I am still a novice in the nonprofit world, though luckily every day at the PCNRC I get to soak up some new information, wisdom, or advice. Although I can’t offer a specific experience of working at a nonprofit or being on a board, I do have the experience of being a local community member for most of my life, so my intern insight comes from my experience with nonprofits as a community member, on the other side of the important relationship between nonprofits and the communities they serve.
So, how can a nonprofit appeal to and engage the community and donors? Here a few things to think about:
One facet of nonprofits where this question can be asked is fundraising projects. In an article in Nonprofit World, writer Gail Perry tells of a successful campaign by Second Harvest in Toronto for a food truck. What made the campaign so successful was the personification of the food truck in the campaign. In letters, on the web site, and in thank you’s, the truck was its own mascot that spoke for itself and gave people a character to root for and support. By giving to the campaign, donors could both help the nonprofit obtain a food truck with the added satisfaction of a thank you from the friendly food truck character.
The image of a talking food truck tied a fundraising goal to a concrete image, making it memorable to donors and to the community. That’s more effective than just simply asking for money. Although this type of fundraising strategy won’t work with every campaign, visual representations are important to any project.
Another thing to think about is your space, as it’s another visual representation of your organization in the community. At a PCNRC event, I had the pleasure of talking with someone about a new event the nonprofit he works for had recently put on. Through the new event, a space that mostly caters to children was opened and adapted to offer a new cultural experience to an older age group. What got me most excited about the event was the idea of opening up the space to a different audience, and adapting it to expand the impact and outreach of the nonprofit.
Even if your organization doesn’t have a space that can be opened to the public or used for events, think about how places and spaces have an effect on your mission. For example, if you want to gain support for a new trail or to plant more trees you might have an event outdoors. If your goal is renovation, continually engage the community in the space through pictures or open houses (when safe of course). Engagement in the community is about openness. If you’re anything like me, the chance to see a new place is a big draw to get me to participate in an event or engage in a organization.
There are also many innovative ways in which organizations are using spaces. In Denver, there are 60 international-development agencies that all work in a 19th century horse barn. Another example is the conversion of an old UPS truck into a mobile farm stand.* Those uses of space would definitely draw some attention from the community!
The mission of a nonprofit is a statement that should clearly explain why the organization exists. One way to make that mission more striking and memorable is to represent it through images. This goes back to having concrete images that people can associate with your organization’s work. Even just one profound image can encapsulate the mission.
For example, I was recently in a nonprofit whose meeting room was lined with pictures of all the groups they had aided throughout their history. Looking around the room, I could clearly see how the mission of the organization had been carried out in the community. Having images that present your mission gives the community something to remember both the mission and nonprofit by.
*both examples are from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, July 2015