Say you’re part of a new foundation, or one that is re-inventing itself, or even one that’s been around for a bit but has gotten a bit lethargic. You’re ready to step up, infuse energy into your work and rally community support. That’s fantastic! But you may also be somewhat fearful or hesitant. What if the community doesn’t like what you’re doing? What if your big idea or new direction doesn’t work? What if the community likes it too much and you’re overrun with demands and requests? These kinds of fears are normal.
One important key to managing your foundation’s transition in a community is to manage – and then exceed – community expectations. Here are 8 tips to help you do just that:
- Know where you’re going. If you have a crystal clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get there, it is much easier to explain yourself to stakeholders, grantees, grantseekers, community partners and others. Invest the time up front to learn deeply about needs. Invest time to plan your new direction and create a strong vision and a logical set of goals.
- Talk with your community, not at Engaging community members or key partners in the learning and planning of an initiative is always a best practice. It allows you to build a shared set of expectations instead of your foundation dictating to a community what it should expect from you.
- Commit to continuous learning and be clear about your intent. Telling your community from the start that you don’t have all the answers and will be learning (along with them) as you go is perfectly okay. You may have resources, but they likely have knowledge and experience that you’ll need to use those resources most effectively.
- Acknowledge that change takes time. The challenges your community faces probably didn’t spring up overnight. The solutions you pursue probably won’t either. Be prepared to talk about the long-term nature of social change without apology. On the other hand, be clear about the length of your commitment. If you’re only going to invest in early childhood for a year or two, say so up front. If you’re in it for a decade, make that clear from day one.
- Understand the difference between aspiration and expectation. You may have a grand vision of creating an affordable pre-k seat for every child in your community, but the reality may be that you can only secure half that number. It’s okay to promote a grand vision, as long as you also are clear about the current reality, what you can confidently achieve, and the need to create further strategies to fill the gap. Doing so not only helps manage current expectations, but can also rally others to the cause in ways that will eventually exceed those current expectations.
- Spell out the limits of your own capacity. The more information you can share about the amount of funding, duration of funding, types of organizations that can receive funding, and kinds of funding (e.g. program grants, general operating support, technical assistance, etc.), the better. You can also be up front about the needs you have and where others can be of assistance. For example, perhaps you need to partner with subject matter experts, or advocacy groups, or government agencies in order to be most effective. Let your community know.
- Call upon the power of leverage. Be clear from the start (internally and externally) that you can’t do this work alone. Collaboration with others allows you to leverage one another’s strengths and identify potential weaknesses in your approach. It also means that other organizations in your community are equally invested in the success of your work and accountable to community expectations.
- Communicate early and often. There is no way you can over-communicate about your work. However, there is most certainly the possibility of under-communicating. When you don’t share your intent openly, members of your community will draw their own assumptions – and it’s amazing how fast assumptions can become “facts.” Instead, share your messages consistently with your community and engage them in ongoing conversation at every step.
When you use these eight tips, your community will always know what to expect from your foundation, and what you expect from them as well. As a result, you – and your entire community – will know when expectations are met and when they are exceeded. Better yet, you’ll know that you met or exceeded those expectations together.