Am I Working on Engagement or Outreach?

When I started in the nonprofit industry, “outreach” was the big buzzword. Community outreach, educational outreach, outreach to underserved audiences, you name it.

Today, it’s all about engagement. Engage urban audiences. Community engagement. Civic engagement.

Why the change and, more importantly, what’s the difference?

Outreach goes in one direction. You → Audience. Your organization is giving a product or providing a service, and that’s where your interaction with your audience or constituents ends. This isn’t a bad thing–in fact, it can be great. There are fantastic, successful outreach programs for AIDS patients, and homeless students, and unemployed workers. People benefit greatly from these services, and you can show lots of positive results to your donors and trustees.

Engagement is a two-way street. You ←→ Audience. Your organization not only gives a product or provides a services, it also continues to communicate with that audience, and you build off of each other to grow and thrive in the community. You could build relationships with the patients in your AIDS program, and invite them to speak at fundraisers. You could create student buddy tutoring programs, And you could hold networking events with local businesses looking to hire local skilled workers.

Engagement is always about relationship-building. And it’s always about making genuine connections with people and helping them achieve positive results in their lives–not just in your annual reports.