As a small, grassroots nonprofit organization, community engagement is crucial to achieving your mission and goals. By building relationships with people in your community, you’re increasing awareness of your mission.
Engagement isn’t just important to those who’ve never or barely interacted with your organization. It’s essential for existing supporters, too.
“Even if they have a strong connection to the nonprofit’s mission, supporters will have a hard time connecting with nonprofits that only ever message them to ask for more donations. To build a community that cares about the success of your nonprofit specifically, you’ll need to provide donors with valuable opportunities to get involved and engage with your organization.” – The Association of Fundraising Professionals, Back to Basics: Building a Strong Community of Support for Your Nonprofit
All of that sounds like something that should be a top priority, of course. However, execution and even finding the time to conceive of community outreach programs can be a challenge with limited resources.
While we can’t help you with the time and money part, we can help with a few community outreach ideas! Some require more time than others, and, while community outreach is essential, we don’t condone raising stress levels to DEFCON 1. Taking any steps to build relationships within your community is a job well done!
5 strategies to nurture community engagement
Offer classes and courses
While this idea may not sound instantly practical or helpful, it’s actually both. Not only are you engaging potential new supporters, but you’re also providing existing donors with another way to support your mission. Foundation List’s article Nonprofit Marketing Tactics That Revolutionarily Grow Organizational Awareness illustrates the point with a great example:
“Smaller nonprofits have also had success adding new service lines or fee-for-service models to increase their budget and impact…The Wildflower Center: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, that aims to conserve native plants and their landscapes. In addition to its conservation efforts, the Wildflower Center also offers a variety of educational programs, including workshops, classes, and camps. These programs are fee-based and generate income for the organization. The Wildflower Center has been able to expand its offerings and engage more people in its mission through the additional revenue generated by its educational programs.”
Gather your team and brainstorm. There may be a great offering you can create that reinforces your community roots and act as a new revenue stream!
Sell custom merchandise
Consider creating t-shirts, hats, or other items that promote your nonprofit’s mission and values. On the surface, this seems like a big upfront expense, and who really needs more stuff? However, items like t-shirts, mugs, and stickers are a super way to spread awareness. You can sell it, gift it as swag, and ask volunteers to rock their cool pins or shirts at events. Make your merch represent your brand and people who support you will be proud to represent. KCRW, NPR’s Los Angeles outpost, does a great job of this. The KCRW store has many appealing branded items that double as donor gifts during pledge drives.
Partner with local businesses
“Brands that have a social impact that helps the larger community are especially effective,” says Joy Panos Stauber, President of Stauber Brand Studio, a brand communication company. “If your customers buy a product, and your company donates to people in need with each sale, this is a good way of supporting a larger community while also building community around your brand.”
Additionally, you can offer to promote their business on your social media platforms or website in exchange for their support. The Foundation Group article Tips on How a Nonprofit Can Partner With Businesses is a helpful read.
Participate in community events
Connect with people who may not be familiar with your nonprofit by participating in community events. Festivals, farmer’s markets, and maker fairs like those at local breweries or wineries are a great place to start. By setting up a table with activities, you can engage with the community and raise awareness about your nonprofit’s mission.
Tell your organization's story with content
“User-generated content is media — including photos, videos, graphics, stories, etc. — that is contributed by individual users of a website or social media platform. User-generated content is valuable because it eases the burden of creating original content from the organization itself, while at the same opening up ample opportunities for increased engagement and participation. It inspires fans and advocates, encourages creativity, and shows that the organization values it supporters.” –Telling Your Non-Profit’s Story through User-Generated Content via Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact in Communication.
For examples of user-generated content, check out Charity Digital’s Five forms of user-generated content.