Eve Layman 1-On-1: Connecting Community Partners

Organizational Management April 09, 2015

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

Our most recent 1-On-1 interview with a standout member of our Membership Advisory Community was with Eve Layman. Eve is a Community Support Coordinator at CATCH Coalition – which stands for Community Action Towards Children’s Health – in the Central Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada.

When WildApricot’s Community Manager, Lori Smith, interviewed Eve, she offered up some terrific insight on:

  • using events to create connections between community partners; 
  • building a newsletter subscription base through online event registrations;
  • partnering with community organizations on projects; 
  • strategies for getting started with social media; and more. 

Here are some highlights from our interview with Eve Layman.

WildApricot: Eve, can you maybe start with what the CATCH Coalition does and what they're all about?

Eve Layman: The CATCH Coalition is a coalition of community partners working together around early childhood development issues in the Central Okanagan of British Columbia. And we've been working together since 1999.

How did you get involved with them?

At the time my daughter was two years old, and I was newer to the community. I started off as a volunteer with a community-based research project they were doing. My goal was to find out more about resources in the community, then talk to other parents in the community about what they used. It was perfect for me because I would get a chance to talk to lots of parents about what they were doing with their kids in the community, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

What is your role?

I am basically the administrator of the coalition. I'm part time and my role is to manage the website, social media, note taking, events registration and that kind of thing.

There are three paid positions. We also have what we call our Aboriginal Coordinator who connects with the aboriginal community, and they determine what direction they need to go in specifically for the aboriginal community here in the Central Okanagan. Then we have our coordinator who takes care of basically everything else.

“We’re a coalition not an organization” – “a meeting ground for our coalition partners”

When you say coalition, is it mostly a gathering of volunteers, or people in the community? How are you actually structured?

We're a coalition, we're not an organization, because we're not a legal entity. We're more of a meeting ground for our coalition partners. And the coalition is open to anybody who wants to come together to work on children's issues, 0-6. But it's supported by organizations. So the members that sit on the table are usually organizations that provide programs and services. Some are individuals who are interested. There's also policy makers that sit at the table as well. So it's really open to everybody. Currently we have 22 member organizations that sit on our board equivalent.

Coalition structure – “integration team”, “children champions” and more

You have 22 member organizations. You also seem to have different levels, such as the community network, the integration team … you even have “children champions.” Can you explain a bit more about these groups?

Our integration team is a board equivalent. They are all representatives from organizations and individuals who sit on the decision making body. They are the ones who provide direction for what we're doing that fiscal year. Then out of that, and including other partners from the community who maybe don't sit on the integration team, are our subcommittees that work on a particular individual issue.

Events create “connections between community partners”

Obviously events are a big part of what you do. Can you tell us about the events you have and how they come into play with your cause.

Our coalition works on community capacity building in the Central Okanagan area. We host networking and speaker events, usually with a professional development component from the same speaker. We also help facilitate community based research projects.

We host two network events a year. This is an opportunity for all of our partners and anyone involved with anything kids 0-6, to come together and to talk and to hear updates from the community and about the projects that we are doing.

We also have our guest speaker events, where we'll bring in someone on a topic that is of interest to the community and can tie it into families with young children.

Are the networking events just for community members, or CATCH members?

They're for anybody who's got anything to do with kids 0-6. We really want to facilitate creating those connections between community partners, because we work better together on projects. It always works better if you've got more than one organization working together sharing resources, sharing expertise, maybe sharing in-kind resources. That kind of thing.

Using online event registrations to build up a subscription base

Do you have a large subscription to your newsletter?

Our newsletter is probably about 264 people, I think.

And you said you use events to build up your email database?

Yes. So if we want to make better connections with a particular sector, for example, we had a guest speaker who came in to make a presentation who's a rock star in the environmental world here. We had him present a one-hour talk and we had over 300 people and a wait list.

When we do this, we have the registration online and collect people's email addresses. Then when we do another similar guest speaker event – we might do two or three a year – we'll email everyone and see if they want to attend.

Great. And do you also promote through your partnership channels?

Oh, absolutely. We send out all of our information and invitations to them, and ask them to forward it to their client base or their networks as well.

With the online registration process, you can just send them the link to your site for registration right?

Yes. Absolutely.

That makes it a lot easier. I know a lot of events that use the email attached PDF and then ask participants to email to register, and it just looks like a big nightmare.

Right. No, it's got to be in the body of the email, because people don't want to click and click and click. They want one click.

Exactly. And have you been happy with how easy it is to send out email blasts using the WildApricot membership management software?

Yes. It's been fabulous. We also use the announcements and the reminder emails for the specific events.

Social media “light” – “we don't post buckets of information.”

You manage the social media for CATCH. How do you manage that? Do you have a plan in place?

We started with Facebook and Twitter about three years ago. We started off with Facebook, and then I discovered that I could link my Facebook to my Twitter feed, so then we started Twitter. But really there's no separate strategic plan for the Twitter feed versus Facebook. It just basically echoes what I post on the Facebook page.

It is what I would consider to be light social media. We don't post buckets of information. We try and keep it down to a couple a week, because of social media overload. If people are following us they don't want to hear from us a lot. Because people have got so much information coming at them already. So we want to make sure that we share things that are really applicable to our community. Maybe information they haven't seen yet already, and then our events and activities as they're happening.

I think that's a good strategy to not overload. But do you do try to maintain some kind of consistency of once a week just to maintain the relationship?

Yes, I definitely post once a week at bare minimum. Probably a lot more than that. I post more during events because I post pictures from our guest speaker at the event, and maybe snippets of what he's speaking about, or what guest speaker would be speaking about. So there's that, so if people can't attend an event they can get a little bit of information that way.

Strategies for using online channels to bring people together offline

Yes, so it's really about using these channels to get them to come in real life and meet. That sort of online to offline conversion, if we want to use marketing terms.

Yes, and to provide value and to let people know what we're doing, because you really have to be online, especially if you're trying to connect with parents, they're all online.

Right. So you find mothers are online a lot?

Yes. They are online and looking for ways to connect or receive information easily through their phone. So we make sure we have an online presence, but it's not overwhelming.

It sounds like the website is there for the events, but also it's a repository for your research.

Yes. And even the local university will sometimes visit the website and troll to see what's happening in the community and what we did in the past. So yes, our website really is a repository and a historical document as well as being transparent. So anything we do, people can see what we've done. And have a holding spot for all the materials that we put out.

That's a great strategy.

Evaluating the coalition’s impact

How do you evaluate the impact of what you do?

That’s a million dollar question. How do you measure the impact of social change? Since what we try to do is so long-term, it is very difficult to measure because we don't count widgets. We don’t count the number of people attending a programme. It's not as quantitative as direct programme service delivery organizations. So yes, how do you measure change?

We do have evaluation benchmarks. For example, how many new people we connect within that particular fiscal year? Or how many people who have never come to a CATCH event in the past, come to a CATCH event? That's one of the metrics we look at.

How do you capture that?

We have an evaluation process at all of our events. Because they are free, it's a necessary evil. Participants have to give us their evaluation – they are usually one or two questions. We also bribe with door prizes. If you hand in your evaluation you put your name in for the door prize.

Also at registration we have perennial questions that when you log in to register you have to answer – we make them mandatory. They include, for example questions such as: have you ever attended a CATCH event before? And can we contact you for future evaluation follow-up. So if we need to do an annual evaluation at the end of the year, asking people about the information they received, and if they used it in their community or their work, then we can email them, asking a few questions.

We also measure our impact in the community at our integration teams. At every single meeting we have a round table where we go around the room. And we ask them about what's new and upcoming and what impacts they have seen or what changes they’ve seen because of the work that they do or the work that CATCH does. So that's really interesting because the kinds of things that we are hoping to see are more connections made in the community. For example, agency A and agency B got together and one supplied the space for a programme and one provided the coordinator for that programme. And they've now made connections with, say, ten families in that specific neighborhood that weren't meeting before. That’s the kind of impact we really like to see.

So new connections and new attendees are the way you quantify it?

Yes. And also qualitative stories. Because we have a really great connection with the aboriginal community, and all of our partners, all of the aboriginal organization are part of what we call the aboriginal CATCH team. They come together very frequently and one of the things we're really particularly proud of is that all of the organizations came together and they saw a need in the community and they wanted to produce a grant application to support a coordinator/facilitator for aboriginal fathers. And this hadn't been done before in the community. And so they've put a joint application together, hosted by one of the aboriginal partners, and they succeeded in getting that grant application. So we have a new position in the community that is really, truly owned by the community to meet that very specific need of connecting aboriginal fathers together and providing support for them, because there wasn't a lot of fathering support in our community.

That is a true measure of achievement for our coalition, because that would have never happened if we hadn't been able to bring those groups together.

That's a great success story that shows what can happen when working together. That's wonderful to hear.

What about challenges?

Are there any challenges that you're dealing with? What is the hardest aspect of what you do?

I think one of the hardest aspects is making sure that we engage all sectors of the community. Historically we have had a little bit of difficulty getting hold of the business community and with justice as well. But because of the roots of a lot of issues occur because of the environment in which you grow up, it really does have a lot of impact on all aspects of society. But it can be difficult trying to convince people that it's not just a parental issue. It's your issue.

Raising the awareness. Helping people to understand why it's important that kids are raised healthy in your community. Why is it your issue when you don't have kids? Why is it your issue when maybe you're older? Why is it your issue if you're a business member? How can healthy and happy children affect you directly?

Solution: “tailoring events” to connect with stakeholders

So how do you connect with those stakeholders? Do you run campaigns or send out anything?

In the past, we have made an effort to make presentations to organizations like the chamber of commerce. But our most successful way of connecting with large numbers of people is to tailor events to appeal to them. So if we want to make more connections with the business or faith community, we will bring in a speaker who can really speak to that particular sector. Something that they want to hear. Then incorporate how can we work together on the issues affecting children 0-6 as part of that.

You are doing amazing things Eve. Thank you so much for talking to us in this 1-On-1 interview.

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