Community Engagement is Key to Nonprofit Success
Often overlooked, neighborhood awareness and engagement allows for nonprofit organizations to build an essential foundation for future success. Relatively inexpensive, community engagement must be part of all strategic/annual-planning endeavors.
Community engagement, as defined by Wikipedia, is “the process by which organizations and individuals build ongoing, permanent relationships for the purpose of applying a collective vision for the benefit of a community. While community organizing involves the process of building a grassroots movement involving communities, community engagement primarily deals with the practice of moving said communities towards change, usually from a stalled or otherwise similarly suspended position.”
PMA believes nonprofits will greatly benefit from the below actions:
- Create an outreach/engagement plan: Much like a marketing plan, it clearly identifies your mission, ‘calls to action’, and goals. The plan should not be exhaustive and complicated – relationship building is the fundamental goal of all community engagement activities, so while there should be goals in mind, creating lasting relationships is more important than half-heartedly achieving a goal. Determine who needs to be engaged and how you will engage a cross-section of your neighborhood. Include a range of outreach ideas such as individual meetings, a cultivation event at a Board member’s home, an open house to showcase your organization, and creative outlets such as setting up a booth at your local school district’s open house, a farmers market or a sports game.
- Capitalize on established relationships: A nonprofit board should be diverse in profession, culture, geographic location and passion. Imagine each Board member’s social and professional circles and how broad a reach they have. Take advantage of pre-existing relationships and ask board members, volunteers and staff to introduce your organization to individuals, corporations and local business. A personal introduction is always more warmly received than a cold call.
- Reap the benefits of an engaged community: Everyone strives to make his or her neighborhood a better place. If you are out in the community building awareness and lasting relationships, your organization will benefit in numerous ways. New volunteers will be identified and potential funders will be educated on your mission; you will have a finger on the pulse of the community, which will allow your organization to respond to emerging needs.
With a plan in place and feet on the ground, community engagement is an inexpensive way to ensure the future success of your organization. The relationships will take work, and will need to be cultivated throughout the year, but your outreach will eventually become second nature. While the impact of your relationships might not provide immediate successes, the potential is limitless.
An engaged community will not only attend an event, but they will also volunteer, and write letters to their legislators; they will help you make your programs more effective, and yes, they may even send additional checks throughout the year.