Impact Exchange: 5 Years with Groundwire
In the philanthropic world, grant review meetings rarely look like a rugby scrum. Then again, Groundwire is not your typical nonprofit. They have inspired SVP Partners to elbow others out of the way in an effort to work with the group since they first got on SVP’s radar in 2001. And they continue to attract Partners even though their tenure as an SVP Investee has drawn to a close, ensuring a lasting impact exchange – that transformational give and take between SVP volunteers and the nonprofits they work with.
SVP Partner Gideon Rosenblatt started the trend. “At the first Environmental Grant Committee meeting, we each took an assignment to meet with various local environmental leaders to educate ourselves on the issues. Reviewing the list of organizations, my eye quickly fell on Groundwire (then ONE/Northwest). I jumped first and narrowly beat Valerie Logan in picking it for my informational visit.”
Groundwire offers a wide range of technology services that help environmental organizations connect, inspire and mobilize their communities, and when Gideon met with them in 2001, they were a small group working out of an office near the Ballard Bridge in Seattle.
Gideon (left) remembers the meeting well, “… because it literally changed my life. We were sitting in their conference room, reflections of light from the water in the adjoining marina dancing on the walls around us. Part way through the meeting, I realized that there was no executive director at the table. I was told that their director had recently left and they were now searching for a new ED. Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Talking to staff about it later, they joked that at that moment they knew the interview had flipped and that they were then interviewing their next boss.”
Gideon left his job at Microsoft and became Groundwire’s new executive director, starting the steady stream of SVP Partners. “Groundwire was the brainchild of Paul Brainerd. His vision in 1995 was amazing. He saw the huge gaps in the local environmental community. I came in after the first few years of the messy, dirty work of crawling under desks to install hardware. At that point, we were beginning the scary shift from hardware to software.”
Five years later, their strategic plan called for another shift in their growth. “We were going forward with plans to build out a new set of programs we were calling "engagement consulting" which was the fusion of communications, relationship marketing and community organizing techniques to engage the right people in influencing decisions that affect the environment.” It was at this point that Groundwire became an SVP investee.
“We were looking for a select group of people in our community to advise us in building out these new offerings. I wanted to see if SVP Partners would be interested in helping us with this aspect of our strategic plan."
"We were very clear that we were looking to get at people’s brains, not their checkbooks.”
Groundwire found more than a few Partners to help out. In addition to several SVP Partners joining the board—Valerie being one of the first—other Partners helped them think through organizational planning and growth to create a framework on how to shift roles to make the organization more effective. SVP funding supported board development projects surrounding governance, committees and recruitment. Volunteers also participated in the branding and name change from ONE/Northwest to Groundwire.
Among these projects, one stood out in particular for Gideon.
“It was invaluable to have SVP not only asking the right questions of us but also holding our feet to the fire. But the project that transformed how we worked was the result of SVP paying for a consultant from Organizational Research Services to work through an outcomes evaluation process and to help us develop a Theory of Change map that framed our mission and focused our work. The map guided our program development efforts, telling us where—and where not— to invest resources for maximum impact.”
It was during this time that Gideon came up with what he calls an audacious plan. During a “tech lunch” to show SVP volunteers what Groundwire was doing, he pitched the idea of a “super volunteer.”
SVP Partner John Fine (on the right, climbing in Yosemite) recalls, “Gideon was standing up there and said ‘…here’s a crazy idea. We want a super volunteer who gets serious about us and commits to working like an employee instead of a volunteer…’ I felt like I hadn’t been learning anything new for about ten years. The tools most nonprofits were using were yesterday’s news. Groundwire had the new tools, so I jumped at it. And it was crazy. We had to negotiate a contract just like a job. They would get my time and I would get information for two full years—no summer vacations for me.”
When asked why he would make such a huge commitment, Jon replied, “They are ‘the guys’—young, idealistic, geeky enthusiasts with an incredible depth of knowledge. They are the best at what they do.” So John got to work with the cool geeks and the depth of his expertise as a software developer helped build the capacity of Groundwire’s CRM team, allowing them to take on increasingly significant and complex projects with the potential to have major environmental impacts.
It was such a crazy and audacious idea, when John ended his stint, David Habib—another top technology guru in the SVP partnership—stepped in to commit two years of his time and expertise.
In 2010, Groundwire went through a change that often derails an organization. Gideon felt it was time to move on. After some frustration at not finding candidates through a national search firm, Groundwire’s board—which still reads like a Who’s Who of SVP’s Partners with an environmental focus—reached out to SVP for recommendations.
SVP connected them to a nationally recognized recruiter. The results? Executive Director, Neal Myrick (above) – who also happens to be (you guessed it) an SVP Partner. Hello, full circle.
For more information about Groundwire’s work, go to www.groundwire.org.
Strengthening Groundwire (and Vice Versa)
SVP funded Groundwire for 5 years, providing $230,000 in grants funds as well as volunteer and paid consulting support. In partnership with SVP, Groundwire tackled projects like:
- Program Outcomes & Evaluation: Created a Theory of Change map that has strengthened Groundwire’s commitment to their mission and focused their work on the most effective ways to achieve it
- Board Development & Governance: Board development and training that has framed a set of recommendations around governance, board committees, board composition and recruitment, and board development
- Strategic Planning: assisting staff and board through strategic planning process
- Leadership Development: when the Groundwire team went through re-branding, SVP provided a marketing specialist to help reboot their fundraising strategy, create materials and conduct board training
- Information Technology: part-time employment of SVP Partners David Habib and John Fine to build Groundwire’s IT capacity and for David & John to increase their IT skills to share with SVP and other Investees
On the flip side, Groundwire provided consulting assistance for SVP’s communications – redesigning our newsletter templates and helping us reimagine how we use our database to track Partner engagement.
Groundwire also supports SVP’s other environmental Investees: Washington Environmental Council, People For Puget Sound, and Mountains to Sound Greenway (whose new website they launched in the spring of 2011).
One Story Among Many