Community Impact

Most nonprofits want to have a strong impact on their communities.  However, when asked, community members seldom see the impact the nonprofit intended.

The gap between the community’s perception and the nonprofit’s intention has several explanations:

Clients – Your community expects your nonprofit to have a broader or deeper reach into the community

Communications – The way your nonprofit is communicating its results or impact to the community is different from what the community expects

Confusion – Your community’s expectations are based upon what another nonprofit serving a similar demographic is able to achieve (comparing Boys and Girls Club results with Big Brothers Big Sisters results, for instance)

Realistic – Due to the complexity or the time required to produce the desired results, the expectations of your community are unrealistic

Results – The results your community expects, wants, or needs are different from the results your nonprofit is trying to achieve

Size – The number of people affected or other measures of the size of your impact are less than your community expects

The preceding gaps are symptoms of a larger problem.  The larger problem is that there is a lack of engagement between the community and the nonprofit.  When there is a strong partnership between the two, it is easy to avoid the gap.  The only way to strengthen the partnership is to cultivate the community’s involvement in your nonprofit.  Here are some suggestions:

Advocates – When all of your advocates are directly connected to your nonprofit, you know there is an opportunity to increase community engagement.  Ensure that your advocates consist of individuals who have a relationship with your nonprofit and those who are unrelated to your nonprofit.

Close the Gap – As long as your community is less than fully satisfied with your impact, the potential for increased community engagement exists.  Focus on providing evidence that demonstrates your programing is having the impact your community wants or enhance your programing to provide the impact your community wants.  Remember, your community may want a more meaningful impact or more clients benefiting from the impact.

Donors – When your source of new donors is primarily those with a connection to your nonprofit, you know there is the potential to have more donors and a more diversified donor base.  Broaden your search for donors to areas where you nonprofit and mission are less well-known.

Events – When you hold an event, if there are more strangers than friends at the event, you know that you have good engagement.  Place an emphasis on having events where strangers outnumber donors.

Referral Sources – Where your client come from is important.  When the community is referring clients, you know that it understands and values what your mission has to offer your community.  Find new referral sources and increase the number of clients coming from each of the current referral sources to strengthen your community engagement.

Representation – There are many meetings occurring in your community every month.  Ensure there is someone who will speak for your nonprofit at each meeting that is likely to affect (directly or tangentially) your nonprofit, mission, or clients.

Volunteers – Diversify your volunteer pool to better represent those you serve as well as the many demographic groups in your community.

Next Step:

Make community engagement a priority

Discover how you can close the gap between your community’s perception of your impact and the impact you are currently having on your community

Use the level of community engagement as a success measure for the preceding two steps

Having a highly satisfied support base is great.  However, whether your community satisfaction is similar to your support base’s satisfaction depends on how well your support base mirrors your community’s demographics.  Ensuring your support base truly represents your community will ensure that you are able to accurately judge the satisfaction of your community.

Nonprofit sustainability is an elusive goal.  Eliminating the satisfaction gap and maintaining community engagement are elusive goals.  The sustainability of your nonprofit is a by-product of the minimized gap and maximized engagement.

Take It Further:

Raise your board’s awareness of their role as your community ambassadors in helping to minimize the gap and maximize community engagement

Remember that engagement requires bi-directional communications (listen to all of the voices in your community as well as speak to all of the segments of your community)


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