Listen to Episode 1 – Establishing a Great Community Outreach Strategy for Nonprofits
The Giving Circle is the official GiveGab podcast, dedicated to educating nonprofit leaders on a variety of topics that can help them navigate the waters of donor relationships, fundraising strategies, community engagement and so much more.
For our very first podcast, we interviewed Kait Sheridan, Director of Partnerships and Programs with the Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92nd Street Y, a nonprofit organization that reaches out to people of all ages, races, faiths and backgrounds while embracing Jewish values. They were first established 140 years ago and they’re the creators of the #GivingTuesday movement, which is reported to have helped nonprofits raise over $116 Million in 2015.
Kait has been with 92nd Street Y since 2012 and was happy to join some members of our GiveGab team in The Giving Circle to discuss the very important topic of how to establish a great community outreach strategy. This article goes over the questions and answers from the podcast that you can find on our podcast page: The Giving Circle.
Establishing a Great Community Outreach Strategy
Q1: Why is community outreach so important for nonprofits?
A1: I think this has always been important, but it’s getting more and more important as there are new tools to use to engage people. And not just talk to them and let them know what you’re doing, but really engage them in a meaningful way; make them feel a part of, especially as a nonprofit, all of the important work that you’re doing to enhance the world and the lives around you.
Social media plays a really key part of that, but for nonprofits it’s something where you’re so focused on your mission and the cause that you’re working towards, that communicating with your larger community and engaging – whether it’s donors, volunteers, staff members, alumni or whoever that audience is – but really communicating your mission and making sure that they’re aware of what you’re trying to do, what your goals are, is really integral to your work.
It helps you educate people who might not know exactly the work that you’re doing or what your ultimate goal is or about certain campaigns that you’re trying to launch. It helps inspire action – the more people feel engaged with the work that you’re doing, the more they’re going to want to help or volunteer, or even use their voice to promote what you’re doing.
But, it’s not just about promoting the cause and mission and being a great marketing tool, it can also help funding, which of course nonprofits are very focused on. So, the more people feel engaged, and especially the more you can personally engage them and let them know why it’s so important to support your organization, the greater return you can have on those fundraising asks.
Q2: For nonprofit executive directors, how would you suggest they go about creating a great community outreach strategy? Where should they begin?
A2: That’s a great question and it can seem like quite the daunting task, but I really think it’s going to depend on that nonprofit. There is no “one size fits all” solution to this because every community you’re looking to engage and reach out to is going to be different. I would look at the size of your organization, the team that you have, and consider: Do you need more resources? Do you need external help or to bring on a person to really lead this outreach effort? And the best place to start, I think, is with an audit. Have your staff or volunteers or members of your board ask the community, “How would you like to be more involved? Are we talking to you enough? What messages or campaigns do you remember most from the past year?” – Try to get a feel for what’s working and where you are. That way you can more easily figure out where you want to go.
I would then, starting from the beginning, start with your mission statement. You are a nonprofit, you are working for a specific mission, which you’ve clearly outlined in your other materials, so go back to that. How can reaching this community help your mission and how can you help them learn a little bit more about your mission and what you do? So, I think the language that you have and the objectives you have in that mission statement will really help guide the intention of your outreach. Plus, also help you come up with some great language around the awesome work that you’re doing – and that really helps this whole conversation, which is, figure out what content you already have.
If you’re looking to talk with people more on social media and reach new communities in that way, figure out what stories you have, what impact statements or any great statistics. The best messages that I remember are the emails, the conversations, the phone calls from my school where they’re reaching out to alumni and they’re explaining how this one student is going to go study at this grad school because they received a scholarship and how we should support the school. Or a nonprofit that has been supporting a specific campaign and when they reach their goal and you know you gave, that just gets you more excited and it also helps you reconnect with that organization. So think about what you’ve already started and what stories you might have to share, and that again, goes back and speaks to that mission statement.
One thing to avoid, just as a quick side note, is in all your communication you don’t just want to direct people to your website or just focus on asking them to give. I don’t think that will have as much impact as you really asking the questions and trying to find those stories and asking people to share how your work has impacted them. I’d also look at your numbers. If you’re the executive director, you want to know how many people are in your email database, how many donors you have, how many people follow you on social media, and look at how those people engage. Do you get a good response over email? Do people retweet your tweets? Do they prefer to be called on the phone or have in-person events? You want to know how that community likes to work and respond to you and then tailor your strategy around them. You’re always going to grow, but it’s great to start with the ways your community is already listening to you.
The last two points that I think are the most fun is, once you figure out your resources and what you can start building on and where your strong points are, you want to ask the community you already have to get involved. You can ask them to post photos, to share their own stories, or they can write letters of support. They can ask their neighbor to go to a local meeting, they can volunteer. – Engage them and let them start being the ambassadors for what you do and empower them to give their voice to help your mission.
