NPLD Site Manager Manual: Organizing

Engaging the Community and Partners

Involving local community members and partners in your event can cultivate their interest in your public lands site, encourage a greater sense of ownership, and increase the time and resources they invest there. We will walk you through some of the best practices for engaging local communities and partners in NPLD events.

Engaging the Community in NPLD Events

Public lands offer areas where community members can gather for play, exercise, social interaction, or other leisure activities. Studies have shown that access to parks or green space reduces stress and contributes to improved psychological health and wellbeing for those who live or work nearby. When community members come together to correct environmental damage or rehabilitate and redesign parks, they are able to actively participate in the decision-making process and gain a voice in improving the local environment and community livability.

National Public Lands Day offers volunteers a unique opportunity for participants to learn about the importance of public lands in their community. Organizers can highlight and communicate the economic and health benefits that public lands provide to the community through intentional and meaningful engagement at an NPLD event.

A key objective of your NPLD event should be building local understanding and support for public lands. Ideally, participants should leave your event feeling:

  1. More comfortable in the outdoors
  2. More connected to the nature in their communities
  3. More knowledgeable about how nature helps keep them healthy and happy

Communicate the Benefits of NPLD Events

America’s public lands aren’t the only ones that benefits from National Public Lands Day. Nature offers one of the most reliable boosts to mental and physical well-being. Spending time in the outdoors has been found to improve short-term memory, concentration, and creativity—while reducing the effects of stress and anxiety. Volunteering on NPLD is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the many benefits that come from connecting with nature.

These benefits can be particularly significant for economically disadvantaged communities with less access to public green space.

Tips for communicating the benefits of NPLD events to the community:

  • Seek outside expertise and take advantage of online tools like the USDA Forest Service’s iTree Tools to calculate the ecological benefits of your NPLD event.
  • Explain the benefits and the perceived and real drawbacks of the intended program or project in a way that the community understands so that informed decisions can be made.

Listen to the Community

Site Managers should seek to engage community members in the planning and execution of NPLD events. Involving stakeholders and incorporating their ideas at the beginning is a great way to secure long-term support for your NPLD event and future community engagement events.

Tips for listening to the community:

  • Send a community wide survey asking potential participants what type of activities they would like to see at the NPLD event.
  • Engage the community through staff who interact with them daily (on-the-ground staff such as outreach coordinators, interpretative rangers, etc.).
  • Ensure there are open lines of communication available for community members to answer questions and provide feedback.
  • Identify an individual or group of individuals who are trusted within the community to assist with the event. These individuals should focus on engaging local audiences that you may not have experience working with.
  • Host meetings or conference calls to keep stakeholders engaged in the event planning process.

Incorporate Ideas from the Community into the Event

Show your community that you have listened to them by incorporating their ideas into your NPLD event. Maybe the community has indicated an interest in learning more about local air or water quality issues. You could offer environmental education opportunities during your NPLD event examining these subjects. Or perhaps the community has expressed an interest in learning more about local outdoor recreational opportunities? You could partner with a local outdoor outfitter, such as REI, to conduct a demonstration of hiking or climbing gear. Look for ways to incorporate ideas from the community because it will make your event relevant to them.

Also, showing the community that their ideas were heard and incorporated gives local stakeholders a sense of ownership in the NPLD event.

Tips for incorporating ideas from the community into your NPLD event:

  • Once you have collected ideas from the community, group them by theme. For example, ideas regarding regional air and water quality issues, or local wildlife interactions could all be group under the theme “local environmental issues.” Community concerns that touch on local homeless populations in the park or drug use in the park could be grouped under the theme “local safety concerns.”
  • Once you have your thematic categories, look for local experts or partners that can meaningfully support each theme. For example, if your community has issues with the security of the park at night, you might think about asking the local police department to participate in the event and speak briefly about their efforts to address these safety concerns.
Engaging Local Partners in NPLD Events

Engaging local partners from the community is a key strategy in hosting successful NPLD events. Community-based organizations such as schools, universities, local business, and nonprofits can assist you with key elements of your event including event marketing and promotion, volunteer recruitment, and more.

Identifying, approaching, and establishing relationships with appropriate partners may be challenging, but local experts from community-based organizations (e.g., local environmental or education groups) can be extremely valuable event partners. They can help create links between community priorities and on-the-ground work to be completed during your NPLD event.

Here are some tips for developing strong NPLD event partnership:

  • Create buy-in
    Before doing outreach to any potential event partners, Site Managers should discuss the benefits of partnering with their internal NPLD event team. This will ensure that the event staff understands the value of partnering with a particular group.
  • Decide what level of partnership is best
    There are four partnership levels: communication, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration. Each level reflects progressively greater interaction, sharing of resources, and interconnectedness among partners. Decide on the level at which you want to engage with those in your community around National Public Lands Day.
  • Identify experienced organizations
    Find other organizations in the community that have been conducting activities on public lands, even if their events do not traditionally include volunteer projects. Then, find ways to link these existing efforts with your NPLD event. For example, if there is a local sports league that hosts recreational activities on public lands, they may be a great partner for engaging youth participants.
  • Define goals and desired outcomes
    Work with your partners to clearly define shared goals and outcomes so everyone is moving in the same direction. You should also outline clear roles and responsibilities for each partner. Make sure to establish the most effective means to communicate with your partners to complete tasks and convey important messages. This will help ensure mutual understanding as you plan and execute your event.

Remember! Partnerships build community. The partnerships that you develop in support of your NPLD event can form the basis of ongoing, long-term relationships that extend beyond a single event.

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