Community Engagement

Lessons from the NFL: What they can teach us about Strategic Planning and Community Engagement

Strategic Planning Community Engagement Ideas

It’s no surprise that the NFL is going through some major changes, ones that are forcing the organization to think more consciously and critically not only about their bottom line, but also about who their key constituents are, both on and off the field. Although professional football players of color have long used their platforms as a way to bring attention to social justice issues, when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem in 2016 in protest to the treatment of African Americans and other minorities in this country, he brought to the surface a flood of controversial issues regarding, race, class, police brutality, and the commodification of black athletes. It’s fair to say that the NFL has been pretty tepid in their response to this issue, offering very little by way of making a statement that shows they understand what Kaepernick is really protesting. And quite frankly, when 70 percent of the league’s players and only 7 percent of head coaches are black, and 94 percent of franchise owners are white, now would be the perfect time for the league to gain insight on their strategic direction.[1]

Throughout any strategic planning process, we never promise our clients that it will be easy. In fact, we often warn them that the process will likely be uncomfortable as it deals with issues of race and class and that the information gathered may force them to grapple with key issues as they pertain to their work and the communities they serve.  It is also our practice to encourage our clients to be intentional about the voices they include in the strategic planning process in order to ensure that all of their key constituents’ needs are heard and valued.

If we could do Strategic Planning for the NFL

For the NFL, this would mean making a decision to not only speak to franchise owners or head coaches about the direction of the organization. It would mean ensuring that the 1,187 black players in the league[2] are included in the process and have their voices heard. It would mean seeing them as actual human beings who have the right and ability to use their spheres of influence to bring attention to social justice issues, and most importantly, it would mean seeing them for who they are: black men who, despite their professional athlete status, still have to deal with the inequalities that come with being a minority in this country.

The Possibilities

There are middle of the road strategic plans, ones that encourage an organization to stay the course, and there are transformative plans, those that not only force an organization to move beyond the status quo but force them to really lean into their goals and strategies in a way that makes clear who and what the organization stands for.

Perhaps your organization is not at a turning point as pivotal as the NFL. But, it’s fair to say that as the political and social climate in this country change, it is important to constantly be thinking about how issues of race and class play a role within your organization. Look internally at your workforce, or externally, out into the communities you serve. What are they saying and how are you choosing to listen or not listen to their needs? How are you choosing to value their voices as you plan for the future of your organization?






Where Do You Live? The Importance of Listening to the Community

Guidance for Strategic Planning, Community Planning, and Change

As humans we often identify with where we live as a way to tell part of the story of who we are. So do you live in Richmond or RVA? Do you live in Northside or Southside? If you have a preference, where does that preference come from? What if your name had a negative connotation to it - informed by the feelings of others?  Below read three short stories on the importance of honoring the community voice in any kind of work. 

Listening to Youth: Changing The Name of a Program

In 2017, Richmond Peace Education Center launched the Gilpin Court Youth Peace Team. This innovative project took the amazing goodness of the Richmond Youth Peace Project and deployed it into a place based initiative to teach peer conflict resolution skills to teens living in and around Gilpin Court, one of Richmond's Public Housing Neighborhoods. Within the first few meetings the teens gathered objected to being called the Gilpin Court Youth Peace Team and renamed themselves the Jackson Ward Youth Peace Team. To them, their home was Jackson Ward.  RPEC made the shift, honoring the voice of the teen leaders. 

East End or Church Hill: Impact of Gentrification on Neighborhood Names

Earlier this year as part of a larger project for a nonprofit working in the East End we gathered neighbors, staff, board, and community partners together to explore the brand and words being used by this nonprofit. While we explored the brand of the nonprofit and began a list of words we liked and those we didn't like, the idea of where the organization did its work and the boundaries of that work came up. One of the neighbors said something along the lines of - "What image does everyone have when we say East End?" This launched into a great discussion on the boundaries of the East End and the negative connotation that it has in the city from other people. We explored why people who live in Church Hill might not identify with East End and how East End is most often improperly associated with low income and poverty, when in fact it encompasses many diverse neighborhoods. The organization ultimately decided to own the expansive definition of East End to describe their program location. 

Manchester or Blackwell: The Story of Historic Tax Designations and The Role of Neighborhood Voices

 Used with permission from Leaders of The New South - Council on Community Housing. For more information, please visit their Facebook page. 

Used with permission from Leaders of The New South - Council on Community Housing. For more information, please visit their Facebook page. 

Manchester is seeing a significant amount of investment from outside groups. There are restaurants and new housing being added regularly. To leverage this investment to its fullest, developers are seeking to take a current Historic Designation that is active in Manchester and expand it into parts of Swansboro and Blackwell. Over the last few days I have seen some significant pushing back from neighbors in those communities about the re-naming of the neighborhood without consultation. If you want to follow along, Leaders of The New South* has a series of Facebook posts that provide some historical context, official maps, and a platform for community voice. This is a great example of needing to include the community in any major change. I would expect more community unrest and pushback the longer they are excluded. If the developers involved in this project want to practice community engagement, they need to take a deep breath and listen. 

What Can We Learn

As we have read above, names matter. Community engagement, when done well looks more like listening than planning. Great community engagement leads to vibrant change and supportive communities - it involves everyone being heard and deciding their fate as a group. We are happy to help you think through best steps as you navigate change. 


* Leaders of the New South - Community Council for Housing describes themselves as: The Community Council on Housing leads the demand for the implementation and enforcement of fair housing policy for renters in disenfranchised communities.