by Jenna Rhodes
Some people think that Community Engagement is one step in multi-step process for a project. Build a team. Check. Set a timeline. Check. Engage the community. Check. Create a plan. Check. But it’s not nearly so simple. Community Engagement is a collection of actions that can be found from the beginning of a project until the….well until forever. Community Engagement doesn’t stop when you finish a project because building relationships is a continuous process that will lead into your next project and your next. Relationships aren’t usually time bound. The contacts that you make on the first project will be contacts that you will use throughout your time in your current position and possibly for your entire career. Community Engagement is building your contact list, understanding the mission and vision of the organization that they represent, knowing what resources they have to offer, utilizing their expertise to move a project forward, gathering their opinions and impressions, and offering them your expertise and resources in return.
When engaging a community there are several things that can help the process:
1) Get out into the community and meet people – you can’t expect people or businesses to invest in your project, event, or idea if they’ve never met you.
2) Have lots of business cards – it’s not so much that they need YOUR info, but you need THEIRS and this is a great way to get it.
3) Have an organized system for collecting all of this contact info – an excel document can be a great tool to organize, sort, and utilize the rich resources that you’ve spent so much time collecting.
4) Communicate with your connections – an underutilized contact list is a waste of time and energy, stay connected by informing your newly formed network what you are doing, how it pertains to them, and how they can get involved.
5) Ask for referrals – you can’t possibly make every connection yourself, so ask your contacts to put you in touch with others who might have a stake in your project.
6) Follow up – if you say you are going to do something, do it.
Engaging a community is hard work that takes investments of time and energy. And there will always be more people to meet. This part of the process is ongoing. I have been working on one project for more than a year and I made seven new contacts just this week while working on a seemingly unrelated project. Never miss an opportunity to connect, either the work you are doing, or the work of your contacts to each other. Be a connector and you will create a reputation for yourself as someone to know.