Community seems to be the new buzz word. Like ‘engagement’. The danger is it will lose its real meaning without an understanding of what a community is. I’ve sat in meetings where the talk is of “creating a global community”, but where the underlying basis of what a community really is seems to be missing.
This is the definition I heard by Grant Leboff, a thought leader in marketing I admire, when speaking to an audience of fundraisers.
- A community is a group of people that has either a shared interest or shared values (or better still both).
- And everyone in the community can contribute – otherwise it’s just an audience.
That works for me. Let me give you some examples from my own life which I can easily spot with the above in mind. I am sure you can think of your own.
Our family recently got a dog. Lola is a Catalan Sheep Dog (we met one on a beach whilst walking in Devon and fell in love there and then). Debbie who is the breeder has set up a delightful Facebook group for all of those who had puppies from the litter. We all have a shared interest in seeing what Lola’s siblings are up to, and we can all contribute with content, questions, photos, advice etc. This is a community even though there are just 10 of us that are part of it. It’s addictive.
It takes time but if you invest in creating one you will reap the benefits in the future. Peer-to-peer fundraising works because when people ask their peers to donate they have already built their own mini-communities by investing time with family, friends, colleagues, many who share the same values. You need to consciously create it. If you are fixated on targeting individuals all the time it just won’t happen. So how do you go about that?
You need to create breadth. Ask how can you bring together supporters who share the same values? How can you connect people? That can include funders too by the way.
My amazing sister in law runs a small pre-school nursery in France with twenty pupils representing ten nationalities. She thought wouldn’t it be great if we could learn from each other. Parents can join the class on a particular day of relevance to share their culture, or celebrate a particular event. For example, for Persian New Year, the children built a pretend ‘fire’ in the garden and jumped over the ‘flames’ (this is a means of saying ‘goodbye’ to illness and welcoming good health) and a mum came in to show them how to write their names in Arabic. Around the events, she also organises a dinner for parents who select a restaurant and help pick dishes for everyone to try, explaining the different dishes and customs. They’ve done Chinese, Russian, and Italian. “This really creates a sense of ‘belonging’ and also facilitates respect for other cultures“.
She is helping create breadth.
And no surprise her nursery is full. She gets inbound requests for new children to join from recommendations by parents (although she doesn’t do this as a marketing exercise she does it because it creates a genuine community, everyone feels part of).
As a community has a shared interest, or shared values/purpose, this is where your charity comes in. Your organisation can provide the very thing that can unite them and bring them together, even when they come from many diverse backgrounds as the example above shows. That’s why you need to know what are your values? And have real clarity on your purpose. Also what content can you provide that will interest people and how can they participate? Straight away it makes you think of content from their perspective not yours.
Once you define a community the advantage is you can think of content to attract them, and then create it. If it’s for everyone it remains bland. So I’m interested in content about Catalan sheep dogs, not dogs (although advice on training dogs, or rather their owners, also ticks my box). And I might contribute to it to with the odd video and photo too i.e. provide more of the content you want to the community.
Where do you begin? Grant’s tip is to start small. What’s the smallest viable audience you can focus on and build from there? Who can you bring together that has shared interest or values and how can they contribute too? Facebook began by creating a community within Harvard, then it expanded to Yale. And now the world! So you can create a global community if you get the basic ingredients right from the outset.
So go on – start building your community.
In my next post I’ll share some thoughts on how events can help you create a community.