Nonprofit Spotlight: GroundWork group drives nonprofit missions in overlooked areas

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

GroundWork group ensures technology development doesn't fall to the bottom of nonprofits' hefty to-do lists, along with their social impact.

GroundWork group's mission can be found in its name. The nonprofit works from the ground up to help other nonprofits conquer one of their most important-but often de-emphasized-needs: effective technology creation and sustainability.

Nonprofits focus most of their energies on fundraising and driving the donations necessary to execute their core missions. Many are unable to spend time or money prioritizing technology and organizational development. But those factors not only help the communities they serve, but give nonprofits the resources to thrive.

That's where GroundWork group can help, according to Board President Tony Wells. Wells is principal of the Wells Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to "create value for the community by developing stronger nonprofit leaders and investing in the next generation of social innovations."

Wells has been instrumental in GWg since helping establish the organization a decade ago.

"In 2003, the United Way of Central Ohio approached (the Wells Foundation) about finding a way for all nonprofits in Columbus to secure cost-effective technology solutions that would help enhance their missions," says Wells. "For two years it's all I worked on."

After more than 1,200 meetings with volunteers from the nonprofit and tech realms, Wells submitted a business plan in 2006 and GroundWork group was "off to the races," he says.

What started out as a simple request from United Way for its partner organizations has grown into a go-to organization for groups of all sizes, says Wells. GWg can help with all IT needs, whatever they may be-from building a fundraising platform from scratch to moving the right wires from one office space to the other.

Wells says Pelotonia, the annual bicycle fundraiser that raises money for cancer research at the Ohio State University, is the "poster child" to illustrate what GroundWork can do for an organization.

"They were a new startup and they called us, one month out, and said they were announcing an event happening the following year on the big scoreboard at the 'Shoe," says Wells. "We had to install phones, computers, build a network, build this entire fundraising system for this large scale project, and we did."

GWg was only a few years old at the time. Since then the organization has cultivated a small army of volunteers from the IT industry whose expertise can be called on by the more than 200 nonprofit member organizations GroundWork currently partners with. The organization has branched out from central Ohio to include members in five other states.

Dawn Kuhn, director of vocational services for the Center of Vocational Alternatives, knows the impact that GWg can have on a smaller nonprofit.

COVA, part of Southeast Healthcare Services, helps challenged youth and people with mental illness prepare for jobs or develop independent living skills. One of those key skills is computer training. That is only one area where COVA's partnership with GWg has shined.

COVA has enlisted GroundWork group on a variety of projects. "They did an evaluation of our IT services. They are a very good resource," says Kuhn. "You can't beat their computer classes. You'd pay four times the amount for similar instruction (from a for-profit business), at least double. They are a good partner to work with."

It's that kind of positive impact that is spread through the IT and nonprofit communities by word-of-mouth regarding GWg and the work it can do. Additionally, volunteers and retirees have seat on governing boards of nonprofits all over central Ohio through GWg's IT board matching program.

While GroundWork group is its own 501(c)(3), it recently moved into the offices of the Wells Foundation in an effort to expand its reach with an infusion of both resources and ideas, says Wells. A 2008 merger with CIVIC also cast a wider net to work with.

"CIVIC was created by CompuServe founder Jeff Wilkins with a similar mission to provide affordable software applications for nonprofits," says Wells. "The merger combined the needs of the United Way agencies with a broader set of arts and civic charity organizations into one membership and allowed GroundWork group to offer a variety of proven solutions."

Wells says he's grateful to be making a difference in people's lives.

"GroundWork group's mission is to support any technology-oriented social enterprise that is addressing a social cause," he says. "We'll work with any nonprofit, no matter how large or how small you are, anyone serving the community."

Kelli Milligan Stammen is a freelance writer.

GroundWork group

445 Hutchinson Ave., Suite 850

Columbus 43235

(614) 884-7780

About: GroundWork group's mission is to drive social impact by uniting innovative technology with business expertise to serve communities in need.

Employees: Eight

Central Ohio volunteers: 48

Volunteer hours annually: 390 hours annually

2015 revenue: $1.1 million