Importance of Community Engagement for Young Nonprofit Organizations

September 4, 2018, Department, by Ramona Sudbeck, M.S. and Michael J. Bradley, Ph.D.

2018 September Future Leaders 410

Nonprofit organizations take on many responsibilities that for-profit organizations do not. As a result, they are inclined to seek out help and partners within communities, making engagement in communities a high priority. According to Nonprofit Hub, a popular website for this field, some of the largest struggles nonprofit organizations face are retaining and engaging donors, sustainability and lack of resources. Tackling these issues can be daunting, however, seeking resources throughout a community and appealing to those resources can lessen these struggles. Creating a network of community relations and community engagement will promote and develop positive benefits, such as community partnerships, name recognition and continued growth — all in cost-effective and sustainable ways.

Before a young nonprofit begins seeking resources, partnerships and other help, it will need to show that it is also willing to be a helpful community supporter and is an organization that’s worth supporting. This can be done by first engaging the nonprofit in the community, helping in existing areas where the goals align with those of the nonprofit. Creating these relationships will not happen quickly and requires a lot of continued effort but will help ensure the success of the organization over time.

Young nonprofits might begin their community engagement by dovetailing on existing community events. If a community has an annual festival; for example, the nonprofit might exchange volunteers for an opportunity to be promoted or post a booth at the event. Enough engagements like these will create a community record, which can be presented when seeking help with the nonprofit’s own events and fundraisers. This snowball effect works to create different levels of community rapport, demonstrating that the nonprofit is willing to invest its time to help anywhere possible in the community. Helping on different levels will make the nonprofit a valuable resource, and one the community deems worth supporting.

Another community engagement method, basic to the nonprofit sector, is being open to volunteers. Opening an organization to volunteers from businesses that require their workers to do volunteer work can help the organization develop credibility. School systems often require civic hours from their students, and by providing opportunities for people to fill these hours, the company develops a relationship with an organization that’s already visible in the community. Nonprofits should always seek ways to appeal to organizations with existing rapport, to gain acceptance by association. The organizations, however, should not have goals that undermine those of the nonprofit.

Community businesses, especially for-profit businesses, often have tight budgets and are willing to donate time, resourses and, sometimes, space if they perceive the partnership will be successful and beneficial to both entities. For this reason, creating a strong community presence is essential to the success of a nonprofit business. After implementing techniques like the ones described above, a nonprofit can begin to “talk shop” with partners in the area regarding longer-term investments.

Again, the nonprofit will need to present its record with the community, displaying how it has successfully helped in the past, and how helping on future endeavors would, therefore, reflect positively on its partners. A successful record opens dialogue with donors by emphasizing that helping a cause would (a) boost a partner’s community image, (b) help with both entities’ marketing and (c) support a successful community infrastructure that contributes to the success of all those investing in the mission. This process will ultimately aim to convince partners that their goals align with those of the nonprofit and sharing resources is a great way to meet community and business goals. Pooling resources will diminish overall cost, creating additional opportunities in many ways.

It is important to note that once a partnership relationship is achieved, the relationship must continue to grow for the nonprofit to flourish over time. This means keeping donors informed and engaged in the organization decision making, providing transparency and emphasizing the importance of the donors to the nonprofit. If a nonprofit creates consistent value in a community, the nonprofit’s name and recognition will grow; for example, as a partner of a community event for multiple years. Overall, people will remember organizations that have helped them in the past, creating a network of positive relationships in the company. A back-and-forth flow of positive attributes will help guarantee continued partnerships, and symbiotic relationships will help a young nonprofit ultimately become more independent.

Ramona Sudbeck, M.S., is a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University.  Michael J. Bradley, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University