Community Events - Themes & Strategies

Building Community

Topics Below:

Community Building Ideas

Community Events Strategy

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Community Building Ideas


From an Ask-NCN Discussion:

This document was compiled by Heather Quinn Gage of Serve Denton and summarizes most of the responses to the question below, involving dates 1/20-21/15. Community Building Ideas


Saul Ettlin, Tides Thoreau Center, 1/20/15
What do you find are the tenant programs or other offerings that are the most effective at bringing your building community together?


Doug Vilsack, Posner Center for International Development, 1/21/15
The Posner Center has developed all sorts of programming over the last year, including 101s, Block Party Lunches, Roundtables, Cross-pollidate (i.e. speed-dating for tenants), trainings, etc (See “Our Programs” at While the end-result remains to be seen, the most effective to-date has been our International Collaboration Fund, which supports projects developed jointly by tenants in our building. We recently selected seven projects, engaging 16+ tenants and members, to receive initial funding through the program and will be monitoring the results over the next year. The original RFP is attached if you are interested.
International Collaboration Fund Pilot Program


Judy Lind, Kukui Children’s Foundation, 1/21/15
We hold quarterly potlucks which several programs collaborate in sponsoring. We also have collaborative training for staff and boards as well as wellness activities on site. We have also held 2 off site strategic planning retreats involving all staff.
We have a shared playground as well as an outdoor seating area for lunch and breaks.
Go to our website to learn about our Community Partner Program which is also done collaboratively.
Our brochure and newsletter also helps bring the community together.
Hope this helps.


Whitney Roux, NTC Foundation, 1/21/15
This is a great discussion! I am the Program Manager for an arts based center, and by center I mean complex with 26 buildings and 80 tenants and we are still trying to figure out how to build community around it! We have monthly meetings of our tenant collaborative to promote co-op ideas. This has led to tenants producing events together which is fantastic and builds community amongst groups.

I love the idea of Happy Hours and easy potlucks, but we always seem to over complicate things and make them too much work. Any thoughts on keeping things simple but impactful


Aaron Cruikshank, CRUIKSHANK, 1/21/15
In my two years running a space, we found that food-related events were always super successful in bringing people together. Our thing was crepe potlucks. We had a range in our kitchenette so I’d make enough batter to make 250 crepes and everyone would bring the stuff to go in the crepes. Hugely popular and helped people get to know one another and bond.


Jackie Cefola, Cefola Consulting, 1/21/15
Hi Saul, I was formerly involved with developing tenant programming at the NonProfit Center in Boston and tried to offer activities that served our tenants different interests:

  • professional/organizational development (workshops, networking)
  • personal development (yoga, stress reduction)
  • community (donation drives, volunteer opps, farm share)

Some programs were self-organized – tenants developed them and we helped to coordinate and publicize. Many were developed through partnerships with non-tenant service providers. We also opened many programs up to the public to increase participation and serve our community.

One of our earliest programs, and I think one of the only to get TV news coverage, was a valentine’s day chocolate tasting featuring fair trade chocolate. That room was packed!


James Thomson, New Path Foundation, 1/21/15
From my perspective and experience with our Common Roof initiatives, I would say that opportunities for folks to engage are key to building a sense of community. We try to provide such opportunities throughout the year such as:

  • Common gathering areas as part of the building design (Communal Kitchens, shared administrative spaces, etc.)
  • BBQ’s and Tenant pot luck luncheons
  • Agency Open Houses/Tours
  • Working Groups/Committees (Social, Arts, Building, Health & Safety, etc.) In fact any opportunity for cross-collaboration and communication is a good thing!
  • Sharing bulletins and postings via email blasts to everyone
  • Hosting agency specific events onsite and opening them up to all Tenants
  • Joint training opportunities (First Aid, CPR, etc.) or holding workshops of interest (Stress reduction strategies, gardening, etc.)

