These days the phrase “Community Engagement” is commonly heard but not commonly understood for all its power.
This weekend, we finished entirely revising our Community Engagement Action Kit. And so this whole subject is on my brain a lot.
When we use Community Engagement as just one more tool in the toolbox, yes, it is a powerful tool. But when engaging the community becomes your group’s way of being in all its work – well look out!
First, our definition of Community Engagement:
Community Engagement is the process of building relationships with community members who will work side-by-side with you as an ongoing partner, to make the community a better place to live. Considered from the perspective of that two-way relationship, Community Engagement is the organizational equivalent of friendship.
As we know from our real lives, friendship isn’t something we “do.” It’s something we “be.” So how can you infuse that way of being into everything your organization does?
These 3 steps will get you started.
Step 1: What Do We Need to Accomplish, and How Can Engaging the Community Further Those Goals?
The very first step is to consider all your organization’s goals for the year. The goals of your Community Impact Plan. The goals of your Organizational Wellness Plan. The goals of your Program Development Plans. And the goals of all your other plans.
How could all those goals be enhanced by engaging your community more deeply in your work?
Try this: For each of the following sample goals, name at least 3 ways that goal could be enhanced by engaging people in your community. And think about what kinds of people that might be.
• Goal: Create a new program to address an unmet need you have uncovered.
• Goal: Create a succession plan for your Executive Director
• Goal: Expand the reach of an existing program into a new neighborhood.
• Goal: Choose a goal from one of your own plans.
Step 2: Who to Engage?
For each of the opportunities you uncovered in Step 1, list the types of people you could engage to enhance that effort.
Whose lives are touched by the issue at the heart of that goal? Perhaps it is parents of young children – or the young children themselves. Perhaps it is elected officials. Or neighborhood residents. School principals. Public Safety employees.
For example, if your goal is to create a succession plan, your list might include:
• Other executive directors
• HR specialists
• Corporate leaders / local corporate boards who may have recently gone through an executive transition
From there, list names of people. For now, it doesn’t matter so much if you know those people – you can always be introduced by a mutual acquaintance. But the bottom line is that we can’t engage categories of people – we can only engage with real humans. So create a list of names.
Try this: For each of the opportunities you listed in Step 1, list at least 3 types of people or groups whose lives have been touched by that issue. Then for each of those types, list at least 3 people to engage.
Step 3: How to Engage?
The ways to engage are as many as the stars in the sky – or the people in your community! One-on-one meetings over coffee, small group meetings, events, presentations – the list is as long as your imagination, and will rely entirely on what you are trying to accomplish by engaging in the first place!
What you will quickly find in these activities is that Community Engagement is fun. That’s because it is tapping on the passion you have for making a difference in your community.
Because of that, Community Engagement is a great way to engage your board. Unlike fundraising, with Community Engagement, board members don’t have to ask for anything but someone’s wisdom, ideas and passion. And that is always fun!
Try this: For each of the types of people noted in Step 2, list at least 2 ways you might engage those groups or individuals.
Once you begin engaging the community in the work your organization is doing, you will see that the benefits move beyond the ideas you had in Step 1. And that is because the real goal of Community Engagement is building an engaged community – a huge part of what creates the healthy, vibrant places we all want to live.
Photo: Found this picture hanging on the wall at a McDonald’s – art is everywhere!