Monday, July 23, 2007

Top Five Things to Ask When Your Nonprofit Wants to Start a Community

Last week Seth Godin wrote a post suggesting that the #1 job for the future is being an online community organizer. He's probably right. With all the hoopla around MySpace, Facebook and social networking these days, it seems like everybody wants to start their own "community."

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.

For more information about building and managing online communities, follow Nancy White's Full Circle Online Interaction Blog, and check out her Online Community Resources.


  1. Anonymous5:51 PM

    Hey Britt,
    Saw this post via an RSS feed from the BlogHer Haystack ( Just did a podcast with Chris Cerado who told me about the coolness.

    Did you do anything special to make this post show up there?

    Have fun at BlogHer - say Gday from OZ for me.

    Fang - Mike Seyfang

  2. Hey Mike,

    I don't know how it showed up there. The post is cross-posted on BlogHer, where I am a Contributing Editor, and they just relaunched the site with all kinds of new features so it may have something to do with that.



  3. Anonymous3:37 AM


    Nonprofits do need to ask some important questions before investing critical resources. It can be easy and fun to get caught up in the latest online technologies and trends. There can also be a tremendous penalty paid for doing it without taking a hard look as to whether or not it is the right thing to do for your particular nonprofit organization. You have provided a great set of questions to use before starting an online community.


  4. I always figured it was better to join an existing community who has the influence and is already established than to have little communities all over. Less effective I think.

    Great post Britt, thanks. :)

  5. Glad to hear it's useful (:



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