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5 Steps To Start Your Nonprofit’s Community Relations Efforts

What are Community Relations and how do they to help your nonprofit grow?

Community Relations are the means to meet your prospective donors, volunteers, and supporters where they are and to build relationships with them. No matter your organization size, location, budget, or mission, Community Relations are an essential component of any communications plan. You need to reach out to your community to bring them to you!

Has your organization had a recent conversation about increasing:

  • Community support

  • Donors

  • Enrollment

  • Membership

  • Public awareness

  • Volunteers

If you answered YES to any of these, then a community relations plan is a great way to help achieve your goals. Now you ask, “How Do I Get Started?” Here are 5 steps you can implement today to catapult your community outreach efforts into results.

1. Get Leadership Buy-In

Get Leadership Buy-In

To create a successful plan of action you need the support of your leadership. If your organization is small, this may be the CEO and/or Board. Since a community relations plan involves investing time, energy, and funds in outreach efforts, you need to engage and activate these leaders. Their support will ensure the Community Relations program is a success.

2. Form a Team

"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." - Andrew Carnegie

Enacting and executing a Community Relations plan is not a solo endeavor – THIS IS A TEAM EFFORT!

As you form the team, ask yourself:

  • Do I have a department or committee that naturally aligns with Community Relations efforts? (e.g., Volunteer Engagement, Development, Communications)

  • Do I have staff, board members, or volunteers who already participate in Community Relations?

  • Is there a staff member, board member, or volunteer who would like to spearhead forming this team?

  • Will the entire organization be part of this team, or will the team be a separate committee?

  • What will be the team’s level of engagement?

  • What is the time commitment?

The format and style of your Community Relations team depends on the specific needs, size, and limitations of your organization. Be realistic when deciding what this team will look like and will expect of its members.

3. Recruit Members

Community Relations is about teaching the broader community a bout your nonprofit and why they should support you. The best Community Relations advocates may already be involved with your organization. Most small nonprofits depend on volunteers for essential work within their organization. These volunteers are trustworthy, as well as dedicated and knowledgeable about the mission of the nonprofit and the importance of the work to the community. This makes them a perfect fit for your Community Relations team!

However, you don't have to limit yourself to your current volunteers. Your Community Relations team may be a means to engage new volunteers and strengthen support for your organization.

So, how do you recruit these different types of members to your community relations team?

a) Reach out to your current supporters and volunteers

  • Who is already engaged?

  • Who has the time to volunteer on this committee/team?

  • Who has prior experience in Community Relations or is currently involved in the community?

b) Communicate multiple ways

How do you already communicate to your supporters, donors, and volunteers? Do you send out an email newsletter? Post on social media? Have in-person meetings? Evaluate the reach and effectiveness of your current communication methods and use them!

c) Follow-up!

Did a board member express interest during a meeting? Did a volunteer mention their experience with Community Relations while working with your organization? Take the time to follow-up with these individuals and find out how they want to help your Community Relations endeavors.

4) Define Roles

When people have defined responsibilities and roles, they feel a sense of ownership and accountability. To ensure your Community Relations team succeeds you want your team members to be committed to your community outreach plans and excited to implement them.

Take the time to define your team roles with descriptions such as:

  • Title

  • Purpose

  • Responsibilities

  • Time commitment

This is an efficient way to set clear expectations for your Community Relations team.

5) Plan Ahead

Now that you have your team, it’s time to work on your Community Relations plan! Here are some great questions to get the ball rolling:

a) What are the interests of your volunteers, donors, supporters, and staff?

Choose community activities that your current supporters want to attend. Empower your supporters to guide the choice of which community activities the organization will participate in.

b) What are your goals?

  • Know your starting point

  • Have an achievable goal

Be realistic, and establish clear metrics so you can measure success, celebrate milestones, and evaluate for needed improvements.

c) How much can you spend on your community outreach?

Community outreach activities can vary in cost. Discuss your Community Relations budget with your leadership BEFORE forming your team so you can set realistic expectations.

d) What community outreach activities will you participate in and how will you plan them?

No matter the activities you choose you need to create a calendar and set a timeline. Keep in mind the busiest times of the year for your organization and note events you already have planned and how they can align with your Community Relations efforts. It is essential to set dates and plan accordingly!

e) How will you share information?

Communication is key to the success of you Community Relations plan. Successful communication will:

  • Encourage your supporters to participate in your Community Relations activities

  • Recruit volunteers to your Community Relations committee and activities

  • Increase public awareness of your organization and its commitment to helping the community

Share your involvement!

Don't be modest!! Let your supporters and the public know what community efforts you are involved in! Share the information on all your current communication channels and explore new ways to communicate.

These 5 steps will amplify your Community Relations efforts and lead to increased:

  • Community Support

  • Donors

  • Enrollment

  • Membership

  • Public Awareness

  • Volunteers


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