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How to stay connected with participants and the community

Author: 
Rebecca Reyes

Graphic of connected peopleStaying connected with participants and community members can help maintain the momentum of your program and should be part of your communications plan. You may want to remind participants when upcoming events are taking place, share updates on what happened in the dialogues, and report progress on action goals.

When participants are informed, they're better prepared to spread the word about what's happening in the program. Having more visible means of communication like a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter page can also make your progress visible to the community as a whole--including funders, media and other organizations that may want to partner with the effort.

Deciding on how to share updates will depend on multiple factors: your audience, your budget, what information you'd like to share, how much time you can spend writing and formatting updates, and the expertise of the people who will be disseminating this information. Below are six ways you can stay connected with participants and the community, along with examples of how some dialogue-to-change programs have used these mediums:

Photos

Images help bring your story to life and you can use them on almost all your marketing materials such as fliers, websites, videos, newsletters, and social media. If your program is just getting started, you can use stock photos to spruce up your marketing materials. However, photos from your own community are best, so be sure to bring a camera with you or use your phone to snap some photos at your next meeting or event.

See resources for finding and creating images for promotional materials.

 

Video

Animated media offers a break from text and stills. You can create a video from photos you took at an event, or you can use a video camera to take some action shots and interviews of participants.

See video tools to help bring your community story to life.

 

Newsletters

Newsletters give you plenty of space to showcase your program's work. You can post print newsletters on library bulletin boards and other public spaces, distribute them at meetings, and/or mail them to participants.

E-newsletters are shorter than print newsletters. You can send brief announcements, updates and reminders to a list of contacts, or you could subscribe to an e-mail marketing program. MailChimp offers a free e-newsletter program for up to 500 subscribers and VerticalResponse offers 10,000 free emails per month to 501(c)3 organizations.

Examples of programs that use print newsletters:
Turning the Tide on Poverty
Erie, Pennsylvania
Kuna, Idaho
 

Example of a program that uses e-newsletters:
Montgomery County, Maryland

 

Website or blog

You may want a website or blog to help spread the word about your dialogues, post pictures and stories from your events, and share your success with your community and potential funders. You can use an e-newsletter to link to information you post on your website or blog.

See 5 tools to help you set up a website or blog.

 

Social media

It seems like everyone is using social media like Facebook and Twitter, and using those sites can help keep people connected with your program. You could even use a Facebook page as an alternative to a website if you don’t have the resources to manage a site in addition to your other tasks. Before you start a social media page, make sure you know that your audience is on those networks and that you have the capacity to update the page(s) on a regular basis. 

See how to leverage social media in community programs.

 

Texting

Texting is often the best way to reach young people and those with limited Internet access. Use a list of contacts to send out a "mass text" when there's an update, or subscribe to a texting service to reach a large list. Check out FrontlineSMS for free texting software designed for non-profit organizations (texting fees from your phone company still apply). Like posts to Twitter, text messages need to be very short, so they're best used for brief updates and reminders. You can also use texting to have a short discussion with a small group, like Text, Talk, and Act.

Once you decide which medium to use, you need to choose someone to write and format the content. You might consider tapping into the talents of young people or approaching a local PR firm for pro bono design work.

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Addressing diversity issues in your community can be difficult and complex.  Many look to Decatur, Georgia as an example of inclusion, diversity & citizen engagement. This is an community update...

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.