Community Engagement Case Study: Seattle, Washington

Conversation 4To hear the full story of this case study, including the various strategies we are using, watch the video at the end of this post.

This post may feel a bit unusual. Normally a case study has a beginning, middle and end. We’re still in the middle of this case study, though. As a fellow in Creating the Future’s learning laboratory, I’m inviting you to come along on the journey of how we got where we are, and to stay tuned for the results as they unfold.

What you’ll hear in the video is the story of an anti-poverty organization whose circumstances were not so different from many organizations I encounter. After being funded for 7 years by a single funder, that funder told them to seek new sources of funding. Having just that one funder, their communications were narrowly focused and organization-centric, talking with people who already spoke their language and already knew their work.

Watch the Video:  Ideas for…
• 1-on-1 conversations
• Small group conversations
• Large group conversations

With an organizational vision of “Economic opportunity for all,” the strategy we crafted centered on that vision. As we considered the conditions that would lead to that vision being possible, it became clear that the community would need to be engaged, and would need to share the values at the core of their work.

Conversation 2Community engagement became a central feature of achieving the vision. This was no longer about resource development; it was about how to get from point A to point B of achieving our vision. Unless we are able to talk with real people and bring them into conversation with us, we would never achieve that vision.

For this organization, that was like telling someone who’s never learned to swim, “Go over to that pool and jump into the deep end.” It was a bit daunting and scary. Fortunately, the Executive Director embraced the approach. She understood what it meant to walk our talk in every aspect of mission delivery, and that we could not have fundraising and community engagement and mission delivery in separate silos. These things have to be an integral part of one another and reflect one another.

As a result, we set out to create a base of champions, while helping to shift the way our community members think about people in poverty.

The main element of our approach would be to spark community conversation around what it would take to create our vision. We dubbed this the “Small, to medium, to big conversations strategy,” moving from 1:1 conversations to small groups and then to larger group conversations.

The video below provides detail about this strategy – starting with ourselves, moving to “Living Room Conversations,” and finally to a TED-type event.

Conversation 5Our aim in these conversations is not a financial ask. Our aim is to listen, to find out what is resonating, and to connect with people who want to help build momentum around the work. The condition we aim to create is an engaged community around this work. We know that an engaged community will translate to, among other things, people who want to financially support the mission, and people who want to support the work in a host of other critical ways.

Everything we do is about reflecting who we are, what we care about, and engaging people in an authentic and meaningful way that will offer something that people crave.

As for translating this into a resource development plan, we have no budgeted financial goal for this first year for individual giving. We do have an unbudgeted aspiration. We would like people to be moved to give.

Our first Living Room Conversation is happening in October. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Andrea John-Smith is a resource development and strategy consultant based in Seattle, Washington, and a fellow at Creating the Future. 

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