What if I
told you I had a magic formula that would absolutely guarantee you would live
to be 100 years old and never get sick - not so much as a cold. Sound good?
Business tools like "Marketing" are less effective than tools
intended specifically for the work your organization does.
What if I then told you
the only down side of the formula is that it stops working if you spend any
time at all with another human being. You could have 100 worry-free years, but
you could not so much as stop to say hello to another soul.
While some rare folks
might think that tradeoff is worth it, it would probably take most of us less
than a second to declare that a life free of other people would not be a life
worth living for even 1 year, let alone 100 years. We realize instinctively
that what might be good for sustaining us as individual physical beings -
keeping us alive and strong - would end up being a death sentence, rather than
a prescription for life.
Unfortunately, that is
exactly what happens when our community organizations, who could accomplish
incredible things if they all worked together, instead use tools that encourage
them to compete. It is hard to build trust with another organization when we
are simultaneously working to "beat them out for funding." We know
instinctively that we could accomplish so much more together than we can
separately, but so many of the systems in the Community Benefit Sector
encourage us to compete with one another for the seemingly scarce resources our
organizations need to survive.
Because our mission at the
Community-Driven Institute is to help Community Benefit organizations to create
significantly more impact in our communities, we have spent a lot of time
exploring the issue of competition. Here is what we have found:
Competition precludes our building trust and linking arms with the
very people who care most about what we care about.
business tools we have been encouraged to use are built around competition, as
competition is a basic assumption of the for-profit business
the tools that particularly emphasizes competition is Marketing, as a large
part of its aim is to show how you are better than your competition, to ensure
your organizations survival.
therefore clear that, due to its basic assumptions regarding competition,
Marketing as it is practiced in the business sector, and as it has been
translated into the Community Benefit sector, is a tool that goes counter to
the needs of Community Benefit Organizations.
This logic leads to one conclusion:
If we can find an alternative tool that accomplishes what is good
about Marketing (publicity, visibility, emphasis on what we are doing well),
while encouraging connection and cooperation rather than competition, we should
use that tool instead!
There is such a tool. It
is called Community Engagement. Unlike Marketing, Community Engagement
encourages building trust and linking arms, while raising awareness and
visibility. The more you begin using Community Engagement strategies, the more
you will realize that this approach can accomplish far more benefit for the
work you care about than Marketing has ever accomplished.
For more information about how competition
precludes our ability
to create significant community impact
Marketing vs. Community
Marketing is a tool that originated in the
business world, and has been adapted for use in the Community Benefit sector.
The following is the definition of Marketing from the American Marketing
"Marketing is the
process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and
distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy
individual and organizational goals."
While the definition from
the AMA talks about creating "exchanges," the actual process of Marketing is,
in fact, a one-way effort. The "exchanges" are not part of the marketing; the
exchanges are the goal - a purchase. The marketing process itself (from
advertising to public relations and everything in between) is most typically
the art of telling, with the goal of selling.
Community engagement is
different from marketing in one key way - the whole process is an exchange.
Here is a definition we have used for 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, in any and every way imaginable,
building an army of support for your mission, with the end goal of making the
community a better place to live.
Community Engagement is
about connecting in a real way. When we interact with as many different people
as possible, and with as many different portions of the community as possible,
it does not take long to see that we all want the same thing - for our
communities to be incredible places to live. Once that happens, and once you
find ways to deeply engage community members in the work your organization is
doing, then you will find your organizations short term needs begin to
fall into place almost on their own - money, volunteers, board members,
legislative support, etc.
That is when the following
engagement will accomplish any and all of those smaller sub-goals, the larger
goal of engaging the community is an engaged community - the antidote to
the apathy we all hear so much about.
Community Engagement activities are
different from Marketing activities in many ways. We have mentioned that the
act of engagement is an act of relationship building - that is one difference.
Another difference is that these activities are interactive - there is no
passive absorbing of information in the act of "engagement." A brochure, a
billboard, an ad in a program - these are not engaging
So what does one do in
We connect. We interact.
