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Section 2: The building blocks of building relationships

So you’ve developed your vision for community engagement and you’ve got some mojo going. If you’re fortunate enough to have already targeted an event – and you know where it is and who’s hosting it – now you can really start making some progress.

Perhaps you’ve been at this location before and already have an army of supporters and volunteers who know what community engagement buttons to push. But if you, your conference or your site is a rookie at this sort of thing, then we’ve got some tips for you.

First (and maybe even second and third), don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you’re not an expert at community engagement, don’t feel bad – you’re not alone. Fortunately, though, you have experts at your disposal, and the best news is they want to help you!

The first place to start is with the NCAA national office. Don’t assume that the folks there are too busy to answer the phone. The Division II staff is eager to help, and staff members have the knowledge to get your initiative off on the right foot. Tell them what you want to do and the resources you have to work with, and the staff will guide you.

They may even help you get more resources. That is what happened with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Officials there applied for and received a grant from the Division II Membership Fund to supplement community engagement activities during the 2014 NSIC men’s and women’s postseason basketball tournaments in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The $7,000 grant helped fund:

  • Transportation for student-athletes to visit schools and the Boys and Girls Clubs

  • Game tickets for elementary school students

  • Clinic basketballs and T-shirts

  • T-shirts and other giveaways for in-game promotions
  • 50 gym bags to distribute during Boys and Girls Club visits

  • Tickets, gifts and concessions for Make-A-Wish families honored during the games

  • Advertising purchased via local newspaper, TV and radio outlets

The NCAA national office staff also can guide you on how to build the relationships you’ll need to conduct a successful event. Again, using the Northern Sun as an example, the conference engaged representatives from the following entities:

  • The two host institutions in Sioux Falls (Augustana College and the University of Sioux Falls)
  • The arena’s corporate sponsors (Sanford Health)
  • The Local Organizing Committee
  • The Sioux Falls superintendent of schools
  • Officials from the South Dakota branch of Make-A-Wish
  • Administrators from the Sioux Falls Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Members of the Air Force Reserve in Sioux Falls

The NSIC staff held in-person meetings with all those folks about six months before the tournaments. Those meetings led to additional contacts with other organizations and new community engagement relationships.

We urge you to develop a similar “outreach wish list” and get the meeting ball rolling early. The more communication you have with the people you’ll be relying on, the better your event will be.

What to accomplish at the meeting

First, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone’s missions align. That is, rather than assume for example that the Boys and Girls Clubs are just joining you as a favor, find out what they want out of the experience. Odds are, the desired outcomes will be similar, but it’s a good strategy to get everyone’s cards on the table right away.

Second, establish contacts/
liaisons who will carry the relationships throughout the event (and hopefully even beyond). It’s a good idea to match conference reps with various community groups.

Third, start drafting a “run of show.” Even this far in advance, you’ll have
a general idea of how you want the event to go. Most people at the table will have gone through something like this before, so the brainstorming from previous experiences will naturally produce a preliminary schedule of events. It’s a good idea to appoint a manager for the run of show – most likely the sports information director from the school that is hosting the tournament. That person will be familiar with game management anyway, so he or she is an ideal choice for this role.

Fourth, don’t leave the meeting without everyone clearly understanding what’s at stake. Make sure your contacts are established, that your visions align – and that this won’t be the last time you see each other! In our next section, we’ll explain that while this initial meeting is important, it’s the ones that are to come that will decide whether your event will be a success.