Plan Your Engagement

The Steps

Setting Goals and Objectives

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Landscape Mapping

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Building the Team

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Set Internal Goals & Objectives


The most important part of embarking on your resiliency journey is to start with what your institution would like to see accomplished—whether it’s a new student dorm, a grocery store adjacent to your campus, or a fund to invest in the companies generated by your academic research. In this case, “Resiliency” is defined as building the infrastructure to create investable opportunities and measure the impact of those opportunities.

As a result, there are three gating questions to defining what “resiliency” means to you.


Geographic Scope:

Where are you casting your vision?


Whether your institution is having financial difficulties or you want to stay focused on building pathways for at-risk students, focusing on-campus will help narrow which goals you can set and which roles you can play. On-campus focus normally results in Opportunity Sponsors.


Choosing a broader geography means a broader set of potential goals and roles; stay focused on how broadly you define “community.” Is it the neighborhood around your school? Your home city? A county? The whole state (particularly for public anchor institutions)? Narrowing or broadening this focus will help you set clearer mission, vision, and goals. This broadens your role set to include being a Community Convener, Local Anchor, Capital Aggregator or Capacity Builder.

Regional Engagement

There are a few limited goals and roles that, for institutions with enough capacity, may actually create movement at the regional or even national level. Impact measurement systems, for example, translate across communities, as do systems for assessing project-level demand. These goals and roles are around creating infrastructure that others organizing local resiliency ecosystems can rely upon to do their work. Impact Drivers or Capacity Builders, for example, can focus locally, but can have just as big an impact at a national scale.



This is going to be entirely unique to your institution and its financial situation, leadership, community relationships, and current programming.

There are dozens of ways to create a more resilient, more equitable on-campus or off-campus community – but it starts with having some direction in which you’d like to travel. We’ve provided you with some samples below, but your only limitation is your own creativity. 



  • Providing better quality student living and amenities (housing, recreation, etc.) 
  • Making college more affordable for at-risk
  • Providing unique career pathways for at-risk students 
  • Creating new cash flow opportunities for financially struggling institutions (like P3s that would generate cash from underutilized university assets) 
  • Increasing access to healthy foods (students or community)
  • Creating funding pathways for minority-owned businesses and developers
  • Filling vacant land or improving blighted conditions (on or off campus)
  • Funding companies that want to commercialize university research but stay / employ residents within low-income communities


Investment Opportunities

At its core, this journey is about building infrastructure to facilitate investment into investable opportunities.

To work effectively, you’ll need an initial sense of what kinds of opportunities you’ll want to create, promote, or track through your strategy. Those fall into two broad buckets:


Any opportunity that is predominantly characterized by an investment into property development and a physical footprint. We’ve given you a non-exhaustive list (ranked roughly from on-campus to off-campus) of the kinds of opportunities that fit into this category:

  • Student amenities (dining, rec space, classroom buildings, etc.)
  • Research / lab space 
  • Office / tech park space
  • Housing (student, local workforce, affordable, etc.)
  • Retail / Food service (student or community)
  • Grocery / food access (student or community)
  • Business Incubation / acceleration space (student or community)
  • Healthcare / health and wellness Facilities (student or community)
  • Hotels / Hospitality 
  • Community facilities (childcare, workforce training, etc.)
  • Critical infrastructure (e.g., broadband / internet access)
  • Industrial space (manufacturing, warehousing, etc.)


Any opportunity that is predominantly characterized by providing capital to help a business grow or sustain its operations. This categorizes most things that don’t include real estate. The categories below are some of the most common where we see higher education want to get engaged: 

  • Commercialized university research
  • High-growth startups / tech companies (particularly MWBEs)
  • Local retail/consumer-oriented small businesses (particularly MWBEs)

Typically, the further outward through the “rings” you move, the less directly involved your institution will be in every aspect of the deal. The key here – you don’t need a full development team to get engaged in some aspect of moving the ball forward. That’s why it’s so important that your team review every role before you choose which makes the most sense, and refine your Internal Goals and Objectives based on the Landscape Mapping and Stakeholder Engagement that you will facilitate. This is an iterative process!

Codifying Your Vision, Geography, and Local Context.

Once you’ve had a chance to process through Part A, put pen to paper and codify your results. Doing so will give you a clear picture of (a) geographic scope, (b) what “resiliency” means to you, (c) what impact you want to have on campus (or community, or the nation, as the case may be) and (d) your initial ideas on how to get there / what kinds of projects your effort will promote. 


