A Sense of Belonging
People join the Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship community because they love mountain biking. They get to ride with and socialize with people who share their passion. They have formed friendships during Dig Days that have lasted for many years. The community is open and accepting of everyone from hard core enthusiasts, to casual weekend riders, to kids who just use the pump tracks the organization builds.
In short, people join their community because they feel like they belong there. Your community members should feel the same way and join your community because:
They care about your cause
They want to work with and connect with others to make change
They want to accomplish something meaningful that’s greater than themselves
They want to socialize with people who share their interest and their values
For social enterprises, your products bring them together around a passion
Your role is to help them do that.
Social impact organizations are in a unique position to provide community. They can fill the gap in people’s lives that has become more pronounced during the pandemic and as they look for a sense of connection and purpose that’s meaningful to them.
It’s reasonable to think that your organization could replace an old school gathering place or service organization that many people no longer find relevant. By their nature, social impact organizations are value and purpose driven. Supporters are attracted to donate, volunteer, and become part of your community because of aligned values.
Through events and advocacy work, in-person and digital communities provide ways for people to remain engaged, both with your organization and each other. Bringing people together for real world and online actions builds trust that can lead to long-term friendships.
Low Barrier to Entry
Social impact communities are one of the few places people can connect with each other without having to overcome a societal or monetary barrier. All you need is passion, time, and common