expertise. We’ve also found that the Charlotte nonprofit community is very invitation-based, which is a barrier to entry for some people. It is also driven by word of mouth – you typically have to know someone connected to the organization.

A Neighbor might go to a luncheon or even volunteer at a nonprofit, but if it isn’t the right fit, what do they do next? Where can they go to find another organization? We hope that SHARE Charlotte is the easy solution and let’s them explore until they find the right fit.

You’re certainly making it easier to learn more about local nonprofits. Long term, what is your goal?

We want Neighbors to be more engaged in Charlotte – to participate in its success. It’s been really hard to do that so we’re making it easier. By June Neighbors will be able to search for Volunteer Opportunities, including board positions, internships and committee work.

And this fall we will be working on a Donation & Fundraising piece. We have some fun ideas to help nonprofits generate new support. SHARE Charlotte is a conduit to engage neighbors and nonprofits, and exists to augment the system that already exists. Future phases will explore those opportunities further.

How long have you been working on this concept?

The concept for the database has been on my mind for 3-4 years. It was fueled by my own experience of trying to learn about nonprofits in Charlotte and not finding a good online resource. Every meeting I would have with a nonprofit would reveal additional organizations, and even more initiatives, and it was frustrating to think that I couldn’t see the whole picture. Out of that experience, SHARE Charlotte really began to take shape in February 2012.

My first step was taking a concept paper on a bit of a road show, meeting with leaders in the nonprofit community in Charlotte and exploring the concept further. In every meeting, I heard that this sort of idea was top of mind, something everyone felt was needed and missing. After that phase, I knew that this was what I was meant to do, and that I was the right person to bring this to market.

How would you define innovation?

Innovation is about thinking differently, but different doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t been done before. Innovation can also be reinventing something and making it new again, getting back to basics and meeting need. For SHARE Charlotte, innovation is also about engaging community and reinventing neighborhood, “going local” and finding the value in our own backyard.