By Kayla Andrews
When clients come to us looking for social impact expertise they’re often surprised when we ask what their organization is doing around community engagement. Some ask, “What does that have to do with increasing my bottom line?” Others say, “We’re doing something, but that’s not our focus.” In both instances we educate them on what we call ‘The Impact Family’ which is our notion that community engagement and social impact are sisters. They’re individuals with their own strategic makeup, but at the end of the day, they’re members of the same family creating influence in the world. Just like family, these sisters rely on each other. A lacking community engagement strategy directly affects an organization’s social impact negatively.
Before we develop integrated plans that uplift the profile of an organization, we take time to understand how stakeholders perceive the current profile, then outline tactics that address community engagement. Our philosophy is that one can’t stand strong without the other. And time and time again, we’ve proven ourselves right.
If you’re looking to grow your organization’s ‘impact family,’ here, we’re addressing 3 key questions that drive successful community engagement strategies:
1. What is community engagement?
Australian leader in stakeholder engagement, Darzin, explained it best, “Community engagement takes a strategic approach to the relationships, communication and interactions between community members and an organization to try to influence outcomes for both.”
Although the tactics look different for everyone, the root remains the same. For example, you may be a tech company that creates a program to introduce high school students in low-income areas to the world of tech. Not only are these students now given a competitive career advantage, but your company has created a direct pipeline of candidates for internships and entry-level opportunities. This type of community engagement leads to many positive outcomes and benefits for all involved.
2. Why is it important?
Community engagement is where the rubber meets the road. It’s an opportunity to step away from showcasing your product or service and, instead, highlight how valuable the community you serve is to your company. It gives you a chance to go from “I” to “we.” It can also reinforce your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. In addition to focusing internally on culture and programs, allowing your team to bond over good work in the community shows an interest in supporting marginalized communities both in and out of your workplace. Lastly, people are watching. While you don’t do good work to be praised, when it’s time for others to support, recommend, or sponsor your organization, it’s easy for them to see that your selfless efforts speak for themself. Although we know community engagement is important in general, it’s up to you to define why it’s important to your specific organization. What’s your “why”?
3. How can community engagement manifest as tangible growth for my organization?
You must see community engagement as an opportunity to expand the reach of your brand authentically– without the hollow marketing interaction of selling a product or service. Remember this may be one of the few ways to connect with marginalized communities, and you never know what long-term impact your work could have. Maybe they’ll look for your brand in stores or consider applying to an opening. When developing your strategy this is undoubtedly the most important question leaders ask– and rightfully so– which is why it is equally as important to define your community engagement goals in alignment with the growth you’d like to see.
For example, if you’re interested in increasing attendance at your company sponsored block party, “the block” needs to know who you are and why they should support you. This could look like strategic engagement in a series of smaller events in the 6 months leading up to the big event. Being able to take your goal and backtrack to tactics is one sure way to ensure the tangibles will be realized.
Just like our real families are complex with their many nuances and personalities, community engagement and social impact are no different. The bottom line is that they are codependent and both make the family unit, your organization, better. There is no such thing as great social impact without great community engagement.
Let’s do more good. To get more results. To have more impact.
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