BMP Conference Sessions on Community Engagement


Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Austin may be famed for the South by Southwest music festival, but from September 17 to 19, it was the gathering place for nonprofit leaders, capacity builders and consultants from all over the state of Texas, and across the country. The Alliance for Nonprofit Management held its 2014 national conference there, in partnership with the Texas Nonprofit Summit, and the Building Movement Project went to Austin to launch our “Nonprofits Integrating Community Engagement” (NICE) project.

The NICE project is a partnership with the Alliance, and will work with organizational development experts, consultants and nonprofit staff to help groups incorporate client voice and community engagement into their everyday work. By focusing on engagement as a core capacity for organizations, we plan to help service groups deepen their involvement in collective efforts to address the societal and structural barriers that leave so many people on their own to face hunger, homelessness and poverty.

Frances and I, along with Dahnesh Medora (a member of the Alliance’s board and Senior Advisor with Education Northwest) led two sessions during the conference. The first workshop attracted more than 60 people who were looking for background, case examples, and practical tools to assist service delivery groups of all types to elevate client and/or community voice. Participants identified successful models of community engagement from their own work and organizations, and were introduced to a new tool based on an “engagement cycle” originally developed by the Tamarack Institute, a group working to end poverty in Canada. The second workshop brought together a small group of practitioners – organizational development experts, capacity builders and trainers, and other consultants – to begin a process of mapping tools and resources related to client and community engagement, and to identify what else is needed.

Increasing the effectiveness and impact of the social change efforts of organizations requires keeping the voices, concerns and ideas of the people most directly impacted by social inequities at the center of the vision for collective action. As the NICE project moves forward, we will make community engagement and client participation core organizational capacities that every organization looks to develop.

If you want to join us in building the tools and training materials that will help social change minded capacity builders and service organizations, email us at

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