It’s been invigorating to see so many nonprofits focusing on planning now that we’re seeing light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

And yet I’m surprised when I ask how they are engaging the community and getting feedback from stakeholders and influencers.  Most haven’t thought about it.

It’s a grave error to try to operate in a bubble.

Whether you’re planning or not, let me respectfully say – you don’t know everything.

There are several ways to connect:  surveys, focus groups, one-to-one interviews, town halls (virtual or in person) and more.

The point is this:  you’re a community-based organization.  Act like one.

Here are the top 5 reasons why it’s imperative you connect with your community:

1. Capture valuable information for planning purposes. Look to your key stakeholders for insight.

You want to know what the people you serve are experiencing.
You want to know what your donors think about your work.
You want to know what you’re known for.
You want to know where others see opportunities for your organization.
You want to know how effective your board is.
You want to know if there are trends that could affect your work.
You may want to test ideas about new initiatives with these folks.

The list goes on…..

2. Thank and appreciate your community. Let’s not overlook this.  When was the last time you recognized the people outside your nonprofit for their support and participation?

Have an outdoor party and invite everyone!  Consider a brief program to celebrate progress and recognize the obvious supporters and also the not-so-obvious folks! (this goes beyond donors – I’m talking about partners and promoters, etc.)

What’s interesting is that sometimes we forget to acknowledge our internal stakeholders (board, staff, volunteers, clients, etc.).

They will appreciate your attention more than you may know.  And they are part of the community too.

3. Ask for introductions. Do you know everyone you’d like to know in your community?  I bet not.  Reach out strategically to people in your community…

When you’re recruiting new board members.
Or when you need expertise not readily available.
Or when you have a staff position open.
Or when you want to get to know your elected officials.
Or when you need more ambassadors to spread the work about your amazing work.
Or when you want to host a round table of top CEOs in town.

You get the idea.

4. Get help identifying resources. This could mean people, as in #3, or it could mean facility space or money or technology or vehicles or partnerships.

Have you ever tried finding a new site for programs when you didn’t know where to start?
Are you concerned about your cyber security and not sure how to assess your needs?
Do you know there are many potential major donors in the area but you aren’t sure how to reach them?
Are you looking for partners to pool resources?

Do some outreach and you may be amazed at what you learn!

5. Enroll Ambassadors to be champions for your cause. I have never heard a nonprofit CEO say they have too many people in the community raising awareness for their cause.

People are generous and like to see others succeed.  Chances are, if you put together a purposeful outreach plan, you can line up many more eager followers to help you.

Maybe they’re college students or a Giving Circle or alumni of your services or social media followers. Give them specific tasks with specific messages and watch the communication multiply.

It can be invigorating to embrace the community!  Include all perspectives and be open to what’s possible.

No more bubbles.