Boosting Year-Round Engagement for Your Community Center


Community centers, parks, and recreation facilities, and other similar organizations all face the challenge of maintaining strong year-round engagement with their communities. This is because some of their offerings are highly seasonal, like public pools, summertime youth programs, or municipal day camps.

When your organization or department follows a distinctly cyclical pattern like this, where one part of the year sees high engagement while the rest of the calendar is slower, it can be very difficult to grow your programming in sustainable ways. After all, it’s difficult to justify developing new programs and offerings without proven year-round interest to support them.

Plus, most centers and departments rely heavily on their membership revenue and fundraised support to keep everything running smoothly. Increasing community engagement and year-round participation will help to build a much stronger financial base to continue growing your relationships with the community at large.

There are some simple steps you can take to grow your center’s presence in the community across the whole calendar year. Branching out your community engagement tactics and (most importantly) bolstering your management and marketing toolkits can make a huge difference in your ability to engage supporters and neighbors over the long run.

Chances are your community organization or center already follows a few tried-and-true marketing strategies, like using email to ask for extra support, posting flyers at key spots around town, or offering special deals to boost attendance. But do you have a well-defined infrastructure in place to support those efforts? 

Let’s walk through the basics of building out a more structured strategy for boosting your center’s year-round engagement. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Centralizing your toolkit.
  • Developing a marketing strategy.

Plus, we’ll walk through some additional ideas for boosting community engagement.


1. Centralizing your toolkit.

For practically any type of organization, a centralized toolkit is one of the best investments you can make in your ability to both streamline your operations and better focus your efforts on new strategies and goals, like growing community engagement. 

Bringing all of your core operations into one recreation software platform gives you a more comprehensive view of your own data while also simplifying your team’s wide variety of tasks. Here are a few main benefits of this approach:

  • Streamlined facility and program management. With online registration and payment processing that directly reports data to the central system, you can take the headache out of managing your center’s facilities and tracking sign-ups for events and classes.
  • Improved member management. This is where a centralized recreation toolkit can really help to improve community engagement: more intuitive ways for members to engage with your center online plus back-end tools for analyzing that engagement data.
  • Benefits for front desk staff. Online self-service service options for members, ID cards, and scanners integrated with your core management system will simplify everyone’s experience when registering and checking in for programming. Simply speeding up your front desk will be a major benefit for everyone who engages with your center.
  • More facility-specific options. Not all recreation software platforms contain the types of tools that your particular facility requires. For example, pools require membership software that can support customizable package levels and integrated ID card systems. These features would otherwise be complicated and expensive to add to a more generic platform. 
  • Shared services between centers. If your community center operates multiple facilities like two pools or ice rinks, using tools that speak the same language will enable you to integrate your calendars, preventing scheduling mix-ups and double-bookings.

Using a centralized recreation toolkit for managing your recreation center, recording member and participant data, and tracking financial data all in one place gives you a broader view of your center’s operations and performance. Look for sets of management tools designed for your type of facility whenever possible. At the very least, make efforts to integrate your various platforms whenever possible.

Centralized recreation facility toolkits and databases are invaluable when your team is focusing on boosting community engagement. A more comprehensive view of your performance will let you easily identify the strengths of your current strategies as well as areas that need improvement or aren’t currently delivering meaningful engagement with the community.


2. Developing a marketing strategy.

Growing your community engagement beyond your busiest periods of the year will rely heavily on your marketing strategies. After all, increasing the visibility of your programming and encouraging more community members to get involved will be the real crux of this initiative.

If you’re already using an integrated set of management tools, make sure you’re using its marketing and messaging features to their full advantage. You should be able to create mailing lists using your member database, and your web tools and member self-service options should make it easy to collect all the important data and contact info you need.

If your underlying management system doesn’t include built-in marketing tools, definitely start exploring some top email marketing software solutions to invest in. 

You’ll certainly want access to targeted messaging tools that allow you to send an email or text message to specific groups of your member database in specific contexts. For instance, you can easily notify the relevant members when a class has been rescheduled at the last minute or a swim meet was postponed because of inclement weather.

