Building Community and Engaging Millennials

Community Nonprofits

Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP) is a nonprofit with more than 6,000 members and is one of the Philadelphia’s leading organizations for young people. YIP strives to make Philadelphia the premier city for the next generation of young leaders by engaging, connecting and representing the young demographic (roughly 22 – 35, but all are welcome) through several different platforms. Recently Fairmount spoke with Kelly Cofrancisco, Programming Chair of Young Involved Philadelphia, about why YIP has developed such a strong community and advice for nonprofits seeking to do the same.

When you hear the word “community” what does it mean to you?

Kelly: I think it means a place where you can go and feel comfortable. You feel like you can go to that community if you have an issue. Community can mean a lot of different things, like an online community or a religious community. But overall I think it means a place where you belong and that supports you.

How did YIP build such a strong community?

Kelly: In general YIP really tries to listen to the people it serves. One of the things we were hearing is people wanted a way to plug-in and get involved. One of the things we have been conscious about is not only bringing partners in when we can, but also having strong and steady programming. People really want an instant and clear path of ways to get involved.

Internally we have committee meetings and give people tasks to voice their opinion. On the partner side we have been able to collaborate with other organizations through our events. A big one is State of Young Philly (SOYP). A lot of SOYP events used to be organized solely by YIP and YIP would also handle the logistics. But last year we created an RFP that opened the process to the local community. We asked organizations what the most important issues in their community were and we got a big response. I think this has opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve also built a strong community internally by seeking opinions outside of the board. While we have a great board, they don’t represent every person or viewpoint. So we tap into other sub-groups to get more perspectives.

There’s a recent Washington Post article that essentially expresses surprise that Millennials are giving more time and dollars than expected. Why do you think Millennials are so willing to give and how can nonprofits take advantage of that willingness?

Kelly: I’ve read similar articles. Millennials want to support companies and brands who give back. Tom’s is a great example of doing good while making a profit. You can also see it in B Corporations and the triple bottom line. Millennials are starting companies and nonprofits of their own and are looking for ways to give back. A lot of us are brought up with community service projects. And as more people go to schools that have community outreach, it’s sort of engrained. Millennials do like to give back but they don’t want to give to just anything. So nonprofits need to tie a giving opportunity into their core mission, ideally if it’s something Millennials would do regularly, like shopping, because it makes giving easier. I think that what has pushed this is that you have shopping and e-commerce and it’s easier to take on donations. Now giving on social media apps and online commerce has made it easier to donate. Millennials realize you don’t have to be a giant philanthropist to give. They think ‘my $10 or $20 can help’ and that’s changed the way people give. Nonprofits shouldn’t brush off smaller donations but think of it as a way to build Millennials into their giving pipeline, and maybe over time the giving will increase.

Initiatives like the State of Young Philly involves collaboration among different organizations, nonprofits, and stakeholders, but it comes together in a cohesive way. Why is YIP successful in marshaling those different stakeholders together?

Kelly:  It’s a lot of work. I think we just continue to build on the process that we established for SOYP. Each year it grows in attendance and media coverage. The reason it grows is because we have grown the partnerships and the partners involved. Logistically a lot of it is on the front end. We tell partners what we need and when we need it. We set up a communications timeline and overall it’s really about keeping people on the same page and having a clear communications strategy. We use a lot of Google docs to keep everyone updated. I think just keeping an open attitude and being accessible to our partners so that they know they can reach us at any time makes a big difference.

What advice do you have for nonprofits seeking to energize young(er) people like Millennials?

Kelly: I think the simplest thing is to talk to your audience. Like how in the for-profit sector they say ‘know your customer.’ So if you are launching a young friends program or another similar initiative, look at what else is in the marketplace that’s being offered. But also try to speak the language of the group you are trying to reach. It’s all about how you’re perceived. I think it’s one thing to say that ‘Millennials are on social media, so go on Facebook or Twitter.’ But that may not be what they want. Overall I think YIP has been successful in programming because we bounce a lot of ideas off people. We never want to create an event or program that other people don’t want. So it’s sort of that focus group mentality. Nonprofits should really analyze the characteristics of Millennials. There are many social studies about how they behave and the causes they care about.



