By Anna Upchurch, JVA Consulting

As a community, are we doing enough to work together?

In order to see how Denver organizations involved in community work are actively engaging their communities, I set out to conduct at least 20 interviews with local leaders and residents to ask how well we are working together. More specifically, are community organizations across Denver including the community in their decision-making? Here’s what I found.

In 43 percent of my interviews with nonprofit leaders and government representatives, the answer is no. Fifty-seven percent of interviewees generally agree that, while nonprofit organizations and government agencies are trying to involve the community in their decisions or have found the middle ground, there is definitely still room to grow, improve and make community engagement more meaningful.

So why haven’t we done more to include the community in organizational or agency work? Because involving the community, the right way, is difficult, requires thoughtfulness, and often includes a degree of power shift back to the community. Community engagement requires organizations to put the people of a community before the organization itself (for example by hiring staff or appointing board members from the community it represents). Despite this fact, engaging the community is the right thing to do. Good businesses respond effectively to their customers. Shouldn’t community organizations do the same?

Richard Harwood succinctly summarizes the importance of authentic community engagement in this YouTube video.

On a local level, The Denver Foundation and other organizations are working with community groups to put theories of community engagement into action. See exactly how community engagement guidelines can be used in practice.

Picture courtesy of Servicios de la Raza