Beyond these essential messaging capabilities, you’ll need a broader marketing strategy to support your engagement goals. For most community centers and other groups focused at a very local level, email will be your best bet. Even with the rise of new digital tools and techniques, email remains the most direct, efficient, and effective form of digital marketing for many types of organizations and businesses. 

Getting Started with Email Marketing

The foundational first step of any email marketing strategy should be segmenting your audience. The main idea is that your messages are more effective when they’re specifically targeted to a particular audience and for a particular reason. 

For community centers, think about the different segments of your members and supporters that you might need (or want) to send a particular message to. Here are a few examples:

  • Current members
  • Current members who regularly attend programming
  • Current members who rarely attend programming (and are at risk of not renewing their membership)
  • Previous or lapsed members
  • Supporters who’ve engaged with your programming but aren’t members
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Past volunteers or donors
  • Members, volunteers, or donors of a particular age range
  • Supporters who live within a specific area of your city

As you can see, there are tons of ways you might choose to segment your contact list. Look back over a few of the example segments listed above and imagine what type of specific email message you might send to each if you’re focused on increasing year-round engagement. Just make sure every recipient has agreed to receive communications from your center. 

Simply taking the time to develop segment-specific messages to promote your programming and new initiatives can have a major impact. This is another reason why using a centralized toolkit is essential. By cleanly reporting all of your member and engagement data into one location, identifying and then segmenting different groups within that database is much easier.

As you begin to develop new programming ideas and promotions to engage your community on a more year-round basis, creating an email newsletter is a smart way to get started. You might even create multiple versions, each targeting a different segment of your membership base, like current paid members, volunteers, and other supporters. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew!If your community center is brand new to email marketing, start small. This will help you to better identify the strategies that are working well without overwhelming your team all at once.


3. Ideas for Boosting Community Engagement

Finally, we’ll wrap up with a few specific ideas and strategies for bringing together your upgraded recreation facility toolkit, marketing techniques, and your community to build more engagement.

  • Double-check that your website is up to par. Your website is probably one of the most important tools you’ve got for engaging with community members today. If you’re not offering useful tools and information in an easy-to-use way, you might be limiting your efforts from the outset! Check out DNL OmniMedia’s picks of some top nonprofit websites for examples of the level of functionality and design to aim for. 
  • Make sure everything is mobile-optimized and mobile-enabled. You’ve probably experienced for yourself how frustrating it can be when a website just won’t work right on your smartphone. Don’t let that happen to your own website, event registration forms, or other online member tools!
  • Take advantage of upcoming events or holidays. People love getting involved with fun themed events and holiday celebrations! Try to get creative and find ways to boost engagement even during your off-season, too. A public pool might offer membership discounts in a Cyber Monday promotion, for instance, for a ready-made attendance boost when it gets warm again. 
  • Create special promotions and coupons for your online audiences. The right promotion can go a long way to boost visibility and awareness for your programming, especially on social media. Local parent groups, for instance, could be a huge potential audience for a free first extracurricular class at your center. Then, keep them engaged after the initial promotion to grow your base of support. 
  • Host events year-round and reach out to other local groups. If your center sees a strong cyclical engagement pattern (high attendance only during one part of the year), you probably typically save time and effort by significantly cutting back on programming during the slow seasons. Instead, partner with other local groups to host events year-round whenever possible. A sports league can easily partner with other local organizations and businesses to host events at their home park or conduct fundraisers around the holiday season. Start by looking through your recreation management software to identify contacts who can help you develop new partnerships!
  • Conduct a cause marketing campaign in your community. Your community center anchors all of its programming with a central mission. Try leading with that mission to drive increased engagement with your work! A cause marketing campaign in which you partner with other organizations in your area to tap into one another’s audiences to raise visibility for your mission and cause. You’ve probably encountered tons of these campaigns in retail stores around the holiday season, but they can work any time of the year. Learn more about these campaigns and see some examples here

Building year-round engagement for your community is certainly a worthwhile initiative since the payoff can be significant in terms of long-term growth for your programming. 

By investing in a centralized recreation facility toolkit, laying down some effective email marketing techniques, and then using them to both guide and promote your events and strategies, you can start seeing results in no time. Just because one time of year has always been your most important for engaging community members doesn’t mean you can’t get creative to find new opportunities all around the calendar, too!


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