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Project Dirt have been connecting and resourcing grassroots community projects since 2011. The active network has over 14,000 members and 3,000 community projects, and uses social media to connect, promote and resource passionate people and their projects. They’ve been a partner of the Global Good Awards since 2016 and founder, Nick Gardner is about to judge for the 3rd year running.
We caught up with Project Dirt Community Manager James Baker to ask him about what makes a successful community project.
James has an enviable job: tending to the needs of Project Dirt’s nationwide network of community projects, helping them navigate and get the best out of the online platform. Not only that, but he also project manages volunteering projects, connecting private business to local groups and helping them achieve their goals. However, James’ job isn’t all online, he prefers to get out of the office where possible to visit the groups he works with and broker more personal relationships. As he puts it:
“We spend most of our time at a desk, but seeing the culmination of our work ‘on the ground’ really excites me.”
Many of the groups that James works with have amazing ambitions, but scant resources. However, James describes seeing the return on investment of Project Dirt’s work as an inspiration to do more.
“The gratitude these people have and seeing what they can achieve with the support we give them makes the whole role worthwhile.”
James sees the preservation of community and integration with others as incredibly important in today’s climate. He cites the mental and physical health benefits of involvement in community groups as hugely beneficial, as well as the way that they often bring unusual people together:
“The idea of community sustainability is being challenged. We live in a world where connecting with people you don’t know doesn’t happen much. Many of these groups provide an opportunity to meet new people, develop your confidence and communication skills. They help to foster connections between different people from different backgrounds who might not otherwise cross paths. Assembling and connecting is really important and seeing people coming together with shared passion to bring about positive local change is really rewarding. Many people talk about the opportunities community groups have given them and how they’ve helped them to grow. We want to champion these groups and support their ambitions as much as possible.”
Business and community group collaboration: developing deeper relationships
As more and more businesses develop relationships with community groups through their social impact and sustainability programmes, it becomes more important for the two types of entities to work together. Developing those relationships is something James is passionate about:
“We’re not just brokers. We’re an organisation that establishes proper relationships between purpose driven businesses and community groups with shared objectives. The most successful examples we see are where we’ve set up a relationship and it’s developed beyond the initial campaign into something long-term.”
Often this involves the business providing funding and staff, before individuals volunteer their own time.
“You see this connection form, where the business and the community develop this joint passion to transform their local area for the better and this really sustains that relationship. It’s not a CSR or PR stunt on the part of the business. It’s a genuine desire to give back and support the local community. Then you see the examples where it doesn’t work, and it’s where the programme isn’t maintained and the support isn’t truly needed, and therefore it appears like a cynical exercise to produce a nice report.”
What makes a successful community group? A clear mission…
Given his expertise, we asked James for some tips and things to avoid, starting with the biggest mistake he sees groups make on a regular basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not having a clear enough idea of what they want to do at the start:
“Not having clear goals for what they want to achieve is the biggest mistake I see groups make. Lots of passionate people have great ideas to change their community for the better, but they still need clear goals and to communicate these effectively in order to get people on board [and to make the ideas successful].”
Despite the fact that lots of community groups are quite informal, James also sees structure as fundamental:
“You can have all these great ambitions but you still need structures, as well as the resources, to realise them. Calling upon the knowledge of those who have done it all before is invaluable to the success of your group.”
This is where Project Dirt’s expertise and resources can really come in useful. As James puts it:
“You can draw upon the know-how of other groups and identify useful resources, whether enthusiastic volunteers, funding sources or materials, from our network. Start on the right path by defining clear goals and objectives, then reach out to a community audience that can identify with your common goal and want to support you.”
Having a common goal may sound like it could be restrictive, but by creating clarity it can allow for an group to be very flexible with what it delivers. James points to a community association project he’s worked with over the years. Having a clearly defined goal of providing facilities to help their community prosper actually allows the project to deliver a wide range of activities:
“[It’s a] community hub: they run classes with the elderly, particularly around improving their digital literacy, using a smartphone or laptop. They also host football sessions for disabled adults as well as workshops on horticultural therapy, which use gardening to improve mental and physical health. All these projects happen in just one space and allow their local community to flourish. There are hundreds of people who get involved and it’s inclusive to all. I think it really sums up what groups should do.”
Telling stories that demonstrate impact
Our final question to James focused on impact. How can community groups demonstrate and report on their impact? After all, feedback is so important to building and maintaining a thriving community.
James is a huge advocate of demonstrating impact through storytelling, particularly in the form of blogs or social media. He points to the power of strong visuals and video content to bring achievements and events to life for those that engage digitally. Indeed, he’s seen groups flourish via this technique, turning from under resourced initiatives to thriving communities through the power of storytelling.
“Powerful imagery and videos are huge, really key. Writing blogs and reporting on what you’re doing in an engaging way can inspire others to help out, both individuals and businesses.”
So, there you have it: clear goals, a structure that provides a strong foundation for your operations and compelling storytelling are what it takes to make a fantastic community project. James has one final piece of advice for anyone thinking of setting one up:
“I would encourage anyone who has an idea for a local community project to run with it. There are people with similar passions out there who you can collectively achieve great things with. There are also like-minded companies that are willing to be the catalyst to help you realise your goals. If you’re thinking of something, go and give it a go!”
If you’ve got a great idea for a community project, or want to connect with a community of like minded people, Project Dirt have all the resources you need. If you think your community project has what it takes to win a Global Good Award, why not check out our Individual Community Project, Legacy Community Project, Partnership in the Community and International Sustainable Community award categories online.
Join us at the 2018 GGA Ceremony: To celebrate excellence in social impact and sustainability (and sample our vegan wines!)
You don’t have to be an entrant to come along to the GGA ceremony! If you’re involved in social impact or sustainability, the GGA is the place to be! From our ‘eco-tie’ dress code, to our completely vegan menu, we aim to set the standard for sustainable events, and we want to share our learnings with you. Find out more about the 2018 ceremony, here>>