Your Brand Here! Strategically Assessing Community Engagement for post-COVID-19
by Lesley Johnson

  • Community Engagement

    COVID-19 has temporarily closed some of our favorite events (SXSW for example), which has put a strain on city planning, nonprofit fundraising, and corporate community outreach.

    Some organizations have found a way to continue outreach by retooling their plants to manufacture supplies for frontline workers. However, many have found their organizations sidelined and are wondering how to adapt to this reality.

As stressful as this environment is, it could be an opportunity to evaluate where your company or nonprofit has been and where it wants to go. Has what you’ve been doing up until now served you well? Is it time to adjust plans, change directions entirely, or double down on your current strategy? Do you have data that can help you answer strategic questions?

As a dedicated leadership volunteer with a variety of nonprofit groups, I led several organizations in establishing initiatives and setting strategic goals. I managed events that depended on synergies between our membership and other organizations in our community. We planned strategic partnerships with other nonprofits and corporate community-outreach divisions. Some of our efforts were in partnership with local citywide events.

Throughout my experiences, I never had hard data on how well our efforts worked for us or the sponsors and vendors. I could track the money coming in and going out and the number of volunteers and attendees from year to year. But I never knew the answers to important questions. Do people in our community actually want to attend the types of events we put so much effort into? Were we trying to reach the wrong demographic? What would make our event more appealing to the community?

To combine my passion for nonprofits with my work at a custom research firm, we recently asked our consumer panelists a couple of key questions to find out how they engage with businesses in their community. More than 5,000 respondents answered our questions. We asked them what types of civic or fundraising events they attend at least once a year and how much they like to interact with vendors that run booths at these events.

Event Attendance
  • Among the general population, 4 in 10 consumers have attended some type of civic or fundraising event in the past year.
  • It turns out that people most prefer holiday festivals—think Christkindlmarkt, Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, or Oktoberfest. One-quarter of our respondents had attended one of these events in the past year. Following closely behind are food festivals, like Taste of [your town], ChocolateFest, or even restaurant week. Third-most popular (but to a lesser degree) are citywide art and music festivals, like Millennium Art Festival in Chicago, Wildflower! Arts & Music Festival in Dallas-Fort Worth, or Sloan’s Lake Art & Music Festival in Denver. (Note: We did not name specific events in our questions. These are merely examples of the genres.)
  • Surprisingly, 5K/10K fun runs are not very popular. Only 6% of those we surveyed say they have participated in such an event in the past year. I say “surprisingly” because these seem to be extremely common in my area.
  • Not surprising: Galas/Balls and fashion shows inspire little engagement from the broader community. However, I know from experience that these events do have great appeal to a specialized audience. Many nonprofits host these with great success, but generally they are highly tailored to niche markets.

Community Engagement

Interaction With Vendors
  • The good news is that event-goers really do like to talk to vendors' operating booths. Two-thirds of those who have attended an event in the past year say they like to take samples, enter giveaway contests, and gather coupons/flyers from vendors. Only 7% say they prefer not to talk to vendors.

What does this mean for nonprofits and companies wanting to engage their brands more broadly with the communities they serve? Is there some way to attract the 60% who have not participated in an event?

Community and charitable events are good for nonprofits—and good for corporate marketing.

  • Nonprofits should make the effort to really dig into their event data to define the value to potential corporate sponsors. Do you know your event’s value proposition to be able to sell it to potential sponsors? Who is attending your event? What are the participants expecting from sponsors and vendors?
  • Corporations may benefit from strategic partnerships with events in their area. Visitors are willing to talk to your booth team. This provides a way for you to test new products or even drive future purchases by handing out coupons.
  • If you already have partnerships, research should be done to ensure that they are adding value. Do you know how much brand awareness you have gained from them? Do consumers think they are a good fit for your brand? Or do they detract from your corporate strategy?
  • City planners are doing well hosting big events that people attend, but your organization may have work to do marketing the events to drive broader community engagement. Do you know how to reach these citizens? Are you actually offering events that citizens of your city would want to attend? Is the demographic draw for the headlining event different than that for the makeup of your city?

As nonprofits, businesses, and city planners look ahead to a post-COVID-19 landscape, many will be looking for ways to reach out or effectively engage consumers. Now is the time to make those critical plans. Perhaps you should build that socially responsible partnership. With the social-distancing requirement limiting the scale of (and even the possibility of hosting) these events, now is a good time to dig in and develop a strategic plan. Do research with your membership and the broader community to ask them questions that will help guide your strategy. Take time now to re-evaluate and, if necessary, change direction to ensure that your planned event or big sponsorship is the right one for the post-COVID-19 world.

About the Author

Lesley Johnson ( is a Senior Project Director at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


Copyright © 2020 by Decision Analyst, Inc.
This posting may not be copied, published, or used in any way without written permission of Decision Analyst.


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