At Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes community engagement efforts effective. I can't count how many meetings I have had with non-profit staff and board members that are concerned about growing, managing, and further engaging their volunteers, donors, and other supporters. They know they want to reach new communities, especially Millennials, but don't know where to begin. Whenever I find myself in these conversations, I find myself pointing to my friend, Aviva Palmer, as the example of how to do community engagement the right way.
Aviva is one of those people that you just can't help but want to be around. Starting in fifth grade, Aviva and I used to walk to Hebrew School together every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. What I remember most from that time is laughing constantly. She wore insane outfits, always had a ridiculous story, and had more positive energy than anyone I had ever met. It was obvious that she had an incredible sense of imagination, creativity, and design. She loved planning parties, creating outlandish moments, and designing memorable experiences for her friends and classmates. Our group of friends was shaped by her sense of adventure and creativity.
Fast-forward to adulthood. What happens to someone like Aviva? My experience is that most people tone down their youthful exuberance and embrace a sense of seriousness in their approach to "real life." What makes me admire Aviva is that, despite being academically accomplished and capable of doing just about anything, she didn't succumb to external pressures to follow the path of traditional success. Instead, Aviva figured out how to do what she loved and what came naturally -- she became an entrepreneur, dreaming up and starting a company that leveraged her unique skill set.
Aviva's company, The Adventure School, is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is one part party planning company, one part design shop, and one part public relations agency. It is basically Aviva's personality embodied in a company. She and her team engineer everything from small birthday parties to major civic events, but each element of The Adventure School's work is true to its motto, "Semper Ad Extremum," or in English, "Take It To The Limit Every Time." They have planned synchronized parties across the world to celebrate World Party Day (April 3rd if you weren't aware), a larger than life book tour for an ice cream entrepreneur (with a Pinterest page featuring ice cream inspired tour outfits), and a ping pong-themed gala for a world-renowned art gallery. Each event is slightly more ridiculously mind-blowing than the last.
Aviva and The Adventure School are experts at community engagement, especially the sort that invites broader participation. Aviva gets that the secret sauce for keeping people interested is to appeal to their sense of adventure, fun, and excitement. The Adventure School amplifies this concept by creating unforgettable experiences; participants are given the chance to smile, laugh (sometimes hysterically), and embrace their creative and adventurous spirits. Event attendees linger, not wanting to leave. People depart with a story, a memory, and new and stronger relationships with other participants.
The Adventure School leverages social media before and after events as it is just as committed to seeing its values embodied through its online community. Before events, The Adventure School builds buzz and anticipation by giving its audience an inside look at preparations and teasing certain event elements. After an event, it curates responses from participants and spurs a conversation about what happened. Throughout, The Adventure School adopts a casual, friendly tone and makes sure its social content and engagement with fans and followers is varied, thoughtful, wacky, and unexpected. This light, fun, and participatory conversation opens the dialogue to a broader audience and encourages individuals to enjoy and engage with the community.
Community engagement is hard and difficult work, but it should be fun. When you're struggling with how to break out of monotonous outreach, grow your community, and increase the community's energy, think of Aviva and take a page out of The Adventure School's book: have fun. Your community will thank you for it.