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Nonprofit Community Relations

  • Communications planning is important

  • Nonprofits need to push philanthropy

Community relations are how you interact with and manage the various publics that are intertwined with the operation of you nonprofit organization. The community includes clients, neighbors, public officials, government agencies, other nonprofits and potential donors. Community relations involves controlling the flow of information, both positive and negative, about your organization so as to maximize favorable opinion and minimize obstacles to success.

The methods used to enact this control include media relations, newsletters, brochures, advertising, special events and personal interaction. The people involved are often the nonprofit organization's officers, board members, volunteers or dedicated community relations staff which includes those working under the headings of public relations, marketing or public affairs.

As with all operations, planning is important and community relations involves a series of steps:

Defining Your Community and its Various Groups
You work with groups of people who look at your organization through unique perspectives. What is important to one segment of your community may be unimportant to another. The best way to plan is to identify the major groups that interact with your nonprofit organization. Some are listed at the beginning of this article but your community can involve more or fewer groups.

Determining the Objectives of Your Community Relations Program
What do you want to accomplish with each group? It can be donations, legislation or public policy favorable to your mission, partnership opportunities, or increasing the number of clients you serve. Whatever you want to accomplish, putting it on paper makes it easier to analyze and define the effectiveness of your community relations work.

Creating the Message you Want Conveyed
The message you create may be different for every defined group and is designed to accomplish the objectives you have determined for each. This is referred to as "targeting" the message to the audience. The message is simply the information about your organization that is most likely to appeal to the perspective of the audience and that will cause them to take action as outlined in your objectives.

Choosing the Best Method to Carry that Message
It may be through some form of media, a special event or in-person, but each message needs at least one vehicle to be carried to the intended audience. The choices are vast but generally the more important the message, the more personal it should be delivered. Putting a human presence with a message through direct interaction dramatically increases its impact but that impact is limited to the few individuals present. Conversely, blanketing a wide audience with a general advertisement relies on sheer number of views and repetition to get the message across.

Conducting Your Community Relations Campaign
Planning is great, but it is useless if that plan remains on a desk without being implemented. This is the step where most projects fail. The reason is fear. The plan may look good on paper, but when it is implemented, the architects of that plan will be judged by its success or failure.

Analyzing Results
Did it work? Did it accomplish the objects determined for each defined group? Spend a good amount of time analyzing outcomes. Usually results are mixed and every time a communications campaign is conducted, the organization will learn more about each audience and will become more successful in future campaigns.

If all of this seems complicated, it really isn't. Just be aware that you don't operate in a vacuum and that it is important to be mindful of the people who can help you in your mission. Formalizing a process to build and maintain good relations with those people is community relations.

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