In nonprofits, community engagement is often key to our missions. It’s how we attract and build relationships with members, supporters, advocates, and donors. And yet, few organizations have formulated a cohesive strategy to ensure that various fundraising, outreach, and programmatic activities are thoughtfully designed and coordinated in such a way to achieve our intended engagement goals.
This post presents a tool that can be used in developing an engagement strategy for your nonprofit: the Spectrum of Engagement. This framework was initially developed for an online course I designed and instructed for NTEN.org (2017-2022) that is now accessible to members of the Comms For Causes community.
The chart above represents ONE way to categorize different levels of engagement. The five category headings (Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, and Empower) are borrowed from the International Association for Public Participation’s Spectrum of Participation. For each category, I’ve shared my interpretation of these categories when applied through the lens of nonprofit community engagement, including a few examples of activities that might be employed at each point along the spectrum.
It’s really important to remember that these categories aren’t as discrete as this tidy little chart might imply. Community engagement occurs along a continuous spectrum and some of the sample activities I’ve included might even move from one bucket to another depending upon the context and extent to which they are employed.
For example, a newsletter might actually be a way to involve or even collaborate if community members are developing the content or are invited to manage editorial duties. An advisory council or board might be better characterized as a method of involvement if they are strictly utilized for their expertise but excluded entirely from related decision-making processes.
That said, we humans love to categorize things, organization facilitates both our immediate understanding and later recall of new concepts. So please think of this as a framework to adapt to your circumstances and needs 🙂
In reflecting on the Spectrum of Engagement chart presented above, where do most of your organization’s activities fall? Do they range widely, or more squarely in one or two categories? Does this framework spark ideas of ways you might formulate or strengthen a strategy to be more intentional with your community engagement activities? Tell us more in the comments below!
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Sandy Ward says
Mahalo Jen – an excellent and very clear framework…I will say that we operate at all of these levels in various communities that we serve. A suggestion is to reach out to those in government agencies who are hired/contracted as community “outreach” to move the needle towards community empowerment…it does seems that engaging community only at “inform, consult” – and not very well at either of those levels – is the norm…perhaps offering a training for those folks would be something for which you could be contracted 🙂
Iolani Yamashiro-Rahimi says
MAHALO for this information. I’m a newbie so anything and everything is greatly appreciate and helpful!