Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Engaging, expanding your base

I logged in today planning to write on another topic, but my RSS feed offered a more compelling starting point.

Blogger Nancy Schwartz asks an important question in this post: "Is your organization ready to put an engaged base to work?" Drawing upon brand new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, she raises a topic that came up in my "Introduction to Nonprofits" class last semester -- namely, how do nonprofits engage new groups of people energized by the November election and expecting to assume a more active role in their communities?

It, of course, remains to be seen whether those warm feelings and good intentions will translate into actual community involvement (and, specifically, involvement in our nonprofits). But the opportunity exists, and the time for nonprofits to find ways to welcome new individuals and groups in mutually beneficial ways is now.

The Pew findings emphasize online involvement, which I believe is a great untapped resource in so many of our communities. But I'd like to expand the question to involvement of all types, particularly when it comes to advocating on public policy issues that impact your organizations and communities.

One interesting potential challenge could be finding innovative ways to engage willing supporters who are new to volunteerism and who may not immediately gravitate toward our traditional paths of involvement. (The Pew study certainly points to the need to at least consider taking a more active approach to exploring online options.) This is a question not only for this immediate challenge, but for the future of our organizations. The need -- and the opportunity -- are upon us. Creative thinking about how we engage *all* of our volunteers has never been more important.

How is your organization working to attract the interest and involvement of these newly engaged citizens? What are your initial challenges in that effort? How are you identifying these new potential volunteers and supporters? In what ways can/will you engage them, to meet their motivations and your service needs?

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