A few years ago, when we
were hired to help a small environmental organization, their complaint was
simple: "Nobody knows who we are or what we do!"
We analyzed their existing
communications and community engagement efforts, talking with people both
inside and outside the organization, trying to see the full picture of the
group's work. Within a short time, we were ready to report our
"We know why nobody knows
who you are or what you do," we told them. "You don't tell anyone!"
This group was using a
slew of "standard business marketing tools." They had a great brochure, an
impressive quarterly journal, PR with local media - many of the tools you might
read about in a standard off-the-shelf small business marketing book. The
problem is these marketing tools were ineffective for engaging people with the
organization and its work. And for ineffective tools, they were pretty
expensive ones at that!
Although these "standard
business marketing tools" are not the most effective for Community Benefit
organizations, your organization is in luck. The 3 most effective tools for
engaging the community with your organization's mission are simple to develop
and use, and are virtually free!
What To Know Before You Start
Before we get into the
tools themselves, it's important to understand what these Community Engagement
tools can do that standard business marketing tools cannot. First, the
following is a definition we have used for Community Engagement:
Engagement is the process of building relationships with community members who
will work side-by-side with you as an ongoing partner, in any and every way
imaginable, building an army of support for your mission, with the end goal of
making the community a better place to live.
From that definition, it
is easy to see that before you can engage the community, you need to know what
you want to accomplish - the work you want to engage the community to help
with! You can only determine what approaches will work best when you have
defined your reasons for wanting to engage the community in the first place!
|For information about creating a
Community Engagement plan,
Why These Approaches Work
With so many different
tools and approaches, why are these the most effective for engaging individuals
in your mission? The answer to that question lies in your neighborhood
When you stroll through
your local supermarket on a Saturday afternoon, you are likely to find food
purveyors at the end of each aisle, handing out samples of pizza or hot dogs or
cheese on a stick. The smells fill the store, inviting you to taste it
Those food purveyors don't
tell you how good their stuff is; they show you. And that is why these three
approaches work best for the work your organization is trying to do.
- All 3 approaches engage your audience by showing
what the issues are
- All 3 approaches engage your audience by showing
what you are trying to do about those issues
- And all 3 approaches engage your audience by
showing how they can join your army of friends, to help make the community a
better place to live.
Community Engagement Tool #1: Writing
One of the best ways to
engage the world with your mission is to write.
understand the power of sharing information about their mission in writing, as
they watch the effect of their newsletters and direct mail pieces. By extending
that writing beyond your own organization, and writing for the general public
or for membership associations or others interested in your work, your written
wisdom will not just go to those who already know you, but to those who do not
know you yet.
This can mean writing
articles for newsletters and local newspapers, or it can mean writing a book.
It should absolutely include your organization's own blog, but it is also
highly effective when you write a guest post for someone else's blog. In every
industry and in every community, there are online and hard-copy publications
looking for content. Find a list of all those publications within your
particular niche - whether that is your geographic community, or your community
of interest, such as the regional art or environmental or educational
community. Then ask if they would publish an article on an issue of particular
concern to their readers. It could be a column on child abuse in a school PTA
newsletter, or an article on the effects of eco-tourism for the local lifestyle
magazine, or a guest blog post on a critical issue for your local
Writing your own blog
posts, articles, newspaper editorials, and such is effective for a number of
- You will have the
opportunity to tell your own story in your own words.
- You will be
communicating about and connecting people with the issues directly affecting
the mission of your organization - the definition of advocacy!
- Through this
communication, you will educate, a big part of the mission of just about every
- The mere publication of
the blog post, letter or editorial piece will add credibility and publicity for
- And once the blog post is published, you can share
the link with your supporters and friends. (For hard-copy articles, you will
have copies of this credible piece to include in your next mailing.)
For details about using "Public
Writing" to engage an army of friends around your mission, check out
FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate
Fundraising but Love Making Friends.
Community Engagement Tool #2: Speaking
Another effective way to
engage groups and individuals in the mission you care about is Public Speaking.
There are always groups looking for effective speakers - speakers who know
their subject and can capture an audience's attention for 15 minutes, 30
minutes, an hour. If you make clear to the group that you are NOT there to ask
for money (their main fear when it comes to Community Benefit Organizations -
that you will hit up their group for cash), but just to share what you know
about an issue concerning the community, there are a multitude of speaking
engagements just waiting for someone from your organization.
Speaking goes one step
beyond writing, because when folks hear you speak, they are getting a direct
and tangible sense of your issues, and you are right there, in real time, able
to engage their questions and dispel their misconceptions. They will
immediately sense the importance of your mission, and how it relates to them
personally. Seeing someone speak is as close to snacking on pizza in the
supermarket as your audience can get!
The benefits of speaking
can also live beyond that one event. Just have your talk videotaped, and you
can stream that video from your organization's website. Or you can send copies
of the speech on a CD to your organization's friends.
If you suffer from stage
fright, that's ok - there is a role for non-speakers in this step as well,
arranging for speaking opportunities, helping to craft the talk. And if you are
hoping to conquer your stage fright, click to this article - it may help.
Build Support for your Mission
through Public Speaking
Community Engagement Tool #3: One-on-One Conversations
We all know the word of a
trusted friend or colleague can go miles to open doors. Building those
one-on-one friendships lies at the very heart of FriendRaising and Community
Engagement. And yet it is surprising how few organizations take full advantage
of this simple tool!
How to Do It: There are many ways to
simply and comfortably engage friends for your mission via one-on-one
conversations. And while Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter make it easy
to meet people online, there is nothing like slow, meaningful
live conversation to make a real difference to your organization.
Here is just one way to do that:
Take one current friend of
your mission to breakfast each week, to just chat about what's going on as it
relates to your mission. During that breakfast, ask that person if he can
suggest 3 other people who might want to know about your work. And then ask if
he would call those 3 people to make an introduction for you, so that when you
call it's not a cold call.
Then call those people,
and tour them through your facility or meet them in their office to engage them
in your mission. Don't ask them for anything but their wisdom - just start to
build the relationship between their passion / interest and your work. Then
follow up with that new friend - a thank you note for their time, an article
you saw that you thought they might enjoy, or the new article you just wrote!
Keep them in your monthly/bi-monthly contact loop, and continue to follow up.
This is the type of work
any of us can feel comfortable doing. And it is all generated from the word of
mouth of a supportive friend who is already familiar with the importance of
|For details on another approach to
The Bottom Line
The bottom line of
engaging your community in this way, using these 3 tools, is that folks will be
getting a preview, a direct introduction to your work, by showing them
precisely what your mission is all about. And that direct approach can have a
far greater effect than you had intended with that one article, that one
speech, that one breakfast.
A client of ours - a
substance abuse group where teens help other teens - thought they were
attending a Rotary lunch to share their story with a group of 200 prospective
supporters. What they didn't count on was the chord they struck. They didn't
count on how many of those adults sat quietly dealing with their own
undisclosed substance problems. They didn't count on how many had kids they
wanted to refer to the program. The group did indeed find many supporters that
day, but they also found so much more. They engaged their mission deeply with
the hearts and minds of those in the audience.
Writing, speaking and
word-of-mouth will open doors for your organization - doors to people who are
already pre-sold on helping address your issues, because, like the pizza, they
tasted it right there in the store.