We build relationships between the individuals in our communities and the cause
we care about.
This work can be done in
group activities, where individuals within your organization mingle and engage
the individuals present. Or it could be done one-on-one, over breakfast. The
whole reason we wrote "FriendRaising" is to show that there are dozens and
dozens of activities that can work to engage your community directly with the
work your organization does - and further that those activities are easy to do,
comfortable for all involved, and most can be done at very little (if any)
And that is the incredible
thing about Community Engagement activities - they are MORE fun, LESS costly,
and MORE effective for the work of Community Benefit organizations! Why?
Because Community Engagement activities are interactive - they are not about
"telling and selling" but about real, honest sharing of your goals and dreams
for the community - creating real, honest connection.
A small counseling center in upstate New York had been
struggling financially for some time. Despite their financial woes, the board
was hesitant to fundraise (as many boards are). Tension was
Then, under the leadership
of an insightful board president, the board decided to change its focus.
Instead of focusing on money, they instead focused on building support for the
mission - telling their story, asking people for their thoughts, their ideas -
engaging community members in a true exchange.
After just 6 months, here
is what their board president told us:
"Our money problems
disappeared when we stopped worrying about money. We have been able to raise
support in ways the board never imagined. Board members feel comfortable doing
the work, and it is unbelievable how quickly it all just fell into
Creating a Community
Just as you would create a Marketing Plan
based on your organizations goals, your organization should have an
ongoing Community Engagement Plan, based on those same goals.
in creating a Community Engagement Plan are simple. Much like other planning
processes, they will include identifying goals, and then breaking down who you
need to engage, and how you will engage them. The key is to realize you are
engaging in a real relationship - one that can accomplish the goals at hand,
while engaging that person's caring and wisdom. From there, the sky is the
limit as to what you can accomplish together!
begin your planning work, you will begin to realize something incredible:
Because Community Engagement is an asset-based activity, you already have
everything you need to get started - your staff, your volunteers, your current
supporters, your board. There is no wishing involved in community engagement -
you really do have everything you need.
|For a step-by-step guide to Community
One point worth mentioning, as you
determine who to talk with:
For any of your goals that
aim at directly impacting the community - whether that goal is to build a new
program, or attack a new community issue, etc. - add to your "list of people to
engage" the folks at similar organizations in town, who care about the same
things as you.
The individuals working
and volunteering at those organizations are likely thinking about the very
issues you are trying to address, and you will be able to accomplish so much
more together than alone. So while you are out there contacting users of your
service or patrons of your theater; funders and donors; city council members
and regular citizens, start engaging your "competition" in that work as well.
(And as you have those conversations, dont forget to talk not only with
EDs and board members, but program managers, case workers - the folks who have
hands-on experience with what is and is not working!)
While you may be nervous
the first time you have one of these conversations, you will soon learn the
secret to community engagement - conversations with people who care about what
you care about are the most energizing conversations you can have.
Traveling Board Meetings are a great way to
ease into engaging other organizations
If we were doing Marketing, what end result could we
expect? After differentiating ourselves from our competition, positioning
ourselves as the go-to source, and trying to get into the minds of our "target
audience" to craft the appropriate way to tell our story, we could expect that
we would achieve whatever end goal we have defined up front. If we were
marketing an event, the end result would be attendance at the event. If we were
marketing to raise money, the end result of dollars would likely be achieved.
We all know from experience that Marketing does what it is supposed to do - it
gets attention for the thing you wanted attention for.
With Community Engagement,
though, you will find that the end result is - well - everything! An engaged
community will not only attend an event, but they will also volunteer, and
write letters to their legislators; they will help you make your programs more
effective, and yes, they may even send additional checks throughout the year.
The list of benefits of
engaging your community in the mission you care about is long indeed. More
important than even all those results, though, Community Engagement builds
community, just by the simple act of engaging. And that engaged community,
working together arm-in-arm, can move mountains in building an amazing place to