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5 Steps To Start Your Nonprofit’s Community Relations Efforts

What is “community relations” and how is it going to help your nonprofit grow?

Community relations is the means to meet your prospective donors, volunteers, and supporters where they are and build relationships with them. No matter your organization size, location, budget, or mission, community relations is 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:

  • Volunteers

  • School enrollment

  • Church membership

  • Donors

  • Public awareness

  • Community support

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 the first 5 steps you can implement today to catapult your community outreach efforts into results.

1. Get Leadership Buy-In

Get Leadership Buy-In

To successfully create a new plan of action in an organization you need the support of your leadership. For each organization this will mean different people. If your organization is small, this may be the CEO and/or Board. Since a community relations plan involves investing time, energy, and money in outreach efforts, you will ultimately need to engage these leaders in your organization. They will support your efforts and ensure the community outreach 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, you will need the help and support from others in your organization. This is a team effort!

As you begin to form this team, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a department or committee that naturally aligns with community relations efforts? (For example: Volunteer Engagement, Development, Communications)

  • Do you have staff, board members, or volunteers who already participate in community outreach or public relations?

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

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

  • What will the level of engagement of this team be? What is their time commitment?

The format and style of your community relations team will be dependent on the specific needs, size, and limitations of your organization. Be realistic when looking at what this team should look like and expect out of its members.

3. Recruit Members

Community relations is about teaching the outside community about your nonprofit and why they should support you. The best community relations advocates may already be involved with your organization, your active volunteers!

Most small nonprofits depend on volunteers for essential work within their organization. These volunteers are trustworthy, 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 only your current volunteers. Your community relations team may be a means to engage new volunteers and strengthen their support of your organization.

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

a) Reach out to your 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? Survey your current communication methods and use them!

c) Follow-up!

Did a board member express interest during a board meeting? Did a volunteer mention their experience with community relations while volunteering 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 will 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 does not have to be lengthy or time consuming, but a means to set clear expectations out of what you expect out of your community relations team and what they can expect to give in their role.

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 your community relations plan started:

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

Choose community activities that your current supporters want to attend. So, look to your supporters to guide you to what community activities you will participate in.

b) What are your goals?

You can’t succeed in your community relations plan unless you:

  • Know your starting point

  • Have an achievable goal

Be realistic and set something you can measure so you can celebrate success and recognize need for any improvements.

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

Community outreach activities can vary in price. Your community relations budget is a conversation to have with your leadership before forming your team so you can set realistic expectations of your participation level.

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

No matter the activities you choose you will 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. Ultimately, it’s essential to set dates and plan accordingly.

e) How will you share information?

Communication is key to the success of a community relations plan.

Successful communication will:

  • Encourage your supporters to participate in your community relations activities

  • Recruit volunteers to your community relations activities or to your committee

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

Share your involvement in the local community!

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 your community involvement.

These 5 steps are the start to amplify your community relations ventures to lead to increased:

- Volunteers

- School enrollment

- Church membership

- Donors

- Public awareness

- Community support

If you’d like to reprint this article in your blog/newsletter or distribute it among your organization, we are happy for you to Take Root and Grow! Please link and attribute to this site.

For more tips, toolkits, and upcoming webinars follow The Root Agency on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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