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7 Resources for Establishing Authentic Connections with Communities

At the heart of every social impact organization is the community it exists to serve. The people who a nonprofit empowers inspire mission statements and motivate teams to show up and be present at work. It’s easy, however, for the humanity of these communities to get lost in day-to-day operations.

Nurturing authentic relationships with your organization’s community, whether through storytelling, research, or program co-creation, takes time and dedicated effort. It requires perspective shifts and sometimes challenging conversations. But it’s a worthy—no, necessary—pursuit for organizations aspiring to live their values.

Here’s a roundup of our favorite resources for establishing authentic connections with the communities one serves and/or represents. These articles have been influential in guiding and challenging how we approach our work, and we hope they provide the same value for you.

Creating Collaborative Solutions with Communities

We’re big fans of design thinking. So we love the strategies community-based researcher Aakanksha Sinha shares here to promote empathy, authenticity, and collaboration between nonprofits and the communities they serve during program design.

Empower Beneficiaries, Then Get Out of Their Way

This article from Classy powerfully suggests that empowering beneficiaries to be partners in program design is the most effective way to ensure long-term, sustainable change. Sometimes, success looks like stepping away and letting local actors be the drivers of future solutions.

Turning Many Voices into Durable Change

This article from the Narrative Institute defines the concept of polyvocal narrative strategy and explores the ways in which it can create durable narrative change. Our favorite quote: “a polyvocal approach is like an ocean current, pulling water across the ocean and holding the power to shape landscapes.”

8 Ways to Empower People to Show up as Active Co-Creators in Your Community

Fostering authentic relationships with communities goes beyond research methods—creating an environment conducive to empathy, connection, and co-creation is an equally important facet of community engagement that’s often overlooked.

Ethical Storytelling: Communication without Exploitation

Social impact organizations commonly place storytelling at the heart of their communications strategy. But what are the ethics of sharing a beneficiary’s story? This article breaks down the emerging ethical storytelling movement, and the ways it might impact nonprofit communicators.

Getting Single-Minded: Why Research Matters

This article from the Communications Network makes the case for empathetic research methods, and explains why research is often one of the most powerful tools nonprofits can use to understand and check-in with their communities without making assumptions.

Authentic Partnerships for Nation Building

This article from the First Nations Development Initiative interrogates the ways in which the standard philanthropic mindset centers a Western perspective that focuses on problems, needs, and deficits—and often flies in the face of non-Western cultural values.


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