Get involved with YIP’s 6th annual State of Young Philly, this year running October 16 through October 24. Corporate sponsorship and nonprofit partnership opportunities are available.

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Fairmount Ventures Summer Reading 2015

Fairmount Ventures Reads

Source: Image Conscious Studios

This year the first day of autumn will be September 23, 2015. That means we still have two months of summer left! Below is a late-summer reading list plucked from the minds and shelves of Fairmount Ventures staff. All are good choices for the beach, the pool or the porch. Enjoy!


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonThis mystery novel tells a series of ‘parallel universe’ imaginings of how one woman’s choices affect how she lives and dies in WWII England. This is a fresh and fun mystery novel that keeps you on your toes.








A Hole In Texas by Herman Wouk

A Hole In TexasA lively story about lost love, high-energy physics and the machinations of Washington. Wouk is a Pulitzer Prize winner and has wry humor. It’s a great, light-hearted read.








Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places by Gillian FlynnThe book alternates viewpoints across characters and time, but follows protagonist, Libby, as she manages the fallout from accusing her brother for the murder of her family while simultaneously working with a secret conspiracy group to figure out whether the true murderer is still out there.

It’s a chilling thriller perfect for a summer read, but it also moves the reader to question the reliability of one’s perception, meaning of truth, and the fallibility of memory.





Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake In this member of the MaddAddam trilogy, genetic engineering and climate change come to a head, with devastating impact for humanity. A dystopian thriller from a sci-fi master.








Gold Help the Child by Toni Morrison

God Save the Child The story speaks to the unwitting damage parents do to their children in the name of preparing them for a difficult life, and how adults spend their lives un-doing the trauma their parents visited upon them. It a driving narrative, beautifully written narrative regarding the twists and turns behind the realities of resilience.







Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A WatchmanIn this greatly anticipated sequel to Lee’s To Kill A  Mockingbird, a young adult Scout returns to the South and confronts her father Atticus’ racism, and a loss of childhood innocence and idealism.

This book offers a timely opportunity to examine our individual and collective notions about race, justice, and human decency through the lens of a classic American story.







1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 A love story about two loners who become separated and must overcome difficult battles to get back together. A realistic story with fantastical elements makes the reader ask what’s going to happen next.









A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

Daisy Hernandez Cup of Tea Under My BedA memoir of short stories about Ms. Hernandez’s experience growing up in New Jersey with immigrant parents from Colombia and Cuba. This coming-of-age memoir provides a unique, thoughtful, and beautifully written glimpse into the experience of a daughter of Latin immigrants.








Fixing Broken Cities: The Implementation of Urban Development Strategies by John Kromer

Fixing Broken Cities This book is about the planning, implementation, and impact of investment strategies designed to bring about transformative changes in urban downtowns and neighborhoods. Kromer is a former Director of Housing at the City of Philadelphia and offers a rich perspective on the City’s history of housing preservation and development activities.








Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Everyone Hanging Out Biographical book about comedian, writer, and actress, Mindy Kaling’s experience growing up as a woman of color and how she navigated her way through the entertainment industry, ultimately carving out a place for herself. It conveys a voice and perspective from a woman of color in a light-hearted, humorous, and relatable way that not only celebrates “otherness” but also reveals how much we are alike.







Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown_Girl_Dreaming Beautiful, but accessible, freestyle poems tell the story of a young African American girl, with one foot planted firmly in the South and another in NYC, who discovers her love of writing while growing up during the civil rights era. The themes of this book – identity, family, friendship, home – are especially moving when explored through the eyes of a child and set against a backdrop of the 1960s.







Pulphead by Jeremiah Sullivan

Pulphead Essays on popular culture, the South, and life as we know it today. Intrepid reporting meets the emergence of a distinctive new voice in American writing.








The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts by Peter T. Coleman

The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts It provides a framework for understanding intense, often intergenerational conflict using research in “dynamic systems theory,” a way of modeling complex events and situations. Thought-provoking and fascinating, it integrates social psychology, history, and mathematical modeling, all while providing a beautiful, troubling analysis of why some conflicts persist and seem intractable.







Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh

Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha Thich Nhat Hanh’s compiled life of the Buddha is based on over 50 different Pali and Sanskrit texts. Beautifully written and illustrated account of Buddhist stories and teachings, humorous and heartbreaking and wise, very accessible and very profound.








Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

Flash Boys Michael Lewis This unique book focuses on a small group of Wall Street guys who each realize in their own way that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders. They come together to investigate what it really means and its inevitable impact. It reads like a mysterious financial detective novel, except its real life and involves hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.








An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Colonel Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth Colonel Hadfield will indirectly explain to you how you will never be an astronaut but also how amazing it is to be one. Great storytelling that’s funny, inspiring and insightful.








The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

The Wright Brothers The Wright Brothers get the plane off the ground by the first quarter of the book; the balance explores what happened next. All our contemporary talk about innovation, but this book demonstrates what it takes truly innovate and to make something happen.








A Year to Live by Stephen Levine

A Year to Live Meditation teacher and counselor Stephen Levine, who has long worked with the ill and dying, decides to live one year as if it were his last. In doing so, he explores what it means to live fully. Levine encourages us to examine our lives and ask ourselves: If I had only a year to live, what would I do differently? A book for anyone who wishes to face their fears and live a joyful, meaningful life.









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What Philadelphia’s Indego Bike-Share Informs about Community Collaboration

Now more than ever, nonprofits need to partner with different communities to combat social problems.

In the past, it was common for nonprofits to solve problems for communities instead of solving problems with communities. But, current research shows that the quickest and most comprehensive way to approach social issues is to engage a range of stakeholders, infusing their input into the problem-solving process.

When nonprofits work with the direct beneficiaries of their work they learn several things:

  1. Nonprofits can discover if their problem-solving approaches are the best fit for their target populations;
  2. Nonprofits can learn whether their initial diagnosis of the problem(s) is considered an important core issue by their target population or if there are other factors that are more immediate challenges;
  3. They learn whether there are other partners that should be engaged to make a bigger impact.

Strategic nonprofits engage multiple communities to access information, resources, partnerships, and to generate goodwill. But what do we mean when we say the word, “community?” The word has a few definitions, but in this context it can be defined as a group with similar needs, aspirations, or skills – and it can be any or all of these:

  • Service population – People with similar criteria and needs that directly benefit from the mission and work of a nonprofit.
  • Tech community – Increasingly web developers and software application designers meet at – and style – events to discuss how technology can be applied to solving social problems. While developers often have technical experience and a great desire to make a difference, they’ll admit that they aren’t as knowledgeable about the complexities of the social issues they’re trying to solve. This knowledge-gap presents nonprofits with a unique opportunity to educate tech audiences about both the macro and micro dynamics of certain social problems thus laying a foundation for collaboration.
  • Business community – For-profit businesses are realizing that their customers are more conscious today about where they spend their dollars. More people desire to spend money at businesses that not only serve quality products and services, but who also lead socially-driven missions. This dynamic is an opportunity for nonprofits to work with businesses who are increasingly seeking chances to combat social issues.
  • Civic-minded citizens – While civic-minded citizens have always existed, today’s technology makes it easier for individuals to meet and organize around social issues than in the past. Mobile applications, online Meetup groups, and even co-working spaces provide nonprofits with established communities of like-minded citizens seeking to alleviate social problems.

Indego, Philadelphia’s new bike-sharing program offers a prime example of how multiple communities can be engaged to make a strong and lasting impact. Prior to launching in May of this year, Indego faced two concerns: 1) where the bikes would be placed; and 2) whether the bikes were accessible to all city residents, not only those in economically-secure areas like Center City.

These concerns were valid. National data collected on bike-sharing initiatives highlight the fact that bike-share riders on average tend to be white, male, with at least middle-class income levels. For example, in Washington D.C. only 3% of bike-share riders are black, even though 50% of the city’s residents are black. The accessibility of the bikes matters for many reasons, but in particular because the majority of the 70-plus national bike-share programs are funded – at least in part – with public dollars.

