Community Engagement Is What We Do
This is blog number 4 in a five-part series about the 5 Points of Possibility and how to implement them in your organization. This point expands on ideas from the last blog, where I suggested that building deep and authentic partnerships is also about increasing community engagement and diversity.
What it would it look like to have people in your surrounding community feel as if they were key stakeholders in your agency? Would movers and shakers clamor to serve on your board? Would volunteers become a more significant part of your organization?
What does community engagement entail?
David Sharken, one of Rainmaker’s consultants, worked with North Lakeland Discovery Center, an environmental education center, as they launched their first-ever capital campaign. The organization wanted to build a new, large facility to house their programs, relocate their staff from a cold office trailer, create a year-round community center, and establish a small endowment fund.
David encouraged the leadership to invite all staff and board members to an orientation about building a Culture of Philanthropy. Several months later, while leading a birch canoe ride, one of the staff educators who had attended the program, recalled the main message, “get to know your stakeholders”. While speaking with one of the attendees, she learned he was a seasoned architect and building developer. She shared about the organization’s strategic vision of creating a new facility with him and they had an engaging conversation!
Fast-forward a few months. The architect donated close to $10,000 worth of intensive, program-centric building design. He enthusiastically worked with the organization to design their facility, keeping program, client experience, and staff needs in mind. In addition, he and his wife made a five-figure monetary donation. These contributions occurred because the staff member offered an opportunity to engage around common interests. This real-life example illustrates how a conversation between the staff person and the program participant led to a partnership, which not only transformed the organization, but also the individuals involved.
Seeing opportunity for community engagement in your organization
Look for connections in your community. Identify ways to collaborate with and be generous with organizations and individuals who overlap with the work of your organization. Find people who share your commitments. Get to know them and find out how they would like to get involved with your agency. If you include a broad range of people from your community, then your organization will likely benefit from new ideas, wisdom, resources, and ambassadors.
Talk with the population served by your agency. We need to hear from the people most impacted by our work. What works well for them? What suggestions do they have? This type of dialogue not only increases understanding but also strengthens relationships.
Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, Point of Possibility 5: We Recognize Every Contribution of Service, Items, or Money as an Expression of Philanthropy. You can dive deeper into Culture of Philanthropy work in my book, Choose Abundance: Powerful Fundraising for Nonprofits; A Culture of Philanthropy.