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Brought to you in partnership with Locality, Plunkett UK and Power to Change
The Community Shares Handbook

5.1 Community engagement

A community share offer should be targeted at a defined community, be it a geographic community, a community of interest, or a combination of the two. The rules of the society should include a definition or description of the community it aims to serve. In an increasingly complex world most people inhabit many different communities and may occupy many different stakeholder roles within those communities.

The benefit of defining the target community is that it should then be possible to estimate the size of the community, describe its demography, select appropriate promotional strategies, and test the viability of the proposed business model. 

Capturing the attention, interest and support of people within the defined community requires careful planning and execution in order to build community identity. It means communicating the purpose and activities of the society in a way that relates to people’s mutual, community, or public interests. Attracting an audience is the first step in community engagement. There are a wide range of methods for doing this including the use of websites, social media, email and text campaigns, public meetings, events, door-to-door leafleting, public media coverage and, if budgets allow, advertising. 

The next step is to recruit supporters from this audience. A supporter is someone who has expressed an interest in the initiative, provided contact details and consented to receive future personal communications. Each method of attracting an audience has its own ways of recruiting supporters; social media is especially good at making it easy for people to express interest in an initiative and to establish contact. Other methods may require more effort from the audience: signing petitions, filling in surveys, responding to emails, registering on websites, and so on. Building up a contact list of known supporters is invaluable for new societies planning a community share offer. It enables direct communication with the people most likely to invest in the offer, and provides the society with intelligence about the scale of its community. However, care must be taken to ensure that these contact lists comply with current legislation on direct marketing (see Section 5.3). 

The next step in community engagement is to convert supporters into members. For new societies it is important to decide whether membership will be offered prior to, and separately from, an investment offer. Section 4 describes four different types of community share offer, including a membership offer and a pioneer offer, both of which normally precede a time-bound offer to raise investment capital for a specific initiative.

Community investment is at its most effective when members are more than just investors, but are also engaged as customers, service users, volunteers, employees, activists, experts, advocates, and/or suppliers. Engaging members in multiple ways strengthens the competitive advantage of the business. Members who have invested are more likely to volunteer or to become loyal customers. This can reduce costs and increase turnover. Member-investors, who support the community purpose of the enterprise, may be prepared to accept lower financial returns if the social value of the enterprise is clear. Multiple forms of member engagement also help the longer-term sustainability of the enterprise, by offering many reasons for people to become members and to invest in the enterprise. This can also help to maintain the long term liquidity of withdrawable share capital (see Section 2.3).