Indego is funded with $3 million from the City of Philadelphia, $1.5 million from the state, and $16 million through the next five years from Independence Blue Cross and a nonprofit family foundation. Philadelphia city officials made an intentional and significant effort to involve many different communities:

  • Officials placed 200 bikes in low-income neighborhoods, 1/3 of its initial allotment of 600 bikes.
  • Philadelphia was the first city nationwide to launch its bike-share program with a cash payment option for any resident, regardless of income. (Several cities offer cash payment options but with a cost that excluded residents of a certain income).
  • City officials hired neighborhood ambassadors to show residents in underserved communities how to use Indego and inspire them to do so.
  • Indego partnered with the Mural Arts Program to create public murals designed by local artists with help from local elementary schoolkids in low-income areas. This effort created good will, showcased the bike program, and encouraged use among those in underserved communities.
  • In September 2014, seven months prior to launch, city officials crowdsourced opinions to help ensure the program would address things residents actually cared about.

Only a few months after its debut, Indego passed the 100,000-ride mark. This number surpasses Boston’s bike-share program which had 75,000 after two months, Washington D.C.’s 80,000 rides after two months, and Denver’s bike-share program, which took seven months to reach 100,000 rides. By most measures Indego qualifies as a success.

An excerpt from an interview by People for Bikes with Aaron Ritz, Bicycle Programs Manager and Cara Ferrentino, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, both with the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities speaks to the success of the multi-community approach:

Ferrentino says that at the Indego launch event, someone commented to her how nice it was to see a bike share launch that featured people beyond “the bike crowd.” Dozens of local groups were there, representing workforce development programs, community recreation centers, religious groups and health initiatives.

“It felt authentically Philadelphia,” says Ferrentino. And that’s by design.

Ferrentino says one of the things she is most grateful for is that the city raised funding to pay for formalized, strategic partnerships. Two such partners are the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which is heading outreach efforts by managing the street team and ambassadors, and Temple University, which conducted a focus group with low-income people on their opinions on the proposed system.

“Here we were thinking transit, transit, transit. Then, you hear from focus groups: fun, health, family…” says Ritz. That type of insight is instrumental, he adds, and that feedback is more apt to come from their partner’s channels than their own.

“There are some things cities aren’t the best at,” says Ferrentino. “We all play different roles.”

On a less formal basis, the city has reached out to or formed working connections with dozens of local organizations to get them involved at the ground level.

“People appreciate being involved from the beginning,” says Ferrentino. “That goes a long way.”

City officials could have easily placed bikes in neighborhoods that they deemed best and decided to launch without public input. Instead by utilizing a collaborative, multi-community approach, the city and Indego learned the preferences of city residents, gained large-scale public support for the program, gained strategic partnerships that could lead to future collaborations, and ultimately created a service that has proved thus far to be a success.


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Community Reading for Philadelphians

“Summertime slide” is the term that describes what occurs when young students don’t read during the summer months while they’re not in school. These kids lose up to three months of reading achievement and begin to fall behind their peers. Lest you fall into your own summertime slide as you enjoy Philadelphia’s rich cultural scene, pop-up gardens, and attractions, Fairmount has curated a list of reading resources that can help keep you engaged and up-to-date:


  • – A combination of content between The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer, covers breaking news, interesting city events, and opinion pieces about current events. The site offers a resource to understand what’s new and important in Philadelphia across education, sports, entertainment, hard news, etc. – @phillydotcom
  • NewsworksNewsworks is a great resource for local coverage that stands out for examining issues other mainstream sources don’t always cover. With thorough content, especially around Philadelphia’s education issue, Newsworks provides material for readers interested in plunging below the surface of news. – @NewsWorksWHYY
  • BillyPenn – With its Twitter-like display, BillyPenn keeps readers informed on a wide-variety of news throughout Philadelphia. Content is aggregated from other sources and also includes unique pieces, establishing BillyPenn as a reliable source of fresh information. – @Billy_Penn
  • Flying Kite – A weekly online magazine focused on what’s next for the city and its suburbs. It’s a community-centric publication that highlights people, ideas, neighborhoods, companies and institutions helping return Philadelphia to world-class city status. – @FlyingKiteMedia


  • Hidden City Philadelphia – This publication offers readers a glimpse into cultural locations off Philadelphia’s beaten path. From interesting sites to the structural development of cities worldwide, Hidden City Philadelphia keeps readers abreast on cultural places and events they otherwise may have overlooked. – @HiddenCityPhila
  • – Philadelphia’s rich arts and culture scene is vast, which offers citizens plenty to do. One problem however is keeping up with those events can be a challenge. Uwishunu is a blog operated by Visit Philly, one of the city’s tourism arms, that highlights all the festivals, art shows, concerts, and happenings in Philadelphia. – @uwishunu

