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Finding Nantucket’s Hidden Assets

The Nantucket estate recently offered for sale at $59 million increases the island's reputation as home to the rich with pricey homes. Now, a group of local non-profits has started searching the island for wealth of a different sort.

In coming weeks, several Nantucket organizations will launch a survey of "community assets," under the guidance of Community Foundation for Nantucket (CFNan) and Nantucket Healthy Community Collaborative (NHCC). But they're not searching for donations or contributions of money. Instead, they hope to create an entirely new way of looking at how our community takes care of those in need.

The asset-based community development (ABCD) theories of non-profit consultant Dan Duncan inspired the effort.  Dan visited Nantucket in April of 2012 to teach his methods to non-profit leaders and volunteers, who heartily endorsed the practices as potentially beneficial for the island. In a follow-up, local participants in Duncan's workshops agreed to begin identifying "assets" as defined by ABCD, with an eye toward putting the results into practice later this year.

Asset-based surveys mark a departure from the so-called "needs assessment" traditionally done by groups devoted to social services and health care. Needs assessment focuses on shortcomings and gaps in local services and how agencies might best answer those needs.

Asset-based community development, although not oblivious to community needs, uses "asset mapping" as its starting point. Asset mapping identifies individuals who care about particular causes and are willing to mobilize toward improving community health and wellbeing. Interviews with willing participants help to identify the gifts, passions or skills that they might offer to others. In practice, an actual map could be created of where the person with those assets resides or where they are willing to volunteer.

The method creates a robust, positive-focused database of community resources that might benefit clients, patients or organizations. Have a struggling client who could use help rebuilding a carburetor to keep her car on the road for work? Maybe a mechanic in Madaket would help her. Could a client with poor eyesight benefit from someone reading his or her mail or keeping him up with the news? Nantucket's community assets survey might locate a willing reader who'll come by weekly.

Community Foundation for Nantucket will manage data collected for Nantucket's bank of community assets. The first group of island residents to be surveyed will be contacted soon by a steering committee for the initiative, made up of representatives from CFNan, Nantucket Council for Human Services and other island organizations including A Safe Place, Nantucket Cottage Hospital and members of Nantucket Healthy Community Collaborative.

Are you a "Community Asset?"  To contribute your "assets" or for more information on asset-based community development, visit or call Margaretta Andrews, Executive Director of Community Foundation for Nantucket at 508-825-9993, or Jenny Garneau, organizer of Nantucket Healthy Community Collaborative at 508-325-0048.  And let us know what you think, by commenting below.

Needs assessment
Council for Human Services