‘Agora’ program connects gifts to programs

Maggie Hanna has what might be seen as an enviable job: She oversees a process that helps people doing good works within Gorge communities find other people willing to help pay for that effort.

Hanna is a RARE (Resource Assistance for Rural Environments) planner for Mid-Columbia Economic District who oversees the agency’s Agora program. Agora is a computer platform that helps connect local communities with funders who span the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

“In ancient Greece, an agora was a physical location where people come together to buy and trade goods,” Hanna explained, in other words, a marketplace. “It was also big for politics and sharing of ideas — it was the center of town.”

The modern Agora computer platform is a virtual marketplace where community organizations can shop around their projects and prioritize their needs, Hanna said, while potential funders can compare those projects and needs with their own funding priorities.

“What’s exciting about the platform is that it brings together public and private philanthropic money and the projects that need it,” Hanna said. “The projects are specifically from nonprofit and government agencies … It’s bringing the right people and the right resources together.”

Hanna describes it as the philanthropic version of match.com. The organizations seeking money create a listing based on standardized listing criteria that funders can use to vet projects.

For example, a funding pool specifically earmarked for use in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area might be linked with hiking trail projects, she said.

“(Projects and funders) can also be linked by deal size, geography and sector,” Hanna said.

Agora itself is a beneficiary of philanthropic funding. It’s part of a project created by the Meyer Memorial Trust. It is aimed at bringing together seven key sectors identified as vital to a healthy community and economy:

n entrepreneurial environment

n financial capital

n infrastructure

n innovation capacity

n quality of life

n regulatory environment

n workforce

Potential capital sources can include grants, equity, tax equity and debt.

“Mid-Columbia Economic Development District is working on a comprehensive economic development strategy through the Agora platform,” Hanna said. “It’s an exciting way to connect to a bigger process.”

Each of the counties — Wasco, Hood River, Sherman, Klickitat and Skamania — within the district’s five-county region goes through a process of identifying needs and issues, Hanna said.

“They will come together in an overall region-wide plan,” Hanna said. “Each of the projects will be outlined on the platform. They will also be prioritized so the states of Oregon and Washington can see the projects prioritized by MCEDD.”

Mid-Columbia Economic Development District is receiving some of the first access to the platform, Hanna noted. It is serving as the pilot project with the goal of eventually rolling it out to all of Oregon and Washington.

Not only can potential funders reach out to the owners of projects that fall in line with their goals, project owners can reach out to funders. It’s a more active way of beginning the communication process with funders, Hanna said.

“The other really exciting thing for rural communities is that it offers a really user-friendly way to gain visibility, whether with other organizations and project owners, or with funders around the state,” Hanna said. “They can communicate directly through the platform.”

She describes the communication process as similar to Linked In.

Hanna’s main job is helping people get their projects listed on the platform. She is also spreading the word about Agora to local organizations and agencies and is available for group presentations.


For more information, contact Hanna at maggie@mcedd.org or 541-296-2266.

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