City Planning and Design

  • Plan PhillyPlan Philly covers city planning, design, and development in Philadelphia. In addition to great content, Plan Philly separates articles by specific Philadelphia neighborhoods. So if you want to learn about a specific section of the city, doing so is easy. Long-form articles that thoroughly explain what’s happening, what’s expected to happen, and most importantly why events happen makes Plan Philly a must-read resource. – @PlanPhilly
  • NextCity NextCity covers problems and solutions facing major cities. NextCity is among a host cities under the NextCity umbrella that focuses on many major U.S. cities. Readers can learn what’s happening in the future of design for cities and how cities are overcoming challenges unique to urban populations. – @NextCityOrg
  • City of Philadelphia WordPress – Admitably dry-looking, this resource is ideal one-stop-shopping for access to the City of Philadelphia’s media advisories, alerts, and press releases. Civic-minded citizens can easily stay informed on all news released officially by the City.


  • Philly – Philadelphia may not be known for its tech scene like San Francisco or Austin, Texas just yet, but its stature grows every day. Philly covers all things tech-related on the local scene with reporting about tech-related trends, events, and jobs. Readers seeking to meet like-minded tech enthusiasts, get involved, or find new tech work will call this a must-visit resource. – @TechnicallyPHL


  • Grid Magazine – Grid is a digital and print magazine that features news related to sustainability, events to get involved, and interviews and information about the businesses and people doing a lot of work to make Philadelphia one of the most sustainable-friendly in the country. – @Gridphilly


  • The Notebook – For readers with an interest in Philadelphia’s evolving education saga, the Notebook is the place to go. A detailed list that can help readers get a sense of which high schools exist in the city and the admission process for each school can be found in the Notebook’s High School Guide. – @PSNotebook


  • What Matters – this free e-newsletter by the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey is a great source of information about what’s happening at nonprofits in the area as well as ways to get involved. – @PhillySJUNITED
  • The Philadelphia Citizen – this site is a cool resource that talks about different issues in Philadelphia. Created in part by a former Daily News editor, The Philadelphia Citizen has a unique twist. Articles don’t just aim to inform, but get others involved. Each article features ways for readers to get involved as related to the article’s subject. The unique format gives readers who want to learn and do an ideal resource. – (No Twitter account as of posting)


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Clarifying What Nonprofits Mean By “Community”

When nonprofits discuss their work and the people they serve, the word “community” is frequently used.

  • “We seek to help the community.”
  • “Our work increases a sense of community.”
  • “…communities in need.”

Exploring the concept of community within the context of different nonprofits, their causes, and their audiences may reveal ways to better understand and support their respective missions. But where does this process begin?

First, consider three ways to clarify the concept of community:

1. A community of stakeholders within an organization

There are people within a nonprofit that are committed to helping advance the mission. Examples include staff members, Board members, and volunteers.

2. Recipients of the work a nonprofit provides

This is the population a nonprofit aims to serve.

3. Collaboration among organizations

This is a collective of like-minded organizations with mutual goals to improve the lives of a similar population or solve a similar problem. Examples include organizations involved with collective impact efforts, mergers, affiliations, and strategic partnerships.

Each of these perspectives are valid. But it’s important for nonprofits to be clear about what they mean by community because the term means different things to different audiences. Nonprofits can ensure accurate messaging, both internally and externally, if they are clear about how they define community.

A relevant example concerned with community and being clear about what that means comes from the mission statement by the Center for Community Progress, a national leader on solutions for blight and vacancy:

“The mission of the Center for Community Progress is to create vibrant communities primarily through the reuse of vacant, abandoned, and problem properties in America’s cities and towns. Community Progress helps local and state governments seize the potential of these properties for the economic and social benefit of their communities. We help leaders advocate for and implement the policy changes to prevent abandonment and to reuse these properties.”

The Center for Community Progress mentions “community” twice in their mission statement. They do a great job defining what that means. For nonprofits that similarly have identified community as a core piece of their mission, they would benefit to follow the Center’s example by being clear about what community means. And the nonprofits able to do this will create clear messages that are understood and embraced, both internally and externally.


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