Next week, Katya Andresen is hosting the weekly Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants created by Kivi Leroux Miller. The theme is "your top five anything" with extra points if you use one of the following words: “bikini,” “martini” or “Fellini.” So here it goes, the Top Five Things to Ask When Your Nonprofit Wants to Start a Community:
1. Why do you want an online community?
If the answer is because everyone else has one. Stop right there. Just because bikinis are in style doesn't mean everyone should wear one, right?
Be honest with yourself. Do you want an online community to have more site hits to show potential donors, or so you can gather emails for your mailing list? That might be a result of having an online community, but if it is your motivation, your supporters will smell it and they won't stick around long, which brings us to your next question. Ask not what your supporters can do you, but . . . .
2. What can you do for your supporters?
How would having an online community benefit your supporters and potential supporters? We are always asking our organization's supporters for things: donations, volunteer time, to spread the word. How do you feel when you have a friend who is always asking for things, but never returns the favor? You stop calling them after awhile, right?
If you are going to create a community, ask your supporters directly . . .
3. What need would an online community fill for you?
Whether it is through a poll, survey, focus group or informal chats, find out if an online community is something that interests them, and if it is, find out what need it fills.
You don't need to fulfill all their needs, just one or two. Are they looking for a place to learn new things, to meet people with shared interests, to organize around an issue, to collaborate, to share resources, or to just have fun?
Once you know why you want to build a community and what need it will fill for your supporters you can ask . . .
4. What online tool should we use?
Whatever tool you choose, please make it simple not only for your users, but also for your staff to manage. Bells and whistles are great, but if the only the person who can use it is the one who set it up, your community will contain only your tech savviest members.
Once you have chosen the tool you are going to use, your fifth question is . . .
5. How will we engage people?
Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come. You need to create an outreach strategy to spread the word. Which bring us back to why it can be helpful to hire an online community manager to help with the outreach, as well as to be a moderator once the community is up and running.