Community is Everyone

Content sponsored by the Philanthropy Journal

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a corporate representative to discuss a potential sponsorship. In order to gain a clear understanding of what we had to offer them, the rep asked a lot of questions about how we currently interact with corporations, and in what capacities. Upon hearing my answers, she told me that I needed to be getting out and letting more corporations know that we exist. Hearing this was a huge shock. In seeking corporations to support my work, it never once occurred to me that corporations needed me to support theirs.

There is a running joke in the nonprofit sector that when you ask yourself who your audience is, you ultimately end up saying everybody is impacted by your work. There are the people you serve directly; their families and friends; their communities; other nonprofits; corporations. The list goes on and on. But in the day to day grind, it can be challenging for any nonprofit professional to step away from their work and be deliberate and intentional about building their community.

And yet, it needs to be done.

We know this. We know we need to be talking with each other and sharing ideas and doing collaborative work. We know we cannot accomplish our goals all by ourselves. By talking to each other we gain new perspectives, new insights, new resources, new ways of challenging our own thinking that can only make us stronger in the work that we do.

And yet, we aren’t doing that.

We don’t have the time. We don’t know where to start. We don’t want to give up our closely-guarded secrets to the ‘competition.’ We don’t want to lose our ownership in the stakes we have planted in the ground. We don’t have the time. Did I already say that?

Gaining a Broad Perspective

One of the most amazing things about my job is that I get to talk to all kinds of community members. I have the luxury of learning about different people and groups who are involved in nonprofit work in some capacity, and so it is easier for me to see this potential for connective tissue within our communities.

When we write the feature content for the Philanthropy Journal, we focus on a different mission area of the nonprofit sector each month, highlighting the great work organizations are doing from all corners of the country. Through sharing these stories and these lessons learned, we hope to strengthen the nonprofit sector. What has become the unintended thread that runs throughout this body of work has been the theme of community partnerships. Successful organizations are not operating in a vacuum. They rely on their community to achieve their missions.

So how do you gain perspective?

It is hard. It takes time. It takes work. At first, you may have to force it, but it becomes easier once it moves from practice to habit.

Figure out how to identify people as part of your community. We know it is everybody, but how do you make that a realistic and manageable number of meaningful connections? Start by identifying gaps in your network. Who are you not reaching out to? What relationships do you need to have to support your work?

Once you have identified the gaps, reach out to these people and start fostering those relationships. Ask yourself, who are the people that your network knows? Can they introduce you? It’s as simple as saying, “I’m doing this. Who should I talk to?”

Cold calling also works. People inherently like to be helpful, and people love to talk about themselves. Who do you want to have in your community? Reach out to them and invite them to coffee. Know what your ask is, and be transparent about your intentions. And then ask them who they can connect you with. Always be on the lookout for ways that you can connect others.

Your community is everyone, whether you know them or not. Once you start exploring, you may be surprised at what you find. I would never have suspected corporations needed me.

We can’t do this alone, and we shouldn’t do this alone, and we can’t be #NonprofitSTRONG without engaging with each other, within and across sector boundaries.

By Sandy Cyr, Managing Editor, Philanthropy Journal

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