How to Earn Community Engagement for Local Projects and Fundraisers
When you plan and organize a local community project or fundraiser, it is important to get the community engaged and involved in the process. This applies to projects such as art installations, sustainability initiatives, community safety projects, or even recurring, community-building events, such as a seasonal concert or fundraiser. All of these will benefit the community in some way, so engagement from the community is important.
With the local community engaged in your project, you can build relationships and leverage assets or resources from local residents. It also gives you the opportunity to identify possible obstacles to your project, such as individuals or organizations that may have concerns or other issues from within the community that may hold back your progress.
You will need the support of the community for your local project or fundraiser, both in the planning process as well as in the implementation stage. So how can you earn engagement from the community for your fundraiser or project? Below are some tips and suggestions to help you reach out to your community and get them involved and excited.
Understand Your Community
Before you start work on your project, it’s important that you understand the community that the project is for. Take some time to learn the history of your community and if projects like yours have been successful in the past. Become familiar with the demographics, socio-economics, and cultures at play in the area. Who are the people that you are trying to get involved with this project? Reach out to local businesses and programs as well as any local elected officials that may have interest in the project, such as the school board or a planning committee. Learn about their interests and investments in the community and how you may be able to leverage them to involve a greater percentage of the population. A better understanding of your community and those within it will prepare you to overcome future obstacles you may encounter. It also helps you tailor your message and identify the needs and wishes of your community.
Address a Community Need
To ensure that you can earn community engagement and be successful, it’s important that the project vision is specific to a need within your community. If the project does not directly address a need of your local community, it will be harder to get others on board.
When you have a project that addresses the needs of a wide range of the community, it will be easier to gain engagement. For example, perhaps the community does not have many resources or programs for youth in the area, and you have a project that would provide for this population, such as building a new playground or starting a local youth center. This project directly impacts the community and their needs and could help you bring in community members to help implement the project.
Anytime you set out on a project, obstacles are a given. When you need to gain community support and engagement, it’s important to anticipate any obstacles that may occur in that process. Some common challenges that can appear in community projects are funding, city ordinances, location and accessibility, contested or divided communities, and, currently, COVID-19.
You can save yourself some hassle when you identify the obstacles and challenges ahead of time because you can then prepare. Consider these options:
- Enlist advice and input from a key stakeholder in the community, who can become an advocate for your project, before you begin
- Keep community stakeholders informed about the plans for the project and any potential changes along the way
- Hire an event planner if you aren’t skilled in that area
- Host a virtual event if gathering presents an issue for health & safety
- Determine the skill level needed (if any) for anyone involved in the project
- Plan for any possible extraneous payments that may affect your budget
Overestimate the Necessary Resources
A community project will be unsuccessful if you don’t have the proper resources or budget planned ahead of time. Something unexpected will always come up during your event or project and it’s best to have solutions already planned in the budget, just in case your costs end up increasing.
Identify the resources you can turn to in unexpected moments. If you’re planning an event that has a live band playing, have a second local band in mind should the first band need to back out. Perhaps you need to provide food for volunteers. Know your options available if the food should run out, or plan to have food for more people than you have on your guest list. With these preparations in place, you will thank yourself when something happens and you need to spend a little more or find an alternative.
For a community project to be successful, it will require the proper funding. The best place to start is with the community that the project directly impacts. Funding from the community not only helps you pay for your project, it can also be a way to get the community engaged and excited about your project. Plan a fundraiser to introduce your project to the community and get them involved. Here are some fun ideas:
- Use an online fundraising platform
- Host a car wash
- Partner with a local restaurant to have a fundraising night, where some of the proceeds made that night go to your project
- Organize a fundraising concert, featuring local performers
- Have a bake sale
- Ask local businesses to donate prizes for a fundraising raffle
- Organize a sponsored Walk-a-thon, Run, or Bike Ride
- Invite local businesses to match donations made at your fundraiser
Educate the Public About the Project
Most local projects will struggle without the support of the local community. In order to garner that support, it is important to educate the public about your project and how it will benefit the community in the long run. Once the public is aware of what the project is and how it impacts them, they are more likely to engage with your project through the implementation process, and possibly even donate to the project. But what are the best ways to make the public aware of the project? Here are a few suggestions:
- Hand out newsletters and flyers
- Post e-bulletins, send personalized e-cards, and publish social media updates
- Give an information presentation at a local town hall meeting
- Hold information open houses to interact with the community and answer any questions
- Door-to-door canvassing
- Commission local artists to create signs to put up around town
- Have an information table at as many community events as possible
Throughout the life cycle of your project, community engagement will be essential. You need the support of the community at the beginning to get the project started, and the community should remain engaged through each step. One effective way to keep the community involved is to continuously get their feedback. At the start of your project, you will want their feedback to help you understand the community better and get ideas on how to better help and engage them. As the process continues, their feedback can help you make any necessary decisions along the way. Keep that relationship with the community strong and let it be a two-way street. A few ways to collect that feedback are:
- Conduct interviews with members of your community to get their thoughts
- Hold roundtable discussions at each phase of the project to gain a better understanding of how the different parts of the community feel about the project
- Create an online survey that lets community members provide their feedback
The success of your project will depend on how engaged the community is and if they remain excited about the community project as it unfolds. It’s vital to keep that momentum and support going through each step of the process, so learn how to get more people to attend you event. Here are some ideas to help generate excitement:
- Throw a summer holiday picnic or BBQ sponsored by your team
- Send donors and supporters birthday eCards to show your appreciation
- Host a birthday party for a beloved public figure or community leader
Encourage Personal Involvement
When people volunteer for a project in their local community, they can get a sense of fulfillment. Personal involvement in a community project can have a positive effect on mental health, as well as other benefits. You can encourage your community members to volunteer in any capacity, whether it be to hand out flyers, help with any construction or physical labor, or set up/take down any events you have along the way. Tips:
- Emphasize how much the project will impact the members of the community; people will want to be involved with something they know will benefit them
- Show your appreciation to volunteers by hosting an appreciation party
- Organize a fun activity for volunteers such as a trip to an amusement park
- Remember to always value their time and don’t overwork them or require too much of their free time they have donated
Help Overcome Barriers to Engagement
Sometimes, people in your community may really love the idea of your project and want to get involved, but something prevents them from participating. They may feel that they are not physically strong enough, or they might have some form of disability that prevents them from doing a certain type of work or activity. Reach out to these people and offer a different way they can help. Find work that suits their abilities that still gets them involved in your project. For example, someone may not be able to stand for a long period of time, so you could offer to have them write emails or make phone calls from the comfort of their home. Whatever the barrier for a potential volunteer may be, find a way to get them involved in your project. They will appreciate it!
Think of the Long and Short Term
When you plan your project and the involvement of your community, you will want to consider everything, from short-term goals such as acquiring initial funding or what location is needed for the project, to long-term issues that may need to be addressed, such as maintenance for a new building, or hiring leaders for a youth program. All of these examples are key to the success of your project.
When you pitch your project to your community, you’ll want to have answers about short- and long-term effects of the project. If the members of your community are not satisfied with the answers to their questions, it will be more difficult to earn their engagement in your project. You want to maintain a positive community view of your project throughout the entire process, so to have considered all possible issues and outcomes will be crucial to your success.
To earn the engagement of your community, the best thing to do is be transparent throughout the process, and appreciate their support and feedback. When a community feels that you and your project will help and work for them, they will eagerly want to become involved.
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