ROI Has a Whole New Meaning: Return on Involvement


Kathy Cohen

– VOL. 9

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ROI? Return on Investment. Right? In our world, the world of neighborhoods, ROI means something different. For too long, the phrase ROI has been thrown around carelessly in business circles. Everyone’s talking about it, but no one thinks to redefine it—even in today’s rapidly-shifting world.

Not so at Venn. Here, ROI is more meaningful when we think of it as Return on Involvement. That way, success is measured by the amount of engagement, the level of participation, and the growth of the community. It’s a common shared goal at the top of our minds from the moment we even start connecting with a community. It starts with a question: What does the community member get out of being involved in the community? In other words, what is their Return on Involvement?

Image of return on involvement venn bushwick

Last fall, a pop-up concert series at General Irving offered local musicians, Neighbors, and passerbys on the street an easy,  informal, and consistent way to connect.  

I’d like to see more businesses shifting their focus on Investment to Involvement. Why? Because when the Return on Involvement is worth the Return on Investment, we get the sense of satisfaction that fosters commitment, continuity, and growth. And the impact radiates throughout the neighborhoods we support. For example, our building leader micro-community, which is composed of Venn residents who take an active role in building their communities, wouldn’t exist without neighbors volunteering their time, skills and talents. Our community leaders have to make sure neighbors get a Return on Involvement so we all build a culture within the community where all stakeholders get value. 

I recognize these changes aren’t easy to implement in an organization, but I’ve seen it happen firsthand at Venn. How? Start by defining the shared vision of the community. Set goals for what you want your members to get out of being involved in the community. Now you’ve established more meaningful points of value.

Ready to build your ROI strategy? Ask yourself these four questions:

Question 1: Do members get more knowledge out of being involved in the community?

As a part of the community, members can acquire new skills whether it be by participating in training courses, enrichment days, leadership sessions, etc. These sessions, by the way, can be provided by other members of the community to create a knowledge-sharing ecosystem.

In this way, their return on being involved in the community is — “I get to acquire new skills and knowledge, but I also get to share mine”.

Image return on investment venn

Arie, a Neighborhood Manager in Kansas City, introduces the community to the expectations and goals of the Building Leaders program.

Question 2: Are they empowered?

To empower someone means to give them the means to achieve something. At Venn, it’s important that the building leader team feels empowered and that they have the tools to succeed in their role.

In this way, their return on being involved in the community is that active members are empowered to be leaders, supported along the way by their team and peers.

Question 3: Do members find connections and friendships?

People join communities to belong, to connect with people of similar interests, and to feel like they are a part of something greater. Creating friendships and connections means that the member has expanded their circle, connected to other people, and is on his way to finding what they were looking for in a community. 

Create activities and events that provide an opportunity to connect. People find it easier to connect through shared experiences. When you create your events make sure to have small opportunities for people to connect over. For example, conversation cards at a dinner party, seating arrangements that accommodate small groups rather than individuals, and opportunities to facilitate networking.

Question 4: So, how can I measure my member’s ROI?

You can create a feedback survey that you conduct bi-yearly. In the survey, we ask the questions and ask the members to answer on a scale of 1 to 5. We can get some good statistics that gauge the success (or failure) of each of the criteria/goals we set ourselves — goals to achieve a Return on Involvement for our members. For example, on a scale of 1 – 5, how much value do you get from the events in the community? 

Rethinking ROI is all about the way ahead. Isn’t it time we achieve Return on Involvement for ourselves and our communities?

Kathy Cohen has worked at Venn since 2019 and leads Training and Development