There’s been a major business shift in recent years. Hallelujah! Leading companies are recognising the importance of all stakeholders – not just shareholders but workers, customers, suppliers and local communities. When businesses engage with each of these groups they reap the rewards.
We work with businesses that want to engage with local communities. These businesses come to us ready to consider their impact on their local communities – and to maximise that impact for good. The results are multifold: better brand reputation, better brand awareness, better employee satisfaction, and more supportive local communities to name just a few.
If you’re ready to start working with (rather than against) local communities then you’re in the right place. This checklist will guide you through the major steps of planning and executing a community engagement programme.
6 Steps to Starting Your Community Engagement Program
Step 1. Define your goals.
Start by getting clear on what your company wants to gain so that you can work out how to measure success. Make sure to ask your colleagues for their input on this. Asking for ideas from a range of colleagues is a fast track to getting cross-company buy-in.
- 1a. Identify your objectives.
List 3-4 aims you want to accomplish by engaging with your community. Be sure to include both business and community benefits. These might be increasing employee engagement, getting community support for local business initiatives, or eliminating food insecurity in your local area.
- 1b. Write down some key performance indicators (KPIs).
Put a KPI next to each of your objectives. For example, if one of your objectives is to increase employee engagement, your KPI could be ‘increase employee satisfaction by 15% in the next year’. By documenting your KPIs you’re setting yourself up for impact reporting success. And there’s nothing like proper impact reporting to support executive buy in.
Step 2. Get to know your community members.
It’s important to spend some time researching the folks who make up your community. If you’ve never done persona research before, ask your marketing team for help. They’ve likely done this exercise plenty of times and will be able to give you a few pointers.
- 2a. Identify key stakeholders.
Identify the key figures that make up your community. These may be government representatives, community leaders, church leaders, non-profit organisations or concerned citizens.
- 2b. Document your community personas.
Do some research into those key stakeholders to really understand who they are and help identify which stakeholders are most important to your work. Take notes about the stakeholders demographics, traits, interests, motivations, and challenges.
- 2c. Ask the community.
Instead of making assumptions about community challenges, ask them. You can plan a meeting or call, or even send a survey. Remember we’re all time-poor these days to try to compensate people for their time to get your community engagement off on the right foot.
Step 3. Create your engagement plan.
Now it’s on to the details—deciding the who, what, and when. Remember, it’s your company’s job to go out to the community, not expect them to come to you.
- 3a. Name a community engagement manager.
A dedicated community manager can make or break the success of your program. For larger companies, this should be a full-time role. For small businesses, it’s important to identify someone in the organisation who has the interest, experience and time to add community engagement to their existing role.
- 3b. Decide how to get the community engaged.
There are lots of ways to engage people. Your objectives will help you decide the types of activities that will work best. Grant giving programmes, workshops, focus groups, volunteering drives, and community fairs are just a few ideas to think about.
- 3c. Plan and publish your event calendar.
The next step is to pick some dates and make those activities official. Make sure your community events calendar is available to your internal team and to the public too.
Step 4. Build real connections.
Community engagement is all about relationships. Real and authentic relationships. And they must be a two-way street. This means listening more than you talk and giving more than you ask for.
- 4a. Humanise your company.
Stories are much more interesting than corporate facts and figures. Make your brand relatable by sharing its story and mission. Get your team involved and tell their individual stories too. This is the best way to build real relationships that are stronger than straight business.
- 4b. Create a community space.
Give the community a way to interact with you and each other. This could be an online group, forum, or feedback board. You can easily do this through a Facebook group or make it part of your website.
- 4c. Define your response times.
Responding to messages and comments quickly builds credibility. Decide what’s reasonable for your team. Two common SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are within the hour or within one business day.
- 4d. Maintain an open dialogue.
It’s important to regularly listen to community members and share updates. Think about scheduling a monthly open space, ask-me-anything meeting, a weekly office hour, or open drop-in days.
Step 5. Partner with local non-profits.
We bet there are dozens of non-profits in your area that are already addressing the problems your community cares about. Partnering up with these organisations is a great way to increase impact.
ActionFunder is a company-to-community funding platform that makes it easy to businesses to find local non-profits with similar ambitions, fund their projects and track the impact. See how it can help you increase community impact.
- 5a. Identify like-minded local non-profits.
Search for non-profits in your local community that share your company’s values. Then find out how they support the local community. Pick one or more that you’d like to work with. (If you need help with this, we work with thousands of non-profits across the UK. Just create a profile on ActionFunder and get instantly matched with like-minded non-profits in your area.)
- 5b. Support their projects.
Support can show up in many ways. For the vast majority of non-profits, funding is the primary challenge. That’s why we recommend starting with funding and going from there. In time, you could host a drive to collect supplies or plan a hands-on volunteer outing.
- 5c. Highlight your funds.
Be sure to share information about your community funding and the impact it’s having with the community so they can see how your company is collaborating with the community to make a difference.
Step 6. Measure impact.
It’s super important to measure your success. Proving impact will help you continue to get the support you need for your programs. At ActionFunder we provide all businesses with rich impact reports once the non-profits they’ve backed have completed their projects. Our approach to impact measurement is built off the back of 15 years of working with businesses and local non-profits. Here are some of the things to consider when you’re measuring the impact of your community engagement programme:
- 6a. Figure out what measurement tools you need.
How are you going to measure your KPIs from Step 1? Maybe you need to set up a spreadsheet, create a survey, or subscribe to a new reporting tool. Make sure you have a plan to get the data you need quickly and easily.
- 6b. Make time to pull the data.
It’s easy for reporting to sneak up on you and get overlooked. We suggest carving out time on your calendar. This can be weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on your company’s reporting schedule.
- 6c. Share the results.
Pretty up those reports and share them with everyone who cares. This includes people inside and outside the business. Go over highlights from your reports during a monthly stakeholders call or include them in your annual impact report.