“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou
Think back to the last time that you had an AMAZING customer experience. Was it on the phone? A retail experience in a store? Perhaps it was during a meal at a restaurant or café. It might have even been your morning barista. What made it truly special for you? For me, it can be as simple as a smile that encourages more happiness.
Though we are fraught with nonstop demands on our time, and things often feel so transactional and less impactful, we are all blessed with an incredible opportunity to remind people that they matter.
As many of us learned from Maslow’s Hierarchy, after the most basic needs of nourishment, rest and shelter are met, love and belonging are critical for humans to reach their full potential. It is this need for belonging that creates the greatest opportunity for nonprofit communities today.
After hiding behind screens for hours a day thanks to technological advancements, people are looking for a way to foster and create a stronger sense of belonging. The need for belonging and connection is crucial to community-building of any kind, and yet, many organizations fail at fostering and engaging people with their cause.
The following four-step process will help you build a stronger community for your cause, event or project.
The biggest mistake nonprofits make in community-building is that their presentation often lacks perspective. Staff members write from the organization’s viewpoint about why an event or project matters to the reader. Team members present information to the world in a one-dimensional way and think their job is done. But the reality is that if you truly want to create buy-in and build engagement, you have to look at your organization, event or project from the perspective of the intended recipient. People are busy (not just kind of busy, but downright, I don’t have another minute in my day kind of busy), so it is your job to help people understand why your organization, event or project should matter to them. And for them to really understand this, you must meet them on their terms and craft your message with tweaks specific for a Board member versus a client or a donor. Stop writing about why “your participation matters to us” and write instead to help people understand “what is in it for them.”
To be successful, organizations must help their audiences connect the dots. Targeted message recipients do not always have the viewpoint or frame of reference as existing stakeholders. For instance, nonprofit staff and board members sit in multiple meetings per month, have additional conference calls and written interaction weekly, maybe daily. As an integral leader of an organization, you eat, sleep and breathe that organization. However, it’s necessary to remember to treat each communication as if it is the reader’s first encounter with your organization. When we are so immersed in a cause, we forget that others do not know what we know. If we aren’t careful, this alone can make people feel lost and unlikely to support our cause. For successful engagement, we must make people feel invited and needed in our communications. To a busy director, it might feel like you are over-communicating about a project, but when a recipient more fully understands the scope (the who, what, where, why and when), they are far more likely to sign onto the cause. Taking the time necessary to fully explain a message to the targeted recipient might be the best use of leadership’s time to successfully build buy-in.
Make People Feel Needed
Gone are the days when people were just trying to pad the resume or show up to meetings for social interaction. Nowadays, people want to know that their contribution is meaningful and has an impact. You are more likely to attract people to your organization or event if there is a clear list of needs. By outlining specific needs, volunteers and supporters can select how they want to contribute. Do they want to have a short-term commitment or a year-long responsibility? Would they prefer to provide time or money? Is there a particular need where their talents might mesh? If you are clear about your needs, those who receive your communications may also know of resources that could help and may foster introductions to expand your current circle of contacts.
And last, but certainly not least, remember to express your gratitude to donors, volunteers, Board members and partners. The number one answer to “Why did you stop working with XYZ organization?” is that “they didn’t appreciate my contributions.” We, as humans, are wired to help one another but we all want to know that what we are doing is valued or makes a difference. Whether it is a hand-written note, a volunteer recognition program or a special event for contributors, one of the most important uses of your time is to develop a gratitude program. Having an official program ensures that volunteers and donors are acknowledged regularly and consistently to ensure that everyone is recognized appropriately for their level of contribution.
As noted in the beginning, people remember how you make them feel! As nonprofit leaders, it is our job to invite people into the fold, help them understand the organization, identify how they can make a meaningful contribution, and let them know how much we value their participation.