What does community engagement look like when it’s based on trust, respect, and fair pay?
Picture this: it’s winter 2020. The country is hot on the heels of a reckoning around racial justice and inequity. Organizations, especially public agencies, are scrambling to make good on their promises to include diverse voices in their decision making. And because TVA employs experts in community outreach to diverse communities, suddenly our scrappy little agency is in high demand. It feels like everyone wants to do a survey, interview series, or focus group with BIPOC communities.
We give out a lot of gift cards and stipends. We call in a lot of favors. And we hear from our community partners that they are burning out.
Then, in early 2021, Satterberg Foundation hired TVA to write a series of stories about a new model for charitable giving called Trust-Based Philanthropy. This groundbreaking model is changing the power dynamics between donors, nonprofits, and communities in incredible ways. It also happens to work better. Turns out, people who feel trusted do better work, which leads to better outcomes.
We felt inspired and validated. We dreamed big about how we could do outreach differently, based on the idea that it is a two-way street that must be clearly beneficial to everyone involved. And so the idea for Shatter + Forge—TVA’s new, groundbreaking model for community engagement—was born. It took some fine tuning and testing, but today, we’re excited to share it with the world.
First: Pay people what they’re worth.
If you want to consult an expert, start by treating and paying people like experts. Gift cards may work for some activities, but often they will not be enough for complex or prolonged expertise.
Next: Respect people’s time.
Shatter + Forge offers different levels of engagement that allow folks to participate on their own time and schedule:
Community Contributors (one-off gigs; low expertise and commitment): We maintain a roster of diverse individuals willing to participate in surveys, focus groups, and interviews for pay.
Mutual benefit: Contributors get paid to learn about projects and initiatives that affect their communities, and companies benefit from deeper and more meaningful feedback.
Community Networkers (part-time gig; mid- to high-level expertise and commitment): A Networker can be an individual community leader or a community-based organization. They participate in a TVA project for up to twelve months.
Mutual benefit: Networkers get paid a consultant rate for their expertise while developing skills and expanding their networks. And because TVA pays Networkers directly, our clients can more easily maintain respectful boundaries, which in turn prevents burnout and resentment in the community.
Finally: Establish checks and balances.
Equity Advisory Board (high expertise; low commitment): TVA could not do this work responsibly without people from outside our organization who hold us accountable to our social justice approach and practices.
Mutual benefit: The Equity Board identifies issues in the community, helps solve problems, and leverages their networks to ensure TVA consistently builds and sustains strong community relationships. Beyond pay, board members also get access to insider knowledge that can benefit their communities.
You may have noticed that, despite the Shatter + Forge trademark, we are giving a lot away about this approach. And that is because we want others to use it. We envision a landscape in which this scalable model becomes the new, gold standard for community outreach. Are you ready to join us?