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How to Create an Online Community for Your Non-Profit Organization

Online communities have skyrocketed in recent years. The benefits of an engaged community are so compelling that more organizations are putting it at the top of their to-do list, or at least considering it. Non-profit organizations are no exception. Many are now going beyond email campaigns, blogs, and newsletters and engaging their audience through vibrant online communities. Generally speaking, the stronger the engagement with supporters, volunteers, and donors, the better the outcomes. Online communities can help non-profits get more donations, sign up more advocates, and mobilize more people for their cause. 

In this article, we will examine how you can build an online community for your non-profit organization.

Start With Why

Why do you want to create an online community for your non-profit? Consider your organization's strategic goals, then ask yourself how a community could help. Here are some potential goals:

  • Increase donation rates

  • Recruit more volunteers

  • Improve volunteer retention

  • Increase brand awareness

  • Increase sponsorship and partnership opportunities

  • Facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration

  • Identify and empower community champions for your organization

Create a Community Mission Statement

Once you've locked in your goal(s), you can create your community mission statement. A community mission statement defines the aims of your organization and community.

A mission statement should encourage members to join, articulate the values and culture of the community, and explain the benefits of being part of it. 

Laying the Foundations

Consider the following when setting up your community:

1. Who will manage the community?


The community manager manages, engages, and grows the community. They ensure the community is a vibrant hub where people want to be!

2. What are the rules?

To achieve your community's goals, it is essential that members feel in a safe online space, surrounded by people with shared interests. You are responsible for keeping users safe and ensuring you are clear about the rules. Define guidelines on how members should interact with each other, explain what is allowed, what isn't, and the consequences for breaching the rules.

3. How will you engage members off the bat?

Collect and create seed content to populate your online space before the launch! You could also reach out to specific members to generate discussions in your community before the official launch. This way, you can engage members from the very start!

Ensuring Engagement

Building a successful online community is all about engagement. Growth is essential, but your community's actual value lies in its engagement level. Engaging your community will lead to stronger relationships between members and your organization. Stronger relationships lead to better outcomes for the organization.

Here are some techniques for improving community engagement that works for most types of communities:

1. Make it incredibly easy for members to participate. Create multiple entry points into your community (your organization's website, email, newsletter...) and carefully consider its design-- make calls to action clear and easy to understand!

2. Create an outstanding onboarding process. Give new members the warmest welcome and ensure they understand how the community works and how they can get involved.

3. Identify your community champions. Get feedback from your power users on how to improve the community. Ask them to reach out to newcomers to introduce themselves and encourage participation.

4. Create a safe online space. Make your community a safe environment for authentic self-expression and a sense of belonging.

5. Create targeted engagement strategies. Create dedicated spaces for specialist groups within your online community to offer members more personalized content and support.

Be sure to survey your members to ensure that your community consistently provides them with value. Keep in mind that the majority of members don't demonstrate engagement at the start. Most begin by observing and then become progressively more involved. Community managers should experiment with engagement strategies and use a test-and-learn approach!

Identify and Empower Your Advocates

Once your community is up and running, you need to identify your community champions. Your community champions are your most engaged members. Other members recognize them for their motivation and willingness to get involved. They take the initiative in the community and demonstrate leadership skills. Your community champions are your best advocates for your organization. They believe in your community's mission and actively involved in it. They promote your community and organization, refer new members, and can help create content.

Community champions can also offer priceless feedback on your community and how to improve it from a member's point of view. Be sure to thank community champions for their contributions and encourage them to continue. You could give them shout-outs or offer extra admin privileges. You could also ask them to manage a specialized group within your community.

Measure Success With Meaningful Metrics

You need to go beyond counting clicks and comments and look at metrics directly related to your goal(s). Here are some examples:

  • Volunteer participation rates

  • Donation rates

  • Number of community champions

  • Event participation rates

  • Participant satisfaction, feedback, and retention

  • Number of sponsorships and partnerships

  • Engagement with resources

  • Volunteer feedback and satisfaction

  • Number of collaborations

  • Number of active members

Choose a Platform that Serves Your Community's Needs

Once you have your community strategy, you can look for software to support it. The requirements you have will be unique to your organization. That said, there are some features that all great community management platforms provide to strengthen engagement and create the best user experience:

  • A searchable and interactive member directory

  • Membership management features

  • (Virtual) event management

  • Donation management

  • A jobs board

  • Analytics and engagement scoring

  • Group features for targeted engagement strategies

  • Media center for sharing resources

  • Email suite (complete with email templates and campaign reporting)

  • Project function for collaborations

An Invaluable Asset for Your Non-Profit Organization

Communities – physical or virtual – are central to the human experience. They tap into our needs for closeness and connection and give us a sense of belonging. The best virtual communities enable relationships, meaningful exchanges, support, and sometimes friendship. 

The key is to create a safe, private environment and encourage members to interact with you and others. An online community can be an invaluable asset for any non-profit organization when done right. By creating a vibrant virtual community, a non-profit can drive loyalty, brand awareness, new donors, more volunteers, feedback, and more.

You can read more here.

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