Nonprofit gets more engaged
Civic Commons increases its consulting efforts by offering online services to groups
By TIMOTHY MAGAW
4:30 am, February 4, 2013
The Civic Commons, a Cleveland nonprofit geared toward fostering constructive dialogue around issues facing Northeast Ohio, is getting into the consulting business and has locked down a handful of well-known clients.
The organization, which launched in 2010 thanks to a $3 million grant from the Knight Foundation and additional support from the Fund for Our Economic Future, made a strategic decision late last year to focus more of its time and resources on providing online engagement services to organizations, institutions and civic initiatives.
For a fee, the Commons is offering its custom-built online discussion platform and consulting services to other organizations engaged in some sort of decision-making that requires input from a large group of people.
As the Commons’ puts it, consider it “social media for stuff that matters.”
The efforts, which last year brought in more than $200,000 in revenue and made up about 20% of the group’s overall budget, should help prop up the still-burgeoning organization, according to Mike Shafarenko, Civic Commons’ president. The Commons’ client roster includes the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, the city of Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability, Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights and Kent State University.
“How do we in the 21st century act as a nonprofit that isn’t solely reliant on philanthropic donations but also have a market-driven approach to what we’re doing to subsidize our costs?” Mr. Shafarenko said.
Kent State, for one, engaged the Commons to help with its strategic planning process for its academic affairs division. Late last year, the university posed several questions on the Commons’ online platform related to its goals of increasing student success, bolstering academic quality, expanding research, securing its finances, developing talent and fostering internationalization efforts.
After six weeks, more than 300 members of the university community registered for the project. Overall, the project garnered more than 10,000 page views. The Commons compiled all the data generated on the site, coded and analyzed it and produced a report that the university plans to use in shaping its three- to five-year strategic plan.
“There was healthy disagreement at times online, but it was always very respectful, which I really liked,” said Stan Wearden, dean of Kent State’s College of Communication and Information and co-chairman of a group guiding the planning process. “It felt like there was a lot of honest expression.”
The Commons offers three groups of services, ranging from a free model to one that costs $7,500 for a year-long subscription.
“Our little subscription model has great promise for a large, growing market for these kinds of services,” Mr. Shafarenko said. “The potential is huge, but in a larger context, it’s part of a movement that is shifting the way decisions are being made.”