Hope this gives you some ideas 😉


Aaron Cruikshank, 1/21/15
Another space that I am familiar with does Waffle Wednesdays and have a roulette system to decide which two people are going to pair up to make the waffles. Sounds goofy but it was really effective to get two tenants who normally didn’t talk to one another to spend an hour together working side by side.


Doug Vilsack, 1/21/15
This might not qualify as programming, but Brandi Stanley, our Community Animator, decided to remove two of the three microwaves from our kitchen a few months ago. There was some push back at first, but now people have to wait in line they actually talk to one another. Little things are the best.


Karen Maciorowski, CT Nonprofit Center, 1/21/15

We are still “new” to the game (7 months open), but here is our experience and our plans:

An event every month, switching between social and educational. We have 100 trainings a year for nonprofits so we offer seats to members of CT Nonprofit Center every other month at no charge, followed by networking brown bag lunch. On the opposite months we have had drop-in breakfasts for an hour whenever a new tenant joins us; and are planning a “Pamper yourself” day at the Center – chair massages from the local massage school; meditation session to reduce stress; yoga; and a team building speaker/facilitator. Want to come? We can’t wait – we are getting some donated; some fee for service and convincing tenants to purchase for their staff; and raising a few sponsors for the remaining cost.

Nice seeing everyone’s events. My question is, once you plan it, how do you get them to come? We are trying to overcome the challenge of engagement. Thanks


Eli Malinsky, Centre for Social Innovation, 1/21/15
We have been thinking and experimenting with various programs for quite a while…my best advice is to engage the members in conceiving and executing the ideas…that will boost ownership, engagement and participation…


Maureen Moloughney, Heartwood House, 1/21/15
Like Eli’s group, we have asked our community to determine the activities to build community spirit and collaboration.

Our community has chosen the following activities to this point:
a) monthly member meetings;
b) community pot-lucks;
c) sharing and learning sessions;
d) board to board wine& cheese night;
e) community email system for notices about events, information sharing etc.
f) events publications on our website.
g) tours for new staff and volunteers as needed.

It’s been great fun learning about activities of other network members!
take care, Moe


Jenny Camhi, Leichtag Foundation, 1/21/15
We offer the following opportunities for our Hub members to build community as well as encourage informal opportunities for connection (lunch time walks, group lunch, etc)
1) Weekly “Snack Hour”—each organization takes responsibility for hosting
2) Monthly Lunch and Learns
3) Facebook group that encourages both knowledge sharing and community building
4) Monthly Hub Meetings

Community Events Strategy

From an Ask-NCN Discussion


Katie Edwards, Nonprofit Centers Network, 2/8/16
Here’s a question to start off your week: What is your strategy for the kinds of community events that you host? Do you create themes around your mission or around specific goals like skills training or building trust around tenant partners?

What has worked best? What resonated with your community?


Scott Gifford, Matrix Human Services, 2/9/16
For the past 20 years we have done a large number of community events. Since we are a large community center in a Detroit neighborhood impacted by poverty and other social determinants, it makes sense. These events range from Mission Partner Fairs, Community Dinners, Harvest Festival, Give A Way Days, etc. Attendance ranges from 100 – 2,000 residents. These activities are an excellent customer recruitment for the other social service and community organizations in our building.


Pat Smith, Serve Denton, 2/9/16
Serve Denton seeks to host events that support the advancement of our community and the individuals who live in it. We host events that not only bring awareness to relevant societal issues but also foster positive change. Therefore, the events and projects we take on and the organizations we partner with are all linked to this theme.
Being a dependable, consistent, and supportive resource seems to be what works best and what makes the greatest impact on our community. We strive to provide support in the areas of logistics, graphic design and media relations, and volunteer mobilization.


Katie Edwards, 2/9/16

Great feedback, Scott and Pat! I’ve realized by asking this question that community events can mean a lot of things to people – some are more externally focused, while others are focused on internal community, building the community feeling within the building or on the campus. Where do the ideas for your events come from? Is there an intentional strategy or do you capitalize on opportunities as they arise?


