5 Practical Tips To Engage Your Community

Today’s discussion focusses on the wealth of skills that exist in our communities and five tips that may help to facilitate an environment that draws passionate people into our organizations.

Simplify your processes

Have you ever wanted to donate online and become frustrated with a website’s navigation or complicated processes? Or perhaps you’ve wanted to volunteer but when you call; the organization refers you to their website instead of answering your questions on the phone? Sometimes the way we do business creates barriers for those who want to support us.

If we truly want to create an environment that draws support from people, we need to make it easy for them to become involved in a way that is convenient for them.

Recognize and utilize the skills of your volunteers

Most organizations have existing volunteer positions and this is a good thing. However we need to stay open to new possibilities and be flexible enough to accommodate volunteers who have unique skills and insights that we may not have previously considered. Imagine how wonderful it could be to have a professional strategist assist you in developing a business plan, or an experienced negotiator working with you to bring stakeholders on board for a perceived controversial project.

Empower leaders

If you are fortunate enough to have a professional business person offering their services as a valued volunteer, why not make them the Chair of a committee? Let them lead the process while you reap the benefits of their expertise! Don’t be afraid to solicit the support of people who have skills that your organization lacks. It does not indicate incompetence on your part, rather it speaks to your wisdom.

Communicate with your community the way they communicate with you

If someone phones you, phone them back. If someone emails you, respond by email. If someone writes you a letter and mails it to you, write a letter and mail it back to them. If they drop in to speak with you personally, sit down and have a chat. It’s as simple as that.

Invite naysayers to the table

Just who are these naysayers? It’s the family man who doesn’t want a rehabilitation centre in his neighbourhood. It’s the woman who thinks your new building will attract too much traffic into the area. It’s the neighbours who are afraid of what will happen to their neighbourhood when you build low-income housing down the street. It’s the retailers who think your operations will drive away their customers. They’re not horrible or uncaring people. They just don’t understand how your organization operates and how it will impact their community.

Swallow that feeling of dread and invite them to sit at the table with you. Listen to their questions and write them down. Follow up with them on solutions and adapt your project accordingly. Gain their confidence by validating and addressing their concerns.

Including stakeholders in the conversation will take time. Be prepared to work hard. In the end you’ll have the benefit of working out many of their concerns before you implement and you will have engaged new advocates for your organization! Remember that every concern or criticism is an opportunity to start a conversation and promote mutual understanding.

It’s important to recognize that your community is a valuable resource for your organization. Be intentional about creating an environment that supports their involvement.

~

Suggested Questions to start the Discussion

Non-profit organizations are often under resourced and their employees struggle with huge workloads. It can seem as if there is not enough time in the day to also engage supporting individuals in the ways suggested above. The outcome of not doing so however, may be even more costly in the long run. What are some of the issues your organization struggles with? What are some creative ways that you can set up a balance between your organization’s needs and the needs of your supporting community?

There are many individuals who want to make a difference for a cause that is important to them. They bring with them a unique set of skills that may or may not be part of an organization’s volunteer program. Are you a professional who wants to share your expertise with a non-profit organization? If so, how could the non-profit sector do a better job of facilitating these opportunities?

The purpose of The Other Bottom Line is to facilitate discussions that will help us all to better engage with our communities. Your participation and feedback are most welcomed and valued. Please join the discussion below.

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19 comments

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It would really depend on my passion for the cause in question. For something I was devoted to, I would likely approach with the idea of being more than willing to do whatever they needed, even it means sweeping floors or whatever. In such a case, the things you’ve listed here would matter less.

        But if my approach was more based on my sense of charity or helping out, then it would be important to find comfortable, engaging work that aligned with things I “wanted” to do. For me that would probably involve computer work or some other area of past experience. In this case, the things you’ve listed would matter a lot.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Especially since the last 10 or so years of my career involved a lot of database work, and the last eight specifically involved the area of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). But I’m also pretty good at sweeping floors! 🙂

  1. artsifrtsy

    I love the idea of removing barriers – I think this happens in the business world too. We want customers to jump through our hoops to spend their money with us. I also think the idea of being open to volunteers doing things you hadn’t planned on doing. I have worked with local organizations and thought about how I could make a real difference rather than just filling a slot – but sometimes the organization doesn’t have a vision beyond their structure. Great post!

