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When nonprofits discuss their work and the people they serve, the word “community” is frequently used.

  • “We seek to help the community.”
  • “Our work increases a sense of community.”
  • “…communities in need.”

Exploring the concept of community within the context of different nonprofits, their causes, and their audiences may reveal ways to better understand and support their respective missions. But where does this process begin?

First, consider three ways to clarify the concept of community:

1. A community of stakeholders within an organization

There are people within a nonprofit that are committed to helping advance the mission. Examples include staff members, Board members, and volunteers.

2. Recipients of the work a nonprofit provides

This is the population a nonprofit aims to serve.

3. Collaboration among organizations

This is a collective of like-minded organizations with mutual goals to improve the lives of a similar population or solve a similar problem. Examples include organizations involved with collective impact efforts, mergers, affiliations, and strategic partnerships.

Each of these perspectives are valid. But it’s important for nonprofits to be clear about what they mean by community because the term means different things to different audiences. Nonprofits can ensure accurate messaging, both internally and externally, if they are clear about how they define community.

A relevant example concerned with community and being clear about what that means comes from the mission statement by the Center for Community Progress, a national leader on solutions for blight and vacancy:

“The mission of the Center for Community Progress is to create vibrant communities primarily through the reuse of vacant, abandoned, and problem properties in America’s cities and towns. Community Progress helps local and state governments seize the potential of these properties for the economic and social benefit of their communities. We help leaders advocate for and implement the policy changes to prevent abandonment and to reuse these properties.”

The Center for Community Progress mentions “community” twice in their mission statement. They do a great job defining what that means. For nonprofits that similarly have identified community as a core piece of their mission, they would benefit to follow the Center’s example by being clear about what community means. And the nonprofits able to do this will create clear messages that are understood and embraced, both internally and externally.

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