Community engagement is the strategic process of working collaboratively and inclusively with groups of people affiliated by locality and/or special and similar interests to address issues affecting the well-being of the community. It’s a powerful tool for bringing about environmental and behavioral changes that improve the health of both the community and the people in it. It also involves building partnerships that help mobilize resources and influence systems and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices.

As a nonprofit organization, it is essential to be engaged and relevant to the community or communities that it serves. By becoming an active member in the local area, not only can nonprofits increase their visibility, but they can also meet the people that make up the very community it operates in. By interacting with these community members, the organization can better understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations. These people may also serve as the base and pipeline for donors and volunteers, and it is important that nonprofits recognize them and appreciate their efforts in supporting the mission. According to the Forbes Nonprofit Council, there are several ways for organizations to better engage with the community. These strategies include:

  • Encouraging discussion to forge relationships.
  • Participating in local events.
  • Being a partner for the community.
  • Connecting with the leaders on the ground.
  • Using your space to inform your neighbors.
  • Leveraging the community for knowledge.
  • Letting ambassadors lead the way.
  • Being consistent and getting involved.
  • Creating mutually beneficial opportunities.

In our strategic planning experience, we found that community and stakeholder engagement and input are both equally important. It’s always helpful for all members of a community, whether they are served participants or families/friends, to learn about the mission of the organization. That will not only raise awareness but also create a ripple effect that extends their impact further.

How do we achieve and ensure community engagement in strategic planning?

As a fundamental pillar to shaping our strategy and recommendations, we prioritize utilizing inclusive and open methods that engage the community, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups to capture important perspectives of community members. While many of those we gather feedback from are already connected to the organization, there are great benefits to also engaging those who are not yet aware of the programs and/or services the organization provides.

 

Why is it important to achieve community engagement in strategic planning?

Understanding community needs: Engaging with the community allows organizations to gain insights into the needs, challenges, and hopes of the people they serve. By listening to the community, nonprofits can better understand the issues that matter most to their people and can tailor their strategies and efforts to address their needs effectively.

Building trust: Engagement fosters trust and credibility, not only for the organization, but within the community as well. When organizations demonstrate a genuine commitment to listening and responding to the input of the community, they build stronger relationships and enhance their reputation as trustworthy partners in social change efforts.

Increasing stakeholder buy-in: Involving more community members in the strategic planning process increases stakeholder buy-in and ownership of the final plan (which includes goals and initiatives). When people feel valued and included, they are more likely to support and actively participate in implementing the plan together.

Identifying collaborative opportunities: Community engagement often uncovers opportunities for collaboration, and important partnerships can emerge with other organizations. Working together towards common goals will allow nonprofits to leverage collective resources, expertise, and networks to maximize impact.

Enhancing program effectiveness: Input from the community can provide valuable insights that inform program design, implementation, and evaluation. By incorporating diverse perspectives into strategic planning, nonprofits can ensure that their programs and services stay relevant to the community they serve.

Community engagement is essential for effective strategic planning because it ensures that organizations remain connected to the people they serve while responding to their needs. By involving community members, nonprofits can develop strategies that are inclusive, impactful, and ultimately sustainable. This presents an exceptional opportunity to foster innovation and creativity by tapping into the collective wisdom of the community, enabling organizations to identify novel approaches, solutions, and growth opportunities, which ensures sustained improvement and impact.

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