The Community Engagement Index


…effective community engagement is one of the defining characteristics of high performing nonprofits…


The Community Engagement Index or CEI is an empirically validated assessment tool specifically designed to measure a nonprofit’s community engagement capacity across five dimensions of organizational practice―leadership culture, community collaboration, accountability, resources for engagement, and marketing and communication. The CEI evaluates a nonprofit’s ability to attract and strategically place volunteers and initiate and manage dynamic inter-organizational partnerships and community collaborations. Organizations with high CEI ratings are those that are best able to leverage resources, expand networks, build community goodwill, and engage funders and key constituents. Our research has shown links between community engagement and factors that affect financial stability.


More targeted than any of the currently available “organizational health” instruments, CEI reports assess an organization’s standing in areas of critical practice, providing a diagnostic response to identify strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations for improvement. In alignment with survey results, the CEI provides suggestions for practical action and tools and resources nonprofits can use to support strategic visioning and improvement strategies. CEI reports also provide comparative analysis of a nonprofit’s community engagement capacity with other organizations in the Index dataset. This feature can be aligned with organization-specific parameters such as size, age, budget, or service area to help an organization gauge where it stands compared to similar nonprofits.


The CEI evolved from a project supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service to develop a national quality assessment tool for community service and volunteer programs. Led by Dr. Sarah Jane Rehnborg from the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Dennis Poole, College of Social Work, University of South Carolina, a purposive sample of stakeholder groups was asked to identify the observable indicators of well-managed projects and programs. From this initial data, we conducted a concept mapping analysis to capture and refine indicator statements reflecting operational practices and core organizational capacities that characterize community-building enterprises that strengthen both the nonprofit and the community in which it operates. The resulting instrument has been tested with hundreds of nonprofits across the country.
The CEI provides a road map for nonprofit leaders and board members engaged in program improvement and strategic planning. CEI results can also serve as a measure to support funders in grantmaking decisions or efforts to build nonprofit capacity. Use of the CEI can drive organizational improvement and has the potential to stimulate constructive competition in the nonprofit sector.


Additionally, the RGK Center and the TCC Group have joined forces with the Reimagining Service Council and Points of Light to create the Service Enterprise Diagnostic Tool (SED). The SED, administered by Points of Light, uses selected measures from both the CEI and the TCC Group’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) to prepare nonprofits to achieve the designation of service enterprise.


For more information, contact: Bailey Cool at baileycool@austin.utexas.edu