published Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Chattanooga website Causeway.org prepares for entry into the physical world

Causeway Executive Director Abby Garrison welcomes class members to Tuesday's first class designed  to assist participants in launching ideas to better the community. James Chapman, right, is an entrepreneur in residence.
Causeway Executive Director Abby Garrison welcomes class members to Tuesday's first class designed to assist participants in launching ideas to better the community. James Chapman, right, is an entrepreneur in residence.
Photo by Tim Barber.

If you go:

* What: Causeway, which started as an online platform, is launching a host of offline initiatives at its new Patten Parkway headquarters.

* When: Tonight from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

* Where: Patten Parkway, downtown Chattanooga

* Who: The Benwood Foundation and Footprint Foundation are funding Causeway 2.0, which will train future community leaders, link causes with people who can help and challenge the community to solve persistent problems.

Source: Causeway.org

People need help to get things done.

That was the theory behind Causeway.org, a Chattanooga website onto which neighbors could post worthy projects and encourage others to sign up to help. It was supposed to be a Kickstarter for community kitchens, a Craigslist for causes.

It was a simple idea, but one that accelerated from its kickoff in 2011 to a thriving nonprofit that has helped more than 33 causes through as many as 6,000 hours of community service, with assistance from 55 companies, 76 nonprofits and 1,200 individuals.

A Huntsville, Ala., affiliate is starting up, and organizers say there could soon be a nationwide network of hyper-local cause connectors.

"If we do it right, Causeway becomes the front door for civic entrepreneurism in Chattanooga," said Stephen Culp, the Scenic City entrepreneur who spearheaded the idea in between founding Web-based startup ventures. "Plus, since Causeway is largely about leveraging the power of connections, imagine how much we could learn if there were an entire network of cities sharing best practices and lessons learned with each other."

Now equipped with an executive director and a half-dozen staffers, the online junction for highway cleanups and book drives is adding a real-world component to complement its digital offerings. It will be a real front door in addition to a digital portal, as the group takes advantage of support from the Benwood Foundation to expand its role into the physical world.

With one foot in Chattanooga's startup culture and another in the world of giving, Causeway will take a page from the CoLab playbook, launching a training program and carving out an organizational role to solve problems across the region.

Leaders today will announce a host of new initiatives at Causeway's new Patten Parkway headquarters, including the Causeway Challenge. The nonprofit will frame a problem, then fund the winning solution as chosen by a group of community leaders.

"Causeway wants to help Chattanooga be the most civic engaged city in the nation," Culp said. "That means providing a platform that harnesses the power of the entire community to help itself, to help Chattanoogans turn ideas, big and small, into results."

Unlike conventional nonprofits, which focus on hunger, the environment, social services, education, etc., Causeway will continue to serve as a hub to spur involvement rather than compete with existing initiatives, said Abby Garrison, executive director.

"We're kind of cause-agnostic," she said. "We're not the provider by any means. We're just a platform that helps connect people who are interested in getting involved in one of those categories."

The classic problem community leaders have faced pre-Causeway is one of organization. It doesn't make sense for someone who simply wants to clear trash from a soccer field to go through the legal steps necessary to become a 501c(3) nonprofit, Garrison said. But if they funnel their project through Causeway, all that paperwork is already taken care of. Plus, the website makes it easy to organize get-togethers or raise funds.

"I can't tell you how many people there are who have a great idea for a project that needs to happen that isn't a nonprofit, it's a project that's great for the community that doesn't need an entire organization set up around it," Garrison said.

Once people get a taste of the action, and fix something that's been nagging them about their community, a few want to take the next step, she said. That's where Causeway's new offline offerings come into play.

The group has already launched its pilot Co.Starters for Causes curriculum, which is designed to train the next generation of community leaders in the social and civic realm. On the kickoff meeting held Tuesday, entrepreneur-in-residence James Chapman taught prospective community leaders how to run their nonprofit like a business.

"There seem to be a lot of people plugging in, doing cool things in a lot of places, but they're not talking to each other," Garrison said. "We've had good attempts to get people to not be redundant, but we felt that we needed an actual hub to coordinate all that energy and all those thoughts."

Contact Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or esmith@timesfreepress.com with tips and documents.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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