Dustin Barrington, HNS Life Center, 2/9/16
As a one stop social service center, you wont be surprised to hear that we do externally focused community events to raise awareness of our service offerings within our client demographics. We do things like back to school events where we give away free school supplies and holiday events with free toys, socks, underwear, personal hygiene products, food, etc…

We have also hosted community events focused on educating potential donors and connecting with other service providers as potential partners.

We would like to move into some volunteer recruitment events but have been too busy to build capacity… sad but true.

Have a great day!


Scott Gifford, Matrix Human Services, 2/9/16
In our community we had to fill the void which would normally be filled by the city government or other community institutions in most other cities or suburban cities. For us we also could go to scale with large events because of the participation of other Mission Partner organizations in the Center and a large base of community resident volunteers.


Jackie Cefola, Cefola Consulting, 2/9/16
When I was with the NonProfit Center programs were part of an intentional strategy and also supplemented with other events or opportunities that came up. Many different activities were offered falling into categories of:

  • work or organization-related = job training, nonprofit sector events
  • personal development = wellness programs, networking
  • community = farm CSA, donation drives

Ideas came mostly from our marketing/communications team, tenants and other service providers. My favorite tenant request was for matchmaking services but we didn’t do it. Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Maybe another NCN member can pick up on that idea… Best wishes, Jackie


Nada Zohdy, OpenGov Hub, 2/9/16
Thanks for this discussion everyone!
The OpenGov Hub is a co-working community in Washington, D.C. and network of about 35 different (mostly international development) nonprofits working to promote transparency, accountability, and civic engagement and combat corruption all around the world. All our organizations work on policy and advocacy issues of some kind, rather than providing direct social services.

We are interested in developing a more concerted approach and strategy to our programming, both:
#1) internal activities to help our member organizations and individuals get to know each other and
#2) external activities with outside partners to help people in our field learn from each other and collaborate to have greater social impact.

Typically to fulfill #1 we hold activities like informal Community Brownbags (where new members present tell others about their work and get feedback/brainstorm) and monthly Happy Hours, and for #2 we do a variety of one-time and ongoing public discussion events, workshops, etc.

Does anyone have any suggestions for creative ways we might explore fulfilling both these objectives (building internal community amongst members, but also promoting collaboration and learning with diverse people working on these issues) through various types of events?

Many thanks!


Pat Smith, 2/11/16
Hi Katie,

I offer the following responses to your questions:

“Is there an intentional strategy or do you capitalize on opportunities as they arise?”

A critical part of our strategic plan it cultivate three different but interrelated cultures: a culture of philanthropy, a culture of service, and a culture of community. We further define what we mean by each of these cultures. We use events to help us foster these cultures.

For the sake of brevity, I will give one example. To foster a culture of service, we ask all of our board and advisory council members to do a day of service as part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday to honor him. We also invite the boards of our tenants to participate. We do it on a Saturday morning between 8 and noon. All of the work is in our center–painting, making small repairs, cleaning up outside, doing projects for our tenants. We have lots of coffee and carbs on hand. This year we had 60 participants from all of the agency boards. We breakup into teams, and the Serve Denton staff and interns serve as leaders of each team–they are not allowed to work, just guide and direct the board.

We get tremendous support and feedback on this effort. We had members of the Texas House of Representatives working side by side with college students (who we have on the board). It builds great camaraderie. The tenants love it. We had the City’s TV crew and a local news station provide coverage.

“Where do the ideas for your events come from?”

Our ideas come from the staff, tenants, and board members. Every event we do fits under one of the three “cultures” we strive to cultivate. Sometimes opportunities come to us. For every opportunity, we run it through five questions tied to our values of collaboration, accountability, respect, empathy, and service.

Katie–this might make a good subject for a webinar.

Last updated byNonprofit Centers Network