What can we do to provide direct benefits to the community?






What can we do to influence change that directly benefits the community?


Supply Chain


Ecosystem Building
Collaboration & Partnership
Capacity Building
Value-Add Services


What longer term outcomes can we contribute to for our community and other communities?




Public Policy
System Change


Landscape Mapping


In developing your strategy, you will likely speak with many of the same community partners you have before. However, stepping fully into economic resiliency work means you’ll be talking to new partners—new economic development brokers, coalitions, alliances, or non-profits—that have arisen over the past decade in response to incentives or systematic changes in the economy.

Internal Surveying

Take your initial concept on how you want to build a resiliency strategy and see who on campus agrees with you and is already doing some of the work you want to do.


Some potential university stakeholders you might want to engage:

In General

On-Campus Projects

Supporting Allies/Exploring Community Roles

External Surveying

For those wanting the complete picture – or for those without a coordinated effort who want to start one locally – here’s the groups you should engage in conversation, grouped roughly in order:

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Always begin by asking your local city, county, chamber of commerce, and economic development professionals about who has taken the lead when it comes to local economic resiliency and inclusion work. That could be the Mayor’s Office in the City of Stockton, the Baltimore Development Corporation in a place like Baltimore, or Invest Atlanta in the greater ATL metro region. But it could also be a project sponsor (like a local community development corporation) or even an investor (like a local CDFI). Make sure you’ve included local community groups – like neighborhood associations, place-oriented nonprofits, and Main Street-like organizations (where relevant) – in the conversation. All these groups don’t need to be in every meeting, but you need to ensure open lines of communication.

  • Cities
  • Counties
  • Economic Development Organizations
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Main Street Groups
  • Business Improvement Districts
  • Neighborhood/Civic Associations 
  • Local Nonprofits
  • Community Development Corporations
  • Faith-Based Organizations


Depending on the role you chose, you’ll want to identify partners that could provide a sustainable pipeline of potentially investable opportunities. If you’re focused on-campus, your partner will be a team member (e.g., head of commercialization or facilities) – but if you’re looking off campus, it could be a community development corporation, a local business incubator, or even a socially minded development firm like Shift Capital.

  • Developers
  • Large landowners
  • Community development corporations
  • Business incubators and accelerators
  • Local development-oriented nonprofits 
  • Business support-oriented nonprofits
  • Ecosystem supporters (legal, accounting, etc.)


CDFIs are going to be a critical ally in this work – they typically have the best “on the ground” networks, pipelines already established, and have been engaging in resiliency-related work (and the capital stacking that accompanies it) for years. Here’s a list of all CDFIs active in the US – make sure you check against this list, and make some new friends, as part of your landscape mapping. Look for other mission-aligned capital providers, like foundations and established investors, as well.

  • Community development financial institutions
  • Local foundations (particularly with program-related investing arms)
  • Local impact investing firms 
  • Local high net worth individuals 
  • Highly engaged alumni (particularly donors)

If no one knows who is coordinating a resiliency strategy like the one you want to launch, then – as you’re completing the rest of your landscape mapping – consider whether that coordinator needs to be you. 

Here are some questions you should consider asking of these groups:

  1. Is there any broad, comprehensive effort underway to spur investment activity in distressed communities around my campus or community? If so, who is running it?
  2. Has anyone hosted a convening or other gathering around strategy development (e.g., pulling a deal pipeline together, providing technical assistance, building capacity on projects) at a community level yet? If so, what were the results?
  3. Is there a central database or repository of meaningful deals (real estate or operating business, depending on your strategy) into which investment opportunities in our city, region, or state are uploaded?
  4. What technical assistance is currently available to people (developers, business owners, etc.) with investment opportunities?
  5. What does our local investor recruitment strategy look like and who has taken the lead?
  6. Has anyone developed marketing materials for our community or its opportunities yet? If so, who, and what do they incorporate?
  7. Who (if anyone) is working on ensuring that any outside investment activity has a net positive impact on low-income people and places within our community – and on building the dataset to prove those outcomes?


Stakeholder Engagement/

Build the Team


Between your internal conversations and your external landscape mapping, you’ll have a good sense of who in the community and on your campus most aligns with the internal goals and objectives you have for entering into resiliency-related work.

