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'Town Square' on Web: "Xtreme Visibility" for Nonprofits

'Town Square' on Web: "Xtreme Visibility" for Nonprofits

The Bradenton Herald | By Timothy R. Wolfrum,

December 11, 2009

Dec. 11 – MANATEE – A new Web site is promising Manatee County nonprofit organizations “Xtreme visibility” to get their messages out to prospective donors and volunteers who can help make a difference in the community.

Manatee Connects, a project of the Manatee Community Foundation and partners including the Bradenton Herald, is up and running at www.manateeconnects.org. About 70 nonprofit groups have created profile pages that detail their missions, upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

The site’s tagline is “Giving Nonprofits Xtreme Visibility.”

Marilyn Howard, the community foundation’s executive director, hopes the site will become a hub, or “town square,” for nonprofit news and information.

“We are just a huge part of this community,” Howard said of the nonprofit organizations her group helps fund. “What I hear all the time from nonprofit leaders is that we don’t have enough ways to get out information out to the general public. The idea is having one Web site that is easily accessible where the nonprofits can direct people to their own sites.”

Other partners include Manatee Educational Television, Hands On Manatee, ManaTeen Club and Americorps VISTA. METV will contribute videos and public-service announcements, and a link takes visitors to the channel’s daily schedule.

The site was created by Bradenton Herald interactive media team members Jackie Luper and Richard McNeil and will be hosted and maintained by the Bradenton Herald and its Web site, Bradenton.com. The newspaper’s most recent stories on nonprofits appear in the “Latest Articles” section on the site’s home page.

“I’m really excited about it,” Herald President and Pub- lisher Bob Turner said. “I think it’s going to be a great communication tool for the nonprofits to get their message out to the community.”

Lori Johnson, the executive director at the Literacy Council of Manatee County, agrees.

She said her 30-year-old organization struggles to let people know about its free, one-on-one tutoring.

The literacy council uploaded a video of Johnson tutoring a student on its Manatee Connects profile page.

“I think we were one of the first to sign up to get our information on the site,” Johnson said. “All the social networking information seems to be helpful. We’re kind of a well-kept secret. A lot of people don’t know we’re here.”

The Manatee Community Foundation received a three-year, $41,250 grant from the Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million nationwide effort by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to engage and inform citizens.

Americorps VISTA volunteer Rene Allen-Spencer is the project coordinator and has been charged with getting more nonprofit groups onboard.

Howard said there are about 900 nonprofit groups serving Manatee County.

“Certainly we think we can get a couple hundred nonprofits to put their information on the site,” she said.

Howard said the key to the site will be the nonprofit groups’ level of involvement. They must keep their profile pages up to date and contribute content to keep the site relevant, she said.

“It’s really been a neat collaboration,” Howard said. "We’ve been able to adopt some good ideas that have come from different people. The real beauty of the project is the ripples that have happened because of it.

“This is a side project for all of us. We all devoted the time we could to it, knowing it’s not the core mission for any of us.”

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