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In Part Two of The Power of Belonging in Community Recreation series, Marc Iturriaga covers invitation marketing and how to make sure everyone is on your guest list. 

An invitation is the written or spoken request to come somewhere or do something. It is how potential members know what your facility has to offer. In essence, the invitation is how we recruit our communities into our programs, services, facilities and opportunities.

The typical invitation in community recreation relies heavily on traditional marketing such as social media, websites, guides and orientation blitzes that seek to inform people of what activities are offered, along with structural items like cost, location, registration processes and policies. This approach works great for those already comfortable in a traditional recreation landscape because they know what they want and just need the information to guide them to their desired activity.

What about those who currently don’t feel like they belong in community recreation?

Our traditional methods of inviting these members do not work, yet we rely on them heavily in hopes to convince them to participate. We use pictures of athletic people, use catchy phrases and talk about winning games. For those unfamiliar with community participation and recreation, these tactics do not inspire them to wander into unknown territory. We need to go beyond information and take a member-centric approach to show everyone they belong in your facility.

How is your community being invited into your facilities, programs, and opportunities that motivates, inspires and leads them to show up as stress free as possible, ready to participate as their authentic selves and not worried about fitting in? It might be time to take a look at your current engagement strategy.

Who is your invitation created for?

To find out, ask how you are using language, imagery and storytelling based on feelings, instead of informing members of opportunities that leave them feeling like they belong in community recreation. Does the invitation represent the diverse nature of your community – not just racial, cultural or sexual identity, but also those of different skill levels, body types and motivations? How does the invitation help members understand and navigate the community recreation space before they even arrive in your facility?

There are also hidden invitation marketing aspects that may not be intentional and can lead to someone feeling like they do not belong. Does your community see people in your staffing and programs that look similar them? Do you offer programs they would like beyond traditional sports, aquatics, etc? Do you name programs to feel inviting rather than exclusionary? Even the facility can lend itself to a positive or negative invitation.

Have you considered the personal invitation marketing technique?

Another important reminder is the invitation isn’t always received directly from your organization. As a previous captain for countless teams, it was my role to recruit, inform and manage my player’s experience. Without my invitation, most of those players would not have been part of the team. My personal invitation was the motivation and inspiration needed to change their behavior into active, engaged participants, whether they felt connected to the organization or not.

Nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth advertising and your current members and staff should be a key part in helping spread that invitation. How can you intentionally support those who are critical to inviting others who you will not reach on your own? Think of initiatives that encourage members to “bring a friend.” Find and invest in community influencers who will be active in creating meaningful invitations.

What about those who haven’t yet found people to connect with? PlayCity is a free app that connects people with others who are interested in the same activities, helping people find their best match in their communities based on skill level and availability while helping them discover events, facilities and locations relevant to their activity. This could be a great resource to introduce to your members.

Try extending your marketing invitation to community partners.

Lastly, to invite unengaged members, you need to go where they are. There are countless community partners with access to different populations that can help support you with the invitation process. For example, community associations, immigrant and refugee services, LGTBQ+ resource centers, cultural groups, and friendship centers are great places to start. Be prepared to listen and learn about what a meaningful invitation is for the different communities you serve.

It’s time to look beyond our community recreation lens and understand that our invitation needs to be more inclusive and meaningful for our diverse populations. When we ask our community to join us, it needs to be delivered in a way that creates space for them to feel like they belong.


Next time on The Power of Belonging in Community Recreation: Welcoming Beyond the Customer Service Desk.

Marc Iturriaga

Marc Iturriaga is the founder of Bonobo: Fostering Belonging in Sport+Recreation+Community. Marc has over 20 years building inclusive programs and communities through his work in higher education, sport and recreation, and community development.

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