The Community Convener

Role Summary

If you surveyed your local landscape and found that there was broad interest in executing your local resiliency vision but no one “in charge” of doing so, this role is for you! This role is all about coalition building and leveraging your role as an anchor institution within the geographic scope you picked to get stakeholders talking to each other.

Summary of Benefits

Being a Community Convener means you’ll get to build exactly the local ecosystem you want to see. It means you can leverage the “bully pulpit” your institutional status provides to get people on and off campus working together to create a better community.

Financial & Resource Commitment



Undertaking this role properly means time and energy spent getting people into a room and framing a conversation; it is is one of the lowest financial commitment roles, and the only real resource committed is time (and, perhaps, a free venue on campus with catered meals during working sessions).

Functional Scope / Workflow

Ecosystem building is its own specialized field, and its nuances far exceed the scope of this Roadmap. What we are focused on here is how you can convene community to create investable opportunities and measure the impact of those opportunities.  Whether your “opportunity set” is building an ecosystem for Black-owned small business resiliency in a certain neighborhood or fostering regional economic growth across a 10-county area, this Role should give you a pathway for convening the right groups.

At a high level, every local ecosystem is comprised of different stakeholders from each of the following groups:

  1. Community representatives (and representatives of community organizations)
  2. Potential project sponsors (landowners, developers, small business owners, and others with potentially investable concepts + professional service providers to support deals and other anchor institutions like yours that can support ecosystem formation work)
  3. Capital providers (entities and individuals that can provide debt, equity, and incentives, per our capital stacking guide)

When you did your local resiliency landscaping assessment,  you should have identified (and, potentially, spoken with) each of the following groups:


Community Representatives

  1. Neighborhood Associations
  2. Local economic development officers
  3. Chambers of commerce (including minority / women focus)
  4. Local elected officials 
  5. Local nonprofit organizations target serving community
  6. State / local nonprofits with focus on placemaking or economic development (e.g., Main Street groups)

Potential Pipeline Resources


Real Estate

  1. Community development corporations (list available from the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations.)
  2. Local real estate developers
  3. Local property owners


Operating Businesses

  1. Small business owners
  2. Business incubators and accelerators
  3. Offices of tech transfer and commercialization


Institutional Supporters

  1. Professional service providers
  2. Other anchor institutions 
  3. Small business development centers


Capital Providers

  1. CDFIs (CDFI Fund Locator).
  2. Development finance agencies.
  3. Local foundations (including community foundations) -> PRIs, MRIs, etc.
  4. High net worth individuals (particularly those aligned with mission / vision of effort)
  5. Alumni donors / others with strong connection to college and deep pockets
  6. Local banks 
  7. Financial advisers / investment bankers / capital intermediaries


The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has laid out a framework for how to hold convenings to engage stakeholders – it’s written from the perspective of convening stakeholders around an Opportunity Zone engagement strategy, but it’s directly applicable to any ecosystem building work. For a great case study on how to do this well, read about The University of Arizona and Impact Experience’s collaborative stakeholder convening here.

A few helpful pointers on ecosystem convening:

Building a Following

You’ll need a compelling reason to get time on the busy calendars of many of the organizations listed above. That vision / mission you articulated in Part A needs to be concise and compelling, but you’ll also need to offer each group something new and unique to get their attention. We’ve found that (a) education on an interesting (but confusing) subject area and/or (b) offering compelling networking opportunities get folks into the room.


Providing top-notch information on unique capital stacking tools (like the ones described in our Guidebook) will get a large subset of project sponsors and institutional supporters (and, potentially, investors and community members) into the room. For example, including Opportunity Zones as part of your community engagement strategy – or as a specific focus area – helps limit your geography and gives you something to talk about with all the groups above.


If you can bring capital providers, everyone will want to be in the room. Make sure you start building strong one-on-one relationships with CDFIs, Community Reinvestment Act officers at local banks, and capital intermediaries so you’ll have a well-rounded group of potential investors to help loop in opportunity sponsors and community members.

Sequencing Your Gatherings

At some point, there is incredible power in putting all of the stakeholders listed above into a room (or onto a Zoom) together. Usually, that point is further along in the process, once you’ve built buy-in and trust around your Part A vision / mission and your opportunity set.  Each group will have slightly different educational needs, too – so sequencing your gatherings by group or by focus area (at least at the start) can help get things rolling more quickly.

Educational Component

Make sure that whoever is doing your educational piece (a) has the latest information on the complex financing vehicle you’re discussing and (b) is a compelling, dynamic speaker who knows when to dip into the weeds on technicalities and when to pull back out to the big picture. Lawyers and accountants make for great subject matter experts, but not always for great speakers!


We find that collaborative sessions work in groups of anywhere between 15 and 50 people (making sure that, with larger groups, you provide facilitated time for breakout discussions in smaller circles). Once you get over 50, it becomes more of a panel / education-focused experience and less of a collaborative environment. If you’re planning a session that lasts for more than an hour, facilitating breakout discussion around how to achieve certain goals – like integrating community groups, developing a pipeline, or identifying investors – can be an effective way to build engagement.

Key Considerations

Remember — leverage your convening power as an institution to your advantage! Offer free space, advertise it well through your network of stakeholders (consulted above), and cater the event, and you’ll be surprised how many people will come. 


