How to effectively engage with a community

Are you working on a project that requires support from a community of people? Do you find it challenging to get them interested in your initiative?

Engaging with a community is often difficult. People are busy, over-committed, and overloaded with information and offers. So how can you rise above the noise to get their attention and involve them in your project? For advice on this question, I turned to an expert in the art of community engagement.

Since 2014, Laura Cuthbert has worked as an Experience Curator for Kudoz, a small start-up charity in Vancouver. Kudoz is a learning exchange: they find people from the community, called hosts, who provide learning experiences for adults with cognitive disabilities. Laura’s job is to recruit these volunteer hosts, and to work with them to develop interactive learning sessions based on their interests and passions. As she told me, “I talk, mostly to strangers, about the awesome stuff they like. Then I help them build the most exciting, most immersive, most jam-packed hour long learning experiences they can.”

Above all else, Laura is a community mobilizer — and so the perfect person to ask for advice on how to effectively engage with a community. Here are her top tips:

Community is reciprocal: what are you offering? – You’ll be more successful engaging with your community if you give back. If everyone has something to share, know what you and your experiences bring to the table. Ask yourself, what value can I provide? Share it freely. Be aware that one thing you do might be transferable to people in lots of different ways.

Know your ask, and make it clear – When reaching out to your community, be clear about what you’re asking for. What do you really need? And make sure you have back up questions. If someone can’t help you with one part, they might have insight to help with other parts of your needs. Know the other things you need, and ask for them too.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – Find your tribe. Connect with other people doing similar work — and if you want to be a part of the movement, work together!

Know where people stand – Don’t push people, if they aren’t interested, there’s no point in trying to convince them. The best way to sway people is through action.

Keep the feel good moments going – Be sure to spread word about the positive impact that your project is making. This could be through mail outs, blogs, videos, or letting people know in person. People want to know that their actions helped to make a difference. Be sure to tell them about the results you achieve. Show them that their contribution really matters.

Fearlessly meet people, and follow up – This can be scary, even downright daunting. But you’ve got this! Be sure to follow up. Meeting 100 people who like your project is completely worthless unless you give them a way to get involved.