This article on community advocates is part of the Meeting the Needs Series that is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
There are likely many “do-gooders” in your community. Sometimes it’s part of their job to be community advocates and helpers for a large company or government entity. Other times they’re just individuals who understand the importance of giving back and have a passion for an under-served niche or demographic. Either way, they likely could use the chamber’s help and you might need theirs.
Here’s how you can begin to serve as a resource for this special group of people.
What Is a Community Advocate?
For the purposes of this article, when we refer to “community advocates” we are using a broad term to refer to people who are assisting individuals in the community. They operate in both the public and the private sector and can advocate for any group that is under-served, underprivileged or in need. We are not referring to online community advocates, although they may desire and require some of the same things.
Community advocates provide direct assistance by doling out resources (including information on assistance programs) or advocate for legislation that would help the group they represent.
They are often:
- founders or staff of nonprofits
- board members of nonprofits
- staff of government agencies or councils
- patient advocates in health care
As you can tell from the job titles and areas of work, “community advocate” is a broad term, and occasional job title, that crosses over industries and groups requiring assistance. The role could be a job or a volunteer position.
Their job duties may include things that the chamber can easily help with including their needs such as:
- attending/hosting public meetings
- attending neighborhood/association/council meetings
- meeting with public officials
- rallying business owners and other organizations
- holding info nights
Community advocates may also organize or attend public rallies, educate the community on their group’s needs, and host fundraisers.
What Do Community Advocates Need Most?
In order to find out exactly what your community advocates need, you’ll likely have to talk to them. However, you can assume all community advocates have some things in common and some basic needs they share.
- attention and word of mouth
- marketing and social media best practices
- volunteers and ways to meet/recruit more
- grassroots know-how
Looking over this list you’re likely struck by all the things on it that the chamber is in a good position to help with. Let’s go over how you can assist them with the things your community advocates need most.
Money helps any organization do a little bit more of everything. Without money, you have to be extremely creative. While the chamber’s budget (and/or bylaws) may not allow direct donations, there are many ways you can help them get the financial assistance they require for getting the word out.
Chambers can host events that raise money directly for a cause or a demographic or they can host an event for multiple groups at the same time and split the money. Another idea is that the chamber can work with businesses that want to become more involved and make the proper introductions.
Finally, the chamber can host a pitch session that would allow startups and nonprofits to pitch their needs to community leaders.
Attention and Word of Mouth
Attention and word of mouth can be attained from events as well, so the ideas above also apply to this need. But why stop there?
If the community advocate is affiliated with a nonprofit, they may be interested in working with your chamber in some capacity. Sometimes lists are shared. Sometimes common events are held. You can use your social media streams to help publicize theirs.
Finally, business owners share a lot with the chamber. You likely know what they’re interested in, what their passion is, and how they hope to make a difference. It is possible you can be a bridge connecting those in need with those who want to give. You can also help community advocates get the word out about their needs through your social media outlets, newsletter, email blasts, and others.
Marketing and Social Media Best Practices
Community advocates are often not working with large budgets. If your chamber offers inexpensive or free-with-membership programming on important topics like marketing and social media best practices, you could likely help them with a chamber membership.
Some chambers offer non-profit pricing or reciprocal memberships with various community organizations. If you don’t, it is still valuable to show them the free training and seminars they could receive just by being members, not to mention the connections they could make as part of the chamber.
Volunteers and Ways to Meet/Recruit More
If they have a physical location, you could create a volunteer flash mob. Instead of asking people to visit a business and spend money, you would arrange for a group of volunteers to assemble and perform a particular task. This is a fun way to get people involved in various non-profits throughout the community. Give them some information about what kind of work they will be doing (working with people, manual labor, administrative tasks, etc.) and then reveal the lucky group right before you report for duty.
If one doesn’t exist in your community already, you could publish a volunteer needs board on your website or within your newsletter making people aware of the community needs. This is a good idea because so many people have volunteer requirements these days, especially students. At first glance, this might appear like you’re handing over your volunteers to other entities but you are really strengthening your position as a connector and integral to your community’s success, a very valuable place to be in.
Being a community advocate requires a lot of grassroots efforts. While many people understand grassroots with respect to social media and how to grow an online audience, some are at a loss on how to do it in-person/offline.
Your chamber likely has a wealth of knowledge of how to do that. You may even be able to mentor someone on the basics of this type of advocacy. If you don’t, you may be able to introduce a new community advocate with one who has been very successful in establishing their cause.
You may also be in a position to match complementary groups with one another. For instance, a community advocacy group dedicated to finding safe affordable housing for seniors may be very happy to know there’s a group out there helping seniors find ways to pay their utility bills. Yes, even community advocates need targeted networking.
Creating a Mutually Beneficial Relationship
Finally, this needn’t be about how the chamber and its members can provide this community advocate with time and money. Quite the opposite. It may be that the niche served by a community advocate is of interest to your members as well. The advocate may be able to shape and guide their path. For instance, there may be a community advocate for helping entrepreneurs or start-ups. There may be one who knows a lot about the grant writing process or submitting a request for funds.
They may be able to share that information with your membership either in a resource capacity or through your programming. You may be able to use their advice in a consulting sense or have them review member grant applications as a special event (in this example).
Community advocates may not initially see the value in a chamber membership but there are a lot of areas in which you can help. Even if they do not elect to become a member, you can continue to support them acting as a bridge between your membership and their organization by helping them address their needs. This needn’t be a one-way street. A community advocate may be able to help your members as well.
There are networking groups and countless events in your community that are competing for the chamber’s members. But the way to truly differentiate yourself from them is by claiming stake to something you already are–a connector focused in community growth with a stellar reputation in business and the trust of the community. Aligning with a strong mix of community advocates can help you expand that reputation of help into a new generation and sector.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.