Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shining the Light on Community Impact – How One Group Does It

Few organizations can survive, let alone thrive, if they haven’t figured out what unique, special or precise value they bring to the people and places where they do business. But that’s not all there is to it. Are those outside of your world understanding and appreciating what you do and why you exist? How are you telling your story to those who should be hearing it? To those who can help you thrive?

Recently I had the privilege of facilitating a legislative forum designed by a partnership of agencies in southwest Minnesota that have a history of collegiality and cooperation in helping people prepare for and find jobs. Southwest Adult Basic Education, Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council and programs within the Minnesota Workforce Center - Marshall do an impressive job of telling their story and demonstrating their impact each year to an important, influential audience – local, state and national policymakers.

Forum planners make the community impact message interesting, relevant, personal - and according to one state legislator who estimates he’s been there for “about 9 forums” and wouldn’t miss it - effective in helping him understand each year who benefits and how the programs are making a difference. We know that real people/real stories are a great way to shine the light on what you do. That is, customers or consumers talking about their experiences with your services, rather than you or staff simply reporting on what you do. Read about how these agencies make the powerful personal stories the centerpiece of their forum in this Spreading the word about education, jobs programs article published by Marshall Independent on the day after the event.

I want to mention here too that all of the key ingredients in the event: cooperating agencies, front-line staffers, local turf, authentic consumers, local media and elected public leaders all come together in this light and space for just a little over an hour. It’s a facilitation challenge to be sure, but it’s another reason I believe this example of sharing the news on community impact works for this group. Hats off to all involved. I’m still thinking about the stories I heard and the people I met there, and very much appreciate how these programs enrich our communities.

What has worked well to shine the light on your organization’s community impact? Please share it here with our readers.

Lois Schmidt, NRS, Willmar Charter

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