While some of those objectives can be done by a one-person team, a working group is typically the better way to bring all the financial, legal, and community expertise needed to engage more deeply with resiliency work. Team members can come from on or off campus, depending on your objectives. The best members of this team will be people who genuinely believe in the resiliency goals / objectives you set for yourself in Part A above – and (hopefully) refined through your stakeholder conversations on campus. 

Once you have your team assembled, the next critical step is defining the scope of your resiliency work as a group. Take the same document you’ve been using to interface with stakeholders on and off campus and have a deliberative conversation with your team around whether your scope, vision, mission, goals, and objectives are all doable. 

A make-or-break element is securing buy-in from higher ups at your institution, whoever is the ultimate decision-maker. Having that “mission statement” handy – along with the research that went into creating it – will be critical in that conversation.

At Opportunity Alabama, we’ve found that while universities were reluctant to do anything perceived as “going out on a limb”, they expressed more enthusiasm once similarly-situated institutions pursued this and were praised for it. There’s nothing quite like the fear-of-missing-out (aka FOMO) and the desire to keep up with peers for a change of heart. We would recommend keeping up with case studies of institutions similar to yours and that of projects you would like to see happen so that those could become tools of persuasion.

Pick your role

Once you’ve gathered stakeholder input, formed your team, and crystalized your vision, the best way to decide what you want to do is by getting your core team into a room for a long (3-5 hour) deep dive on which role best aligns with your vision.

The following tools will effectively drive the conversation:

  • Your “vision statement” 
  • The “Project Types” infographic from your engagement planning session, along with an initial list of potential projects you’d like to elevate (or at least the kinds you’d like to elevate)
  • The “Opportunity Set” infographic from your engagement planning session, along with your justification for which concentric circle you picked.
  • Map of the local OZ(s), NMTC eligible areas with institutional assets (e.g., campus, business incubators, student clusters, etc.) overlaid and highlighted. 
  • Any materials from your information gathering as you planned your engagement (like local stakeholder lists).
  • This Roadmap.

Pulling It
All Together


Stillman College


Stillman College wants to activate underutilized spaces on campus to generate some revenue for the college (making it more resilient) and better integrate campus with the local community.



Stillman College (a private liberal arts oriented HBCU located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with 861 enrollment) has underutilized assets on its campus, including a few old dormitories and some vacant lots. There is a need to generate more cash flow for the college to ensure its long-term viability, and there is also a pressing need within the broader community for more food and beverage options and better quality housing. A mixed use project on Stillman’s campus would facilitate all those goals at once.


Stillman College campus


On-campus development opportunities


Opportunity Sponsor, Capital Aggregator


  • Stillman Office of the President
  • Stillman VP of Facilities 
  • Opportunity Alabama (statewide Opportunity Zones coordinator)
  • Multiple local development groups
  • City of Tuscaloosa – Mayors Office


University of West Alabama


University of West Alabama wants to facilitate comprehensive regional economic revitalization using a four-point approach: cooperation, entrepreneurship, placemaking, and infrastructure.



UWA (a four-year academic institution with several graduate programs in Livingston, AL (population of just over 3,000) with 2,239 enrollment) has a broad mandate to spur economic development within its rural West Alabama focus area. It has four pathways towards accomplishing this broad mandate –

  1. facilitate greater regional cooperation within its local 10-county footprint by using its convening power to draw all communities together around one vision for economic development;
  2. foster rural entrepreneurship, with a particular focus on enabling local business owners with the tools they need to be more virtual, and creating the infrastructure/systems to encourage more local residents to start their own businesses;
  3. revitalize downtown Livingston (UWA’s home) by turning a series of vacant buildings into an entrepreneurship center / business incubator, retail space, and second story lofts; and
  4. provide access to critical infrastructure for the area (namely, broadband).


A multi-county footprint in West AL


Broadest of our sample, looking at:

  • Real Estate – downtown revitalization, hotel, broadband, and any economic development projects that result from series of regional collaboration events (e.g., new buildings for industrial prospects landed because of shared recruitment approach)
  • Operating Businesses – any regional small business with ability to add a technology component to its operations to improve profitability, and customer-oriented businesses to help revitalize downtown Livingston


Community Convener (regional planning sessions), Local Anchor (investing into downtown Livingston / activating the corridor), Capacity Builder (bringing in experts to help with both broadband and entrepreneurial ecosystem building), Capital Aggregator (for downtown projects and others)


  • UWA Outreach staff
  • Opportunity Alabama
  • Sumter County economic development staff
  • Sumter Chamber of Commerce
  • Mayor of Livingston / Mayor’s staff