One of the best ways we’ve found to get folks into a room is to talk with them about a new incentive, or about creative applications that could be useful in their fields. Few incentives touch on as many groups (and have created such an informational gap) as Opportunity Zones, so we’ve found them to be an effective excuse for getting the folks you want to your local convening – but capital stacking with unique financing structures (like New Markets Tax Credits, for example) will always draw an interesting crowd. In general, use the Guidebooks to identify the right incentives that will have the broadest applicability to the deals you want to find, build programming that includes explainers on that incentive, and start sending out your invites! If you’re interested in being a convener and want more information, we are happy to strategize with you–reach out to us.

Once you’ve had that initial convening, you’ll typically find that a core nucleus of engaged, local stakeholders (who could range from elected officials and economic developers to local accountants and business owners) want to remain engaged and help drive the work forward. Forming an external task force – then walking that task force through the remaining steps in LISC’s Community OZ Playbook.

Related Case Studies

Arizona State

Phoenix, AZ

Similarities: Community Convener

Arizona State moved its schools of nursing and journalism and other programs into a once-blighted section of Phoenix in a project that includes student housing and private development. Part of the anchor institution model is to invest in a suite of different programs and initiatives meant to connect them with the community.


Ball State University

Muncie, IN

Similarities: Community Convener

Established in 2014 by a three-year grant from the Ball Brothers Foundation, the Building Better Neighborhoods Initiative connects Ball State’s resources with neighborhood development efforts across Muncie and Delaware County through “collaborative immersive learning experiences with Ball State faculty, students, and neighborhood associations; leadership development workshops and annual conference for neighborhood association members; best practices and support for neighborhood associations; and networking and learning opportunities for neighborhood leaders.”


Case Western Reserve in Cleveland

Cleveland, OH

Similarities: Community Convener

The Greater University Circle Initiative coordinates three large anchor institutions located in Cleveland’s University Circle area—about one-square mile of educational, cultural, and health institutions. Through this initiative, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University networked and deployed their resources in a powerful challenge to the persistent poverty and disinvestment in seven surrounding neighborhoods.


College of St. Joseph

Rutland, VT

Similarities: Community Convener

St. Joseph’s accreditation was suspended in 2019 because of financial concerns. Now, the college’s space and land is being evaluated for potentially becoming an innovation center for the surrounding community.


Kansas State University

Manhattan, KS

Similarities: Community Convener

In 2006, Kansas State held listening sessions across the state aimed at identifying challenges facing rural Kansas communities. During these sessions, the need to support rural grocery stores rose to the top.


Marquette University

Milwaukee, WI

Similarities: Community Convener

Marquette University is one of the 5 anchor institutions funding the Near West Side Partners nonprofit organization. The organization’s mission is to revitalize and sustain the Near West Side as a thriving business and residential corridor, through collaborative efforts to promote economic development, improved housing, unified neighborhood identity and branding, and greater safety for residents and businesses.


Morehouse College

Atlanta, GA

Similarities: Community Convener

NPU-T (Neighborhood Planning Unit-T), Ashview Community Development Association, West End Neighborhood Development Association, Westview Community Organization, West End Merchant Coalition, Booker T. Washington Homeowners Association are working together under the Morehouse College Community Revitalization Initiative (MCCRI) . The initiative was started as programming to develop a relationship with the college’s surrounding community, greater West End Atlanta.


Ohio University

Athens, OH

Similarities: Community Convener

Ohio University is very active in community development throughout Appalachian Ohio. They work with a network of regional entrepreneurship partners including a business incubator they run, an Angel Fund, a public VC Fund, several non-profit development orgs, and are very engaged in OZ work in Southern Ohio.


Rowan University

Glassboro, NJ

Similarities: Community Convener

As Rowan began to increase its capital spending locally, the city of Glassboro saw a unique opportunity to leverage the Rowan investments by developing a plan for the transformation of the downtown area leading to the university. This plan ultimately became the $476 million, mixed-use development of Rowan Boulevard. In the city of Glassboro more than 30 percent of school-aged children qualified for the free lunch program and 20 percent of families earn under the poverty line.


Rutgers University – Newark

Newark, NJ

Similarities: Community Convener

The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) at RU-N is one of the first centers of its kind to integrate scholarly works with private capital, government, and non-profit sectors to develop citywide resources and bring renewed economic growth and vitality through urban entrepreneurship.


UNC Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC

Similarities: Community Convener

UNC and Chapel Hill town officials have partnered to spur innovation and entrepreneurship and keep local businesses and research ventures in town. The Carolina Economic Development Strategy’s goal is to revitalize the downtown and boost economic development. The partnership seeks to bring UNC affiliated businesses to downtown Chapel Hill through newly built office spaces.


University of Utah / Sorenson Impact Center

Salt Lake City, UT

Similarities: Community Convener

The Sorenson Impact Center partnered with the Utah Association of Counties to support communities throughout UT, launched the OZ Catalysts in partnership with Forbes, and is a thought leader in the Opportunity Zones.


University of Virginia’s College at Wise

Wise, VA

Similarities: Community Convener

UVA-Wise is the lead partner for an Opportunity Appalachia program in the State. They are a leader in Southwest Virginia in community and economic development, with tremendous connections to community leaders across the region and to state government. They have a strong track record in downtown development and rural entrepreneurship efforts in +20 communities.


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