    • theotherbottomline

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Lorri! This is an important discussion and a learning opportunity. I value your thoughts; when you have considered the ways that you could make a difference did you approach the organization? If so, how were you received? Did you feel as though their process es didn’t allow for involvement on your part? What would have turned it around for you? I’d love to hear your story.

      • artsifrtsy

        Several years ago I worked with a church trying to develop a local outreach to youth. In my thinking I thought the best way to make something happen was to get a team together that could create events and use those events to bring in teens and their parents – using the events to make a connection to the outreach program. I found several really talented people who were willing to donate time, money, and themselves to get something launched. We brainstormed a huge event and got a great turn out. This was not done in the traditional inter-church way of church leadership – we involved those who had professional skills that fit the project. We recruited people to help in a way that made it clear this was a community outreach. I did marketing and graphics, a coworker helped with donations and transportation – we had a chef volunteer – lots of great connectivity inside and outside the sponsoring church – the event went well until the follow up – at that point it was taken back to the more traditional format. An overworked and inexperienced pastor felt that only he could be the point of contact – he was not driven to follow up and made excuse after excuse. I found him people from the business world that could take care of the process and would be diligent about his concerns – but he declined and he let those contacts just fall away. To me I think he felt threatened by the presence of a successful team and he was unwilling to let anyone besides himself lead.

        I think I was received very well at first – but as time passed I could see that my concerns were creating a wedge – that I would not be effective as even a consultant to the program. I admire organizations who take a skills inventory of their volunteers – it lets them get the most benefit out of your time. I worked with an outdoor organization for several years – we did a lot of grunt work building and maintaining trails and I was happy to do the hard labor, but I know that I did more for them with my design and PR skills than I did with a shovel 🙂

      • theotherbottomline

        First off, on behalf of all non-profits everywhere, THANK YOU for using your skills and resources to make a difference! This is a great example of what professionals can do to advance the mission of a non profit, in this case a church.

        Secondly, would you consider writing a guest post? If so, please contact me at theotherbottomline@gmail.com

        Thanks again for your insightful and inspiring comment!

        Diana Schwenk

  2. Kristi

    Great points Diana. Especially, the first one about making it simplifying and the last one, naysayers often have valuable points and can bring new ideas on the table.

  3. Jen Antony

    It’s great when there are meaningful opportunities for volunteers and the organization to come together. Thanks for these points, this is great information on how to engage with meaningful work.

    • theotherbottomline

      I’m pleased you found it useful Jen. Please visit again to share your story if you apply any of these tips or if you have any other tips you would like to share with us. Happy engaging!

  4. Jean

    And don’t assume majority of people use Twitter, Facebook or always have access to the Internet. So gives lots of time for people to provide feedback online. You might have to place ads in your local newspaper, even in the 21st century. (One of my sisters is university educated and works at a hospital. But she does not have a computer. She can’t afford it because she’s trying to pay off her mortgage.)

    • theotherbottomline

      I think you’ve hit on something here Jean. I read a report on direct mail a few years back that indicated that 70% of donors still respond to requests by mail. The typical donor is a woman between 55 – 65 years old. We need to figure out the best way to communicate with them.

      Also, this was made very clear in our recent floods in Alberta. In High River they used social media to link volunteers to residents who needed help. Many residents missed out on getting help because they were not on social media. When engaging communities we need to employ all methods of communicating. Thanks for chiming in Jean!

  5. bulldog

    I’m very impressed with what I’ve read here… great ideas and I enjoyed the discussions on the comments. The comments are a very under rated part of any post.. I wrote 220 odd articles on Street articles and these created on occasions what we referred to as street parties… penning on a subject and allowing others to add comments is great but writing content that creates comments is even better, there are many experts out there always keen to add their thoughts, expertise or arguments which enhances any post on a subject… and it is maybe these people that one can consider as being the naysayers, those that try their best to convince you how wrong you are, but one forgets the others that sit and watch these discussions develop and learn as your arguments go on.. it is these people, the possible “fence sitters” that can be so easily turned to your way from mere comments, forgetting almost entirely the original post…

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