There are so many different tools and there’s more and more coming out. Some tools are even free, especially with social media, where you can just kind of get started and start building those messages. And if you’ve never done this before, start building good habits – make goals such as, “we’re new to Facebook, so our goal is every work day we’re going to post something” and kind of build a little calendar so you can keep yourself on that and soon it seems second nature. Don’t be shy of experimenting. There’s so many different ways and you might realize, “hey, whenever I post a question and ask people to ‘tell me about your favorite moment when you gave and helped others’, that got the most responses.” That tells you that it works for your audience and that you are reaching new people, so if that works, stick with it and try to build on that and experiment even more.
This sort of engagement with the community and potential supporters and current supporters, sounds as if it needs to be a 2-way street. So often, and I think we even do this at GiveGab sometimes, we just push something out there and want people to come to the website… but it needs to be that open dialogue, and I think that’s something you hit on that’s really really important that nonprofits should keep in mind when it comes to their mission. It needs to be a 2-way street. I think putting questions out there that engage the community is very important.
Exactly right, and you’re going to engage these people and you’re going to find that this is outreach, so you start with your community. Especially with social media where you can immediately reach their community, their network, their friends and followers, and hopefully they in turn come and join your circle. So, as you’re growing and growing, you don’t want to lose those initial people you had and as you keep growing, you want to keep that community engaged . So having those personal, “Share your photo”, “Tell us a story” or “Vote for the campaign name” – anything like that – will just help people feel more personally involved and keep them coming back to you.
Right, and then they become part of your story.
Q3: Has there been a particular community outreach related experience you’ve recently had that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us? Whether it’s lessons learned or a success story?
A3: There’s been so many success stories we’ve seen through #GivingTuesday alone, which is really all focused on sharing stories and reaching new communities. And as a global day of giving, there are so many nonprofits involved, and a primary question we hear is, “How can we make sure people are hearing our nonprofit?”. And the most successful ways we’ve seen people do this is through their community outreach and their communication strategy.
So, I have 3 quick really great examples that I think cover a lot of the points that we’ve talked about:
One is, own your message. Again, you have this mission, you know what you do, you know your audience; own it. We see a lot of people come up with their own hashtags or come up with a whole branded campaign, where if I belong to this community then I immediately get it and want to participate. For example, for GivingTuesday, we’ve seen #GivingShoesDay, #GivingBlueDay (which was the university of Michigan), #GivingZooDay (which was a group of zoos) – and so the more you kind of say, “this is my campaign and i’m going to get really creative and excited about it”, that really works well and more and more people want to come and join you.
Another way you can do this is through graphics. We’ve seen a lot of compelling campaigns use visuals that are so captivating that, as you’re scrolling through your Facebook page or your Twitter feed, you all of a sudden want to pause because you see such a great image! And the more those images connect to your goal or your mission, the more powerful they can be. World Bicycle Relief, for example, did great graphics for #GivingTuesday, where they had kids riding bikes (which is what the organization does; raises funds to provide bikes for students in Africa to get to school) along with their goal – “these are how many bikes we want to donate” – so it wasn’t asking for the dollars of your donation, but it was saying, “we wanna get these bikes”. So you got what they were trying to do, you got their mission, you saw the impact, all in one picture. It’s something you can immediately respond to and, again, inspire that action.
In the last piece, again, you want to engage your community. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for the past few years has done a great job using the #UNselfie, which is a hashtag we launched through #GivingTuesday that asks their donors, their social media followers, really anyone, to share a photo of themselves explaining why they support Parkinson’s research. So their call to action wasn’t, “Give and support the Michael J. Fox Foundation”, it was saying, “Tell us why this cause is important” and of course a lot of people posted photos about family members and friends – and they were all so so personal that they inspired not only those people to give, but also when their friends and all their followers saw that, it really struck a personal chord with them and encouraged them to kind of check out what the foundation does and to give back. All of these examples I think help with branding strategy and also help the bottom line through fundraising.
That’s really inspiring. I know when I see a story on social media and feel I can really understand the “why” to their message, I’m definitely more compelled to give my support.
If you had a single piece of advice for nonprofits to take away from this podcast, what would it be?
I want to give more than one, but the number one umbrella answer is to have fun. Especially with social media, it can be super dynamic, it can be fun, and it’s great to hear other people talk about all the good work that you’re doing. So if you’re empowering them to share those stories, it just makes you feel so good and it gets you excited about your work. That’s something I’ve experienced personally and it’s amazing. It can be a lot of fun figuring out different ways to involve people and to spread the conversation…
Then kind of underneath that, as a sub-bullet point, don’t be scared of experimenting. A lot of tools, especially online and through social media, are new. There are new platforms, new trends, new hashtags, new things to do all the time – and it’s constantly changing, so as long as it kind of fits with your mission and it’s on brand for you to participate, don’t be scared of trying something new or launching a new campaign in a different space and see what community you can reach!
Thank you, Kait. We’ve definitely gained deeper insights into community outreach and why it’s so important to implement a strategy.
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Have Fun – Be Bold – Try Experimenting