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Section 1: Developing your vision

Now that you’ve accessed this resource guide, odds are you’re planning ahead for an event you want to improve by having it truly engage your community.

First of all, good for you – we’re glad you’re here!

Secondly, chances are that your conference members already have conducted many community engagement events locally, and that perhaps even you as a conference have tried this “combining postseason tournaments with community engagement” once or twice before, maybe even with great success. If so, we hope you’ll add to this resource guide with good ideas of your own.

But if you’re starting from scratch, we suggest the first thing for you to do as a conference is to decide what your membership collectively represents from a community perspective. You probably already have established a “competitive” brand for your league based on the quality of athletics at your institutions, but what characteristics and attributes beyond great competition do you want the thousands of people in your conference footprint to take away every time they attend one of your events?

You also probably already know that community engagement is much more than just setting up a few clinics and visiting a few classrooms. Community engagement means establishing a welcoming presence
in the community – a give-and-take approach in which your athletics events serve as the attraction but the events surrounding them provide the message.

As such, what’s your message as a conference?

We’re not suggesting that you write a mission statement, but it’s a good idea to have your membership understand the conference’s vision for community engagement. It’s also critical for that the vision to be followed consistently every time your members (or
the conference collectively) conduct a community engagement event.

Here’s what we recommend:

1. Develop your “why”

At your next set of conference meetings, ask people why they think it’s necessary to engage with your communities. Do you have a moral obligation or civic duty to give back? Is it because it’s a fun and creative thing to do? Is it merely because it’s the right thing to do? Figuring out the why of community engagement is a good place to start.

2. Review the practical applications

Part of the why should be because community engagement makes good business sense. After all, many of the community members you engage with might be your future students and student-athletes. And if you’re staging a community engagement event as a conference, what a great opportunity to let prospective students know the values your league represents.

Part of the why is also the old “butts in seats” mantra. As an institution or conference sponsoring intercollegiate athletics, you have an obligation to attract as many people as possible to witness the extraordinary talents of your student-athletes. Bigger crowds make for
better student-athlete experiences. Engaging your communities helps grow your fan base!

3. Make sure everyone is on board

A vision is only as good as the glasses everyone wears. Make sure all your members understand what the conference stands for when it comes to community engagement, and that they are able to articulate it. Involve your alumni and corporate partners!

4. Teamwork, baby!

Consider establishing a representative “community engagement committee” or leadership team composed of athletics personnel and student-athletes at your member schools (SAAC reps would be a good idea). Just think of all the great ideas that group will bring to the table, since they’ll likely have been involved in several community engagement events already. Plus, this group can help keep your conference message consistent from event to event.

5. Develop a motto

Nothing builds teamwork like a good motto. Ask the community engagement committee to propose several mottos that capture the essence of your conference’s community engagement vision and put them to a vote. It could be a fun way to get everyone on board!