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The Meaningful Outside

I JUST FINISHED READING THE REPORT from two focus groups conducted by one of my cultural clients.  This client, like many of my clients, had never talked with constituents in quite this way before.  It's funny that a concept so basic to the for-profit world is so largely overlooked by the nonprofit world -- at least in the cultural corner.  
I've even had clients tremble with fear at the thought of talking to stakeholders about what their nonprofit does.  In one case, a client was barely able to identify a group of "non-member" community leaders to invite to a focus group.  Despite all the talk about how the current economy is forcing nonprofits to rethink their work and their relationships, many, it seems, remain in a curious bubble of isolation.
The two focus groups in question raised a wide array of perspectives about my client -- a lot of it good; some of it critical.  Some of it, I'm sure, is well known to the client.  Others of it might be complete revelation.  Each group offered suggestions for creating or strengthening community connections that ran the gamut from working more closely with the Chamber of Commerce to offering affordable family oriented special events.  The specificity of their suggestions will be helpful when the time comes to act upon them.
Another client met for the first time with a group of nonprofit leaders in its community and found a fertile ground for possible future collaborations.  Community conversations held by a local children's museum resulted in several new representatives joining the planning team.
In each instance, focus group participants were encouraged and pleased that an organization was reaching outside its four walls to tap into the meaningful outside.  After all, no nonprofit lives in isolation of its external environment.  Now that the hurdle to the outside has been successfully jumped, the organization must live up to the expectation that it will act on what it has heard.

Photo:  Streets Ahead Week of Action focus...from Hillingdon London

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