Next on deck in our blog series on local B Corps is Synapse, a membership networking organization that “facilitates connections between businesses, and businesses and nonprofit groups for community and economic development.” What does that look like in real life? A Synapse Hub – where groups of business and nonprofit community members gather to exchange resources, ideas, and make valuable connections. Nonprofit hosts have an opportunity to share updates and needs with a captive audience at the Hub.
ConnectVA attended a recent hub at Unbound RVA, and sat down with Keith Reynolds, Co-Founder of Synapse to learn more about the Synapse story:
How did Synapse come to be?
I come from the banking industry, and loved it until the recession changed things. After doing some soul searching, I decided to pursue a career in professional networking. I took a job with BNI, coaching chapters on how to build the right personality-compatible teams. While serving as a regional chapter representative, where I was responsible for growing chapters, I met the Co-Founder of Synapse, Steven Lowrie, at a meeting. Realizing that BNI was not an ideal networking environment for the nonprofits I brought to meetings, the early inklings for Synapse began to form. After leaving BNI, I took a position with Middleburg Bank, as a business banker, where I had a lot of interactions with nonprofits, and piloted the concept within my own network. Our first Hub was held at Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity led by Jane Helfrich, CEO, in October 2013. Jane was so impressed with the Hub model that she requested a weekly Hub, which continues to this day. Leads for new Hubs grew from there.
Steven and I started Synapse with the idea that if you’re thinking about changing sectors, or starting a business, you can gain the confidence to do so by attending a Synapse hub. If you’re not happy in your current situation, you can follow your dreams. Simultaneously, Synapse provides a platform for nonprofits to be able to communicate their stories and gain real connections with the business sector and other nonprofits.
What are some successes you’re proud of?
These are just a sampling of the connections that have been made at Synapse Hubs:
- J.C. Poma, now Community Outreach Manager at The Doorways, attended the first Hub at Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, and brought Richard Luck as a guest. Richard vetted the idea for Unbound RVA at the Hub, which he went on to co-found with Sarah Mullens. Luke Buckovich, current Executive Director of Unbound RVA, subsequently got connected to Richard Luck, Co-Founder, through a Synapse Hub.
- Tom Anderson cultivated his idea for IT4Causes through his attendance at Synapse Hubs before leaving his position at Capital One to launch the nonprofit.
- Hugh Jones of the Central Virginia Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, featured in the video below, has gained new volunteers, sponsors, donations, and advisory council members through their Hub. “We have grown exponentially in terms of new people coming through the door.”
What attracted you to the B Corps model?
The B Corps model fits me as a human – I wouldn’t want to do this unless we were making an impact in a positive way. Everything we do is with the community in mind. Dale Nowery, Founder of Impact Insurance Agency, helped us get set up as a B Corps. Synapse is a natural fit for the B Corps model with our mission to serve the greater good, to help build bridges, and sharing the value nonprofits have to the community. We inspire Synapse members who are entrepreneurs to investigate the B Corps model.
What are some areas you’re hoping to improve?
One of our goals is to better track and demonstrate the community impact of Hubs on nonprofits and small businesses. For example, gathering data from our nonprofit partners on the number of volunteer hours at that nonprofit by Synapse members, number of new board members and donors acquired through Synapse Hubs, etc. We’re always exploring new ways to encourage our members and nonprofits to share their stories.
How do you envision Synapse growing in the future?
In the future, we’d like to be able to financially support our nonprofit Hub hosts. Right now there are 25 Hubs in Richmond, and 8 in Charlottesville. We have dipped our toes in other markets, but right now our main focus is on growing our current Hub membership and maintaining quality Hubs. Ultimately, my dream is to take Synapse across the nation.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I serve as the public face of Synapse, and I personally vet new members seeking to join Synapse. What I look for are folks that are passionate and generous in spirit, and willing to collaborate and make connections that aren’t solely for his/her personal gain. Sometimes in formal networking situations, there’s an unspoken rule that there can only be one person representing a particular field. We don’t welcome that competitive line of thinking – we encourage people from the same industry/line of work to connect and share resources.
You can visit this link to learn more about Synapse membership. There is a discount for nonprofit professionals/organizations, and we do offer a trial membership. In addition to being able to attend multiple Hubs and other member benefits, Synapse organizes monthly Happy Hours, that combine informal social time with training from fellow Synapse members, and orientation for newer members – called Tips, Taps, and Apps.
B Corps and Nonprofits
As the B Corps movement grows in popularity, how will the sector compete for talent? How are nonprofits benefiting from B Corps? What do nonprofits have to learn from social impact businesses?
To help answer some of these questions, over the next few weeks, we will be talking to a few local B Corps to learn more about this unique sector and the impact they are making on the greater Richmond community. Check out our first post, which gives an overview of the B Corps movement and the benchmarks.
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