Community Relations is when businesses become involved in the community. We see many examples around us. Take the case when a business donates money to nonprofit organisations (NGOs) or when employees volunteer at a fundraising event and so on.
Today, Community Relations is prominently, part and parcel of marketing strategies. When organisations extend support through goods, services, or time, they are strengthening the community – making it a better place to live and do business. In turn, businesses earn some plus points: like they will stand out from competition, their product or service will be showcased prominently before the public, and definitely, they will gain visibility.
It’s important to pick an appropriate cause based on your own or customers’ interest. Organisations can align with worthy causes by identifying core needs, problems or opportunities in the community. Then pick a cause that is appropriate for them to be associated with. Take for example, if your business caters to families, consider supporting youth sports, child welfare projects, or literacy; if your product appeals to women, consider supporting marital abuse programs, shelters or breast cancer awareness campaigns.
Research has revealed that eight out of ten people say they purchased from a business because they approve of its involvement with the community. The winning edge is: position yourself as a community giver, and you’ll benefit from the goodwill effects that perhaps advertising alone cannot buy.
Adding community relations to marketing strategy is not only beneficial to organisations, but they can also get better at leveraging those opportunities to grow their businesses.
In order to increase community involvement, some points must be taken into account. All the people in the area must be made aware of the special initiative (through leaflets, ads etc). Information must be provided so that local residents can see the direct impact the initiative will have on their own lives. Alternatively, keep the local residents, who are not directly involved, informed of the active involvement of some of their local peers. It must be ensured that consultation events and community forum meetings as well as report progresses are advertised to everyone around.
What are the pros?
Community Relations build credibility for you and your business. It builds personal relationships with customers. It can be said that Community Relations work well with advertising. Community Relations is a soft-sell approach that can make your customers more receptive to your advertising. It can definitely be a stepping stone for Public Relations, which leads to creating goodwill.
What are the cons?
The first ‘con’ is the time factor, for community relations can consume a huge amount. All that volunteering can utilise a lot of working and/or leisure hours. There is a long waiting period to realize results – for you implement a community relations plan for the long haul.
Effective practices in improving community involvement:
The impact of community involvement can be attributed to some factors that have worked. These include:
- Publicising and raising the awareness of the initiative among all members of the local community
- Involving local residents in the management of the project
- Identifying local circumstances that may present barriers to effective community involvement (eg lack of transport infrastructure) and acting on these
- Acknowledging the diversity of local communities and developing both targeted and universal strategies to reach all members of the local community, including traditionally ‘hard to reach’ groups such as women, young people, people with a disability and members of minority ethnic groups
- Providing a variety of opportunities for training and support for local people and professionals
- Using regular evaluation of the initiative as a tool to identify barriers to community involvement and actions to address these
- Establishing effective ways of partnership working between statutory and non-statutory agencies and the local community
What are the potential obstacles to effective community involvement?
The factors that may create barriers to greater community involvement include a number of circumstances.
Most obviously, it could be the local residents’ lack of time or interest in the activities of the initiative. It may be poor results from earlier activities in the same area. If there is provision of separate channels for involvement for particular groups (eg those with a particular age or ethnicity) it can be worthwhile, but they require a lot of support. Other obstacles could be: a rigid agenda set in advance, which is not open to the influence of community involvement and consultation or increased pressure on local residents. Sometimes it can be a small number of local people who nearly always dominate community involvement, and this can deter others from taking part. And, lastly, it could just be lack of sufficient funding!