Community Development

Intentional Communication Leads to Trusting Communities

March 13, 2023  • Community Strategies Group

The polarization of the national political discourse has made communication a delicate and difficult matter for many rural development organizations and practitioners. In times of politicization, nonprofits often opt to stay neutral on current events and political opinions, and complex challenges faced by rural communities are often reduced to one-dimensional sanitized sound bites rather than authentic, solutions-focused communication. Particularly for organizations and practitioners working to implement the Thrive Rural Framework—which calls for dismantling rural-discriminatory practices based on race, place, and class—this instinct for neutrality isn’t a strategy for building trust.

For example, as a facilitator and convener, the West Virginia Community Development Hub (The Hub) has long seen itself as a neutral party, and its communications have reflected that sense of neutrality. This communication strategy often worked in favor of those with the most power, leaving people out of the conversation and reinforcing inequities. After identifying this issue, The Hub’s leadership dedicated itself to connecting with community members across the political spectrum, promoting equity and inspiring trust.

A recent case study by the Institute’s Community Strategies Group looks at the Hub’s work to focus on authentic and intentional communication for employees and community participants. The Hub’s leadership found five clear elements of communication that helped build trust and foster connections with those who could not previously find common ground.

  • Articulate the organization’s value clearly
  • Find the right language to connect authentically
  • Speak intentionally but don’t mince words
  • Tell stories about specific people and places
  • Ground communication in action rather than expediency

Read more about The Hub and their tips for organizations to implement trust-building practices in the Community Strategies Group’s case study.

This crisis of trust is perhaps the most critical problem of our time, threatening every aspect of our society and the foundation of democracy itself. The Aspen Institute is working to fight against polarization and bring people together in dialogue with its In Focus: Strengthening Trust series.