May 07 2012

Community Events as a Vehicle for Integration

by Mike Styles

As a community group composed primarily of ex-pats and dedicated to volunteerism and service we have learned much about community and integration.  One of avenues we have found to be most successful in helping the ex-pat population truly integrate into our community of San Ramón has been the production of fundraising events that are of interest and value to the community at large.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this process of integration is by looking at our recent Gran Venta de Libros (book sale); our second in the past six months.  Yes, it is a book sale: how hard can that be?  Well it does involve a LOT of work however the fact that it is something we know how to do is by definition one of the reasons for its success.  Another is the fact that “reading” is an act that is universally accepted as good for the community: it is not controversial and Gringos do not own the right or the patent on reading.  Yet another reason for success, and this is the key, is the number of groups and institutions we are involved with to ensure the success of the event.

On this latter point we generally start with a venue.  In the past there has been quite a bit of internal “discussion” about where to host an event however we have learned that well known, centrally located venues are best.  In the case of the book sale we produced the event at the Museo Regional, a gorgeous historic building located adjacent to the Central Park in the heart of San Ramón.  We have worked with the museum on multiple occasions and they have executed perfectly and we both support one another’s organizations.

The next major decision is who to designate as the beneficiaries for the fundraiser: we selected two for our past book sale; the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and Dogland Animal Rescue Center.  This is one of the opportunities for true integration to take place.  Since we have a relationship with the Museum and are discussing joint initiatives such as English-language Conversation Groups we designated them as one of the beneficiaries: collaboration and integration for the recent book sale.

With the second beneficiary we wanted to spread our wings and create a new relationship.  We had consistently been hearing about the great work and the needs of the Hogar Para Ancianos (Senior Center) and designated them as our second charity.  A group of us toured the facility with the executive director and have a better understanding of their needs.  We also met with their board of directors and together will select how best to use the funds.  Ideally, this will involve volunteers from the Community Action Alliance so our members can get personally involved with the Hogar: this is crucial.

The next step is the solicitation of used books and other educational materials.  This involves going door to door and speaking with business owners and organizational leaders requesting that they allow us to use their location as a drop-off point; which we in turn will market.  For the book sale we used over ten well established and targeted drop-off points.  This grass roots type of effort really embeds the event in the community.

Then comes the marketing.  We start with a poster and flyer.  We have a graphic designer who does an excellent job with the creative and then plaster the town with both the poster and flyer: more grass roots marketing.  We distribute the flyer on foot and electronically; the latter working through organizations that we ask to distribute to their members.  One of the other purposes of the event artwork is to use it as a tool to market the event to other organizations of which we are requesting support.  An attractive, effective poster is a great tool to establish credibility and generate interest.

Then the real marketing begins.  One of the things we are proud to say we have learned is how to market to the local community.  In San Ramón, in addition to the grass roots marketing, radio and social networking are crucial.  You need a voice and radio is the way to literally put a voice behind the event.  Our local station, Radio Sideral, provides us with PSAs and will conduct multiple interviews.  The latter are wonderful as this is not just about raising funds but also raising awareness.  The interviews allow us to bring in our beneficiaries and have them talk about their respective operations.  We conduct separate interviews for each beneficiary starting two weeks in front of the event and then a final one the day before the event with the venue director as a last minute reminder.

Social networking, largely through Facebook, is the best way to create a “buzz” about the event.  San Ramón has many sites with a lot of Friends and Likes and posting on these sites is both easy and effective.   We have established a list of sites that we post on and designated individuals who have credibility on those sites to do the actual postings.  This strategy alone can reach tens of thousands of people.

The publicity cars which creep through the downtown area bellowing what most Gringos consider to be “noise pollution” are actually very effective, particularly as a last minute reminder.  Something new we are trying for this event is using people from the local Hogar Crea drug rehabilitation facility to distribute flyers.  We expect this to really get people’s attention since this is a non-traditional showing of support: most times the Hogar Crea folks are selling pens (or similar items) or simply requesting donations.  We’re paying them to distribute flyers for a worthwhile community event.

In addition to these channels we use local newspapers, English-language media, and institutional support.  The latter requires the establishment of credible, mutually-beneficial relationships.  These take time.  Over that time you learn who is capable of doing what; some organizations are more nimble and more effective at “partnering” on projects.  We know those organizations and rely on them, as they rely on us.  We do however also contact the appropriate authorities out of respect and for the sake of good communication; the latter of which all of us can do better.

Reflecting on this process you can see that we literally are in touch with hundreds of organizations; some more than others depending on the event.  This requires the full participation of our own organization and thankfully our experience has shown that there is usually a high level of interest and participation in fundraising events: people get excited and involved.

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