Francis Butterfoss

Frances Dunn Butterfoss, PhD, MSEd, President, Coalitions Work

This is a guest post by Frances Dunn Butterfoss, who is presenting at the Hogg Foundation’s  2019 Robert Lee Sutherland Seminar: Working Together for Rural Well-Being. Read other posts in this series from  Sheila Savannah, Anna Jackson and Nakia Winfield,  Oscar Benavides and Wendy Ellis

Members are the lifeblood of collaborative efforts. So, how do you effectively recruit, engage and retain individuals and organizations for your collaborative?


Assess your strengths and challenges. What challenges does your collaborative face and what types of members will complement its strengths and help overcome its challenges? Conduct a gap analysis to determine who is missing from your “table” and a skills inventory to identify critical resources needed to be successful. The answers to these questions will lead to thoughtfully recruited members who will make your collaborative more diverse and responsive to community needs. 

Develop a recruitment plan. Methods might include meeting with community leaders, holding or attending public meetings and trainings, reaching out to priority neighborhoods, conducting community assessments, and posting recruitment notices.

Busy people seek time-focused opportunities that lead to tangible results. Develop written roles, a member orientation plan, and a personalized invitation to formalize the process.

Make the ask. When inviting prospective members, involve someone who has a connection with the person. This helps build trust from the start of the relationship.

When making the ask:

  • Provide a description of specific things they can do to help.
  • Provide positive feedback about the individual’s/organization’s abilities to support the collaborative.
  • Emphasize relevance. Help the individual/organization understand why they are a “match” for your collaborative’s mission.
  • Acknowledge barriers to volunteering (like time), but stress the importance of their support and share incentives to participate.
  • Empathize with any reluctance to commit, and actively listen to their concerns. If you are not able to get a commitment for participation initially, ask them to describe a scenario that would make it possible. Ultimately, always leave the door open for future involvement.

Recruitment is never-ending. Comfort with your current membership may result in missed opportunities for inclusivity and growth. Ask your members for ideas about future recruits, and take their lead on how to approach and engage prospective members. 

Engagement and Retention

Members are most likely to engage when collaboratives are in tune with their needs and desires for meaningful involvement, and meet them where they are. The collaborative must acknowledge members as valuable assets and be flexible with expectations. Cultivating relationships with new members and helping members connect with each other is a critical ingredient for retention.

Robert Shankle

Councilman Robert Shankle, President, Impact Lufkin

City Councilman Shankle, a longtime resident of Lufkin, Texas who helped build a collaborative that is catalyzing sustainable community empowerment, revitalization and enrichment, says, “The most important part of engaging a community is listening to the voice of the community. Making sure people understand that their views are valued and respected is critical.” Councilman Shankle will speak during the Working Together for Rural Well-Being Seminar’s Opening Plenary. 

Recognition is key, too. Member recognition may be formal or informal, tangible or intangible, but it must be well-tailored. Consider these ideas:

  • Handwritten notes/emails that highlight accomplishments or key milestones.
  • Highlight members on your website, social media, or your local newspaper.
  • Present annual awards for outstanding service or support.
  • Arrange inclusive, group outings to community events to cultivate fellowship amongst members.
  • Host appreciation events for collaborative members and the community and use these opportunities to celebrate project milestones.

What Questions Should We Be Asking?

  • How do we ignite and re-ignite the passion for collaborative work in under-resourced, rural communities?
  • What are the best ways to recruit and engage diverse, transformational individuals and organizations in community collaboratives?
  • How can collaboratives change their structure to enhance sustainability?


Related Resources