Community Engagement: Tips and Strategies

For those who work or volunteer in the nonprofit world, engaging the local community is always on hearts, minds, and spreadsheets.

A gardener paints his sign with support from Carmen Bouyer. Photo by, Elizabeth Gilcrest, LOR Community Organizer
A community gardener creates a sign for his garden plot. Source: Elizabeth Gilcrest, Landscapes of Resilience.

Within nature and health organizations, such as Trees Forever, success comes from connecting community volunteers, civic leaders, government officials and landowners through on-the-ground projects like a tree planting event. Other organizations, such as the City of Seattle, are re-examining policies, initiatives and budgets with a desire to ensure all residents have equitable access to parks and natural areas.

Community engagement at its most genuine requires an organization to listen to the needs of their stakeholders, and act accordingly. Within community-based nature and health organizations, knowing how the neighborhood wants to use the local park can guide goals, events, and budgets. Engagement may mean asking new people to give of their time. Community groups, like garden clubs and community garden nonprofits, often develop new ways to encourage someone to donate a few hours to pick up litter in a park, share information at an event booth, or lend technical expertise.

One aspect of Nature Sacred’s mission is to provide the tools for communities to design and maintain a nearby nature space in ways that are relevant to them. Community leaders, who we call Firesouls, use these strategies outlined below to elevate the messages for building and sustaining open, sacred green space.

Strategic fund raising. Pool resources with like-minded organizations, rather than compete within a small market.

Executive volunteerism. Create a volunteer program for community leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty.

Partner with college and high school student groups.

Landscapes of Resilience participants planted ornamental cabbage and mums in early October.
Landscapes of Resilience participants planted ornamental cabbage and mums in early October 2015. Source: Landscapes of Resilience
Tree planting events tend to have broad appeal.

Capitalize on local and national movements by merging like-minded goals. Public awareness campaigns about health, eating vegetables, and saving the bees are all relevant to most nature-based nonprofits.

Keep initiatives relevant and engaging. Your goals as an organization do not have to change, but recognize how your goals fit into changing interests or needs.

Empower other people and organizations to act. Partner with those who have more power than you, and those who have less.

Strategically track data about your community needs. Use publicly available data, and/or manage data your community gives you.

Develop and share personal stories. A message of the value of trees and green space to the health and wellbeing of city residents appeals to many.

Create a digitally visual account of your organization’s contributions.

Share progress and updates with a diverse sector. Consider leaders in public health, the insurance industry, private business (such as local grocers), policy makers, and the medical and wellness community.

Foster partnerships among leaders and funders already invested in your community. Who else is doing work like yours?