Donovan Group Insights

How to Connect With Community Stakeholder Groups

School leaders tend to stay inside the communications bubble. This means they communicate with the people who are directly involved with the district—students, staff, parents and educators. While it’s important to engage these stakeholders, they’re far from the only ones who make up a school community. For many districts, communication outside of the bubble tends to fall by the wayside.

School leaders should prioritize connecting with all stakeholders, not just those who are involved with the schools’ daily operations. Some people might be less involved, but that doesn’t mean they’re less important. Alumni, non-parents and business owners are just as vital to the district’s success as students, parents and teachers.

Let’s explore who your district needs to connect with and how to do it.

Who do you need to engage?

Before you communicate, you have to pinpoint who you’re talking to. When school leaders identify their audiences, key groups like students, staff, parents and educators usually top the list. They’re the most involved with the schools’ day-to-day activities, so school leaders tend to prioritize them in the district’s communication efforts. As a result, the district connects with these groups far more than others.

Communication goes beyond the people in your schools. A school community is comprised of many other stakeholder groups, including ones who have a less obvious connection to the district. People don’t have to participate in the district’s daily operations to feel personally invested in it. The stakeholders outside of school walls are just as monumental to your district’s success as the stakeholders within them.

Here are just a few stakeholder groups who are tangentially connected to your district:

  • Non-parent adults
  • Senior citizens
  • Elected officials
  • Law enforcement
  • Business owners
  • Local reporters
  • School alumni
  • Community leaders
  • And many others

Speak to their wants and needs

A lot of community members have little to no involvement in their local school district. That’s because they often believe there’s no reason to get involved. They don’t work at the schools, they don’t have children in the schools, and they don’t need to visit the schools. Without a direct connection, the schools’ success is merely a blip on their radar.

Whether they realize it or not, community members actually have a lot of reasons to invest in your district’s success. Most of the time, stakeholders won’t discover those reasons on their own. School leaders have to help stakeholder groups understand why it’s worth investing in the district.

Community members are much more eager to get involved when they realize the district’s success will benefit them one way or another. When you communicate with people outside of the schools, you have to speak to their wants and needs. Stakeholders need a reason to get involved aside from the goodness of their hearts. Highlight what they have to gain from supporting your schools, and you’ll have a greater chance of connecting with stakeholders in your school community.

For example, asking alumni to share their experiences gives them an opportunity to inspire the newest generation of learners and to feel recognized for their achievements. Business owners will be more likely to get involved when they realize that a good education increases the number of quality candidates in the workforce. When elected officials get involved, they can better understand how the district’s success benefits their constituents.

Each stakeholder group has a different reason to get involved. It’s up to school leaders to identify those reasons and speak to them in district communications.

Help them feel like they belong

Unless they’re a student, parent or employee, stakeholders struggle to feel like they belong in their school community. It can be difficult for someone to insert themselves into fundraisers, board meetings and district initiatives when they’ve never even stepped foot onto school grounds. School leaders have a responsibility to create a friendly, inclusive atmosphere for all. They must communicate in a way that welcomes stakeholders with open arms.

Throughout your district communications, remember to use language that engages all stakeholders, not just the ones who are most closely tied to the schools. Make it clear when an event is open to the public, and encourage community members to participate in it. For instance, if you’re advertising the next board meeting, you could say, “All members of the community are invited to attend!” Let community members know that their contributions are valuable, too.

Meet stakeholders where they are

Much like students, parents and educators, an effective way to connect with community members is by engaging them through their preferred means of communication. School leaders need to think about which media channels their stakeholders use the most. Since they’re not directly involved with the schools, community members are less likely to visit the district website or view signage posted around school grounds. They won’t go out of their way to engage with the district, so school leaders have to go out of their way to engage with them.

For example, email can be a great way to stay in touch with alumni. At the end of the school year, give graduating seniors the option to subscribe to an alumni newsletter so they can stay informed about what’s happening at their alma mater. Newsletters help maintain a consistent line of communication and send the signal that alumni are still valuable members of the school community.

Print materials can also help you connect with community members. Create fliers that advertise school events, then get permission to post them on public bulletin boards. You could also apply to get a booth at city-sponsored events and hand out these fliers at local fairs or concerts. You have to get into the community to connect with the community!

The local media also has the power to grab stakeholders’ attention. When your district establishes strong media relationships, local reporters are more open to sharing the positive side of your district’s story with the general public. Reporters can share positive stories about your district through print newspapers, online articles and TV or radio segments. The community members who like to stay informed will be more in touch with what’s happening at your schools.

Create opportunities to connect in person

Email, print materials, news stories and more can help your district engage community members. At the same time, nothing engages community members like meeting them in person. Sometimes, stakeholders need to see your schools in action to understand why they should get involved. Being present at school events can help stakeholders feel like they belong in the community. Once they experience that friendly, inclusive atmosphere, they’ll be more inspired to invest in the district’s success.

There are lots of ways to connect with community members in person. Invite them to a charity concert that’s free with an optional donation. You can advertise other charitable events, too, like school-run carnivals, car washes and bake sales. These types of school events can encourage community members to support a good cause. Other events like board meetings and city hall appearances give community members a chance to make their voices heard.

As a school leader, you understand how much stakeholders matter to the success of your district. The trick is getting stakeholders to realize how much they matter! District communications need to go beyond students, parents and educators. They need to reach less involved stakeholders, especially those who believe there’s no place for them in the school community. Anyone can feel inspired to get involved.

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