Social change that inspires a community: communicating is key

by Monty Laskin, Caledon Community Services

Whether a family, individual or charitable organization, the start of a new year brings reflection and anticipation. We all look back while setting our sights on what’s ahead. People pursue new careers, families relocate to new homes, individuals tend to ill loved ones and couples plan memorable trips to hither and beyond. There are community organizations trying to grow, others pursuing new partnerships and innovation, while some are winding down one program or another.

Forecasting the way ahead is an exercise in planning. Whether impulsive or studied, we all reflect on accomplishments, examine what feels right or intriguing, and decide on the best pursuits to meet future needs.

Right now Caledon Community Services (CCS) is engaged in its strategic planning process for 2017 to 2021. With Caledon, an ever-changing community filled with deeply committed residents, the process can feel a bit like trying to herd mosquitoes. There’s a swarm of emerging possibilities for the community. Making the right choices about which ones to pursue is important. And there is no lack of deeply committed Caledon residents with opinions. We are excited about the possibilities we’re considering.

For more than a year, we have sought the views of community residents, our funders at all levels of government, clients, volunteers, staff and our board of directors. We’ve listened carefully to our generous donors about their expectations of what CCS should do to serve the residents of Caledon effectively. We have looked at how we fulfil these expectations. We want to deliver meaningful results. We received input from hundreds of surveys. People have not been shy in telling us what they think is important for Caledon and where they believe CCS should be allocating its attention. We asked, you responded, we listened. Everything is now in the hopper. A new four-year strategic plan is emerging.

Beyond this plan, but in large part because of it, we recognize that in everything we do it’s important to communicate our intentions, results and appreciation. My colleague, CCS manager of marketing and communications, Donna Cragg, tells me often that it’s our responsibility and obligation to always tell our stories. Or someone else will. She’s always stressing the importance to the CCS team of clear and consistent messaging internally within CCS and externally within our community.

What we hope to achieve and the impact we expect to deliver is what you need to know to determine if you want to be aboard the social change we’re pursuing. Without clear and compelling communications, why would anyone come aboard? We get it, communicating is critical to creating effective social change.

So what is this social change that CCS and many other Caledon charities pursue? It’s the stuff that compels you to participate so you can play a role in improving things for children, women, refugees, for anyone needing support to improve their chances of success. Social change is the driver of success in any community. Leaving no one behind, meeting the needs where the needs exist. When you inspire people, largely through clear and compelling communication, you become more efficient because you’re driving social change with a wind at your back and that’s much better than you would as a single entity. It’s the groundswell of support that moves the needle of change on important matters like health and employment and other opportunities.

We appreciate that communicating the plan for the change is important. Everyone appreciates being in the loop. We’re finding that storytelling is a particularly powerful kind of communication. So in the months ahead we’ll be using our Enterprise opportunities to share stories from the perspective of lived experiences. We’re betting that storytelling will provide the communication that people can understand and share.

We’ll use this community newspaper, we’ll speak at community groups, we’ll put our thumbs to work in this digital space to share narratives. We think that these stories will make the need for social change evident. We’ll look at storytelling creatively and we’ll pull out all the stops. A good enterprise column, a pithy tweet, a sharp Facebook post and a video with viral potential; from all these things thousands will know about the change we’re pursuing. This is an age where compelling narrative = engagement. We’re aiming for success with that equation.

We’re thinking strategically. That’s what happens when anyone plans a multi-year strategic plan. We’re innovating in our planning and more than a year of data gathering has been extraordinarily helpful. Donna and her communications team and many others in our organization will share the stories behind our striving toward our vision of a “Healthy, Engaged, and Compassionate Community for All”. It’s all about the communication, right?

Monty Laskin is the CEO of Caledon Community Services

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