10 Ways to Engage Your Community
For a local nonprofit, getting broad involvement with the community is critical. If your donor base is national or international in scope, this may not seem as necessary, but having a core of “neighbors” that support you with money and time can provide a much-needed injection (of cash or volunteer hours) when you’re expanding, testing a new idea or dealing with seasonal overload.
Potential donors from the community want to be affiliated with something that has high acceptance in their community, is a benefit to the community in terms of being a good corporate citizen and an employer that is recognized as stellar, and lets them connect with neighbors.
Following are 10 ways to engage your community — as donors, volunteers and “evangelists” for your cause.
- Solicit the adoption of a resolution supporting your nonprofit from your city council, county board of supervisors, labor and building trades councils, service clubs, and the chamber of commerce.
- Request a letter of support from the state assemblyperson and state senator whose districts includes your location (or locations). These are often “perfunctory,” but they can carry weight with some potential supporters. And, it never hurts to have your organization’s name known by officials who may have leads on government grants or who can help if you run into roadblocks with a new project.
- Invite key local elected officials to participate in an event. This can generate media and give you great quotes to use in your marketing.
- Get endorsements of the effectiveness of your program. Depending on the kind of work you do, these can include medical personnel, teachers, police or fire department workers, clergy members, or respected businesspeople. Use these endorsements on your website, in newsletters, in ads, etc. People want to join the winning team. Show that you are considered a winning team by people whose opinions others respect.
- Request that board members in the local community host events at their homes, businesses or restaurants for associates or neighbors to introduce them to the work of your nonprofit.
- Create a speakers' bureau, and invite your local donors to join and tell your story to civic groups, church groups, parent groups at schools, etc. Provide talking points, a three- to five-minute video and leave behind brochures that they can use when they speak. Don’t expect them to make an “ask” — the brochure must include an opportunity to give.
- Solicit contributions from local businesses. Many will give small donations of money or product to local nonprofits. Then promote their support on your website, in ads, etc., showing that “everybody who is anybody” supports your cause. Again, it’s the “winning team” concept.
- Present your nonprofit to local college groups, and invite them to do a project to benefit your program. This is a great way to involve the younger generations in your cause.
- Sponsor community events that show you are a good community citizen. For example, buy a banner that hangs on Main St., decorate a tree for the annual holiday tree festival, pay for a brick in the downtown pedestrian mall — whatever is an option in your community. Whatever you do, publicize your involvement.
- Develop an advisory board — and promote it. These key people will attract others, helping you build a loyal group of volunteers to engage the community. Choose a name for your volunteer group that gives members a feeling of belonging and appreciation.
One of the keys to good community involvement is “never missing an opportunity.” If there are people willing to come alongside your nonprofit and help raise money or visibility, finding a way to support their enthusiasm (without investing a disproportionate amount of time and energy) can be a real win for your program. And an extra benefit — engaging the community is a great reason to get out from behind your desk on a beautiful afternoon.