My last post was on the value of building a community. This post looks further into the ways you can create them.
An effective way to create a sense of community is simply bring people with a shared interest, or who have shared values, together. Reasons to bring people together could include: reaching a milestone, thanking supporters, getting their input, announcing a goal or impossible dream, giving them some useful information or advice, or simply an opportunity to meet like minded people. Don’t forget one of the shared interests your supporters have is they support your cause. So you can be the reason for bringing them together. Chances are they share similar beliefs and shared values too.
Look around you and I’m sure you’ll find every day examples of organisations creating communities.
I go to Reflex, a local chiropractor, each month. At the start of the year they organised a packed out event for their customers. A gathering in effect. They made an effort to bring us together. We all have a shared interest in staying healthy and looking after our body (and mind). During the evening they shared the latest thinking in keeping healthy, plus gave some fun awards to customers, many who attended with their families. They brought together people of all ages with a shared interest in health. Amazingly, I met an old friend, a former volunteer who helped me when I was working at Oxfam 25 years ago! Whilst that seems like luck – that’s the thing with communities – serendipity happens. Reflex are thinking of holding a summer event to bring us together again, and I am sure it will be just as popular.
So why go to the trouble? If you don’t take time to build a community in the words of Grant Leboff, whose definition of community I used in my previous post, “You won’t get the serendipity, you won’t get the sharing, and you won’t get the advocacy“. A community is something people want to be part of, versus a name on your database they are part of, whether they like it or not. The strategic benefit of creating communities is it keeps and retains my attention, which is hard to get. Moreover I can contribute to it so I feel involved. I might even help grow it. If I enjoy being part of it why wouldn’t I recommend it? And then I become an advocate. I would happily recommend Reflex to anyone, and when asked to do a review I didn’t hesitate because I feel part of the community they are creating.
There is another bonus. Because when I have a great experience that I can share with others it magnifies that experience. So feeling I am part of a community will help do just that. Imagine how you could apply that, say for supporters who sponsor a child, or take part in a running event for your cause? Ask how can you bring people together who share an interest to create a sense of community.
I recall we ran a series of supporter roadshow events at ActionAid UK (see link to past blog post for more detail) taking child sponsorship staff, who were visiting the UK for training, out to visit real supporters. The ROI? No idea. But the value to creating community was clear for all to see. I think years later they were stopped – probably because there was no clear return there and then. That was missing the point. At the time I felt it was instinctively the right thing to do – now I know why. Those events were bringing supporters together who shared an interest in sponsoring child. They were creating community. I’m sure this sort of activity will have huge long term benefits. In fact at one of the supporter roadshows I quizzed a member of the team why hadn’t they put the legacy materials out? The answer was they had – it’s just that the pile of brochures had been taken by those attending !
Events help create community
Events in particular are great opportunities to create community because they bring people together. My cousin runs a chain of fashion shops called Yasmine in South Yorkshire which has built a loyal following of customers and has just celebrated 45 years in business. Several times a year they organise a fashion event for customers with ticket sales going to a local charity, to show case the seasons colour and look by the shop staff. It’s a way to bring people together, and give them a memorable experience. Whilst it’s a lot of work to put on I’m sure its makes business sense too. It’s done to create a sense of community. She found customers even started encouraging each other and they do the selling amongst themselves even to people they have never met before! Whilst other high street competitors have come and gone, the business Annette set up is thriving, and I’m sure events like this are a factor of her success.
I recently went to a concert by Collabro, a musical theatre group and winners of Britain’s Got Talent five years ago. What struck me was how they involved the audience, at one point getting us all to hold up our mobile phones with the flashlight on (see below) – such a simple way to get us to be part of the act. Throughout they thanked the audience for their support, “We are able to do this because of you”. That’s really a message we should be saying to our supporters. Of course they were playing to an ‘audience’ but in effect they were building a community – bringing people together who share a love for theatre music from Evita to The Greatest Showman – and getting us to feel involved by participating even in a small way.
As these examples show community isn’t limited to non-profits. Businesses see the value in creating community – and that’s where linking with charities helps them – as it helps connect with peoples values and beliefs, and so create a stronger community.
As I finished my run this weekend, I was invited by my Strava app – a community of 40 million runners – to take part in The Last Mile by running a ½ marathon by the end of June. In return they will donate to “amazing organisations that support young runners around the world” – including Girls on the Run, The Running Charity, and Freunde der Leichtathletik.
So, you need to be clear what do you believe in to attract corporate partners who are seeking to build community too.
Once you know what to look for you will see plenty of examples in your own world that will give you ideas and inspiration.
Invest in Create Community
There is a danger with the pressure to raise funds that we focus on targeting audiences and don’t take the time to create and build a community. By targeting audiences they will just diminish, but by investing in creating a community, it will grow. Events can be ideal but all too often we get fixated on the ROI measure and so either they just don’t happen, or if they do they don’t focus on the elements that would encourage participation (it’s all about you). Creating community is not the same as “raising awareness” by the way (the latter is what you can do an audience).
And don’t under estimate the power of community. It’s not a little word – done well it is extremely powerful.
A news piece caught my eye the other day about how the niche gaming company Games Workshop, creators of the table top game Warhammer, is bucking the high street trend in the UK and growing year on year. It has effectively created a global community, which has clearly been very good for business. “It is more of a social club than a gaming club based on this idea of community“, stated the founder, with the market value of the business rising to over £1 billion.
So go on – bring people together and create community. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the pay back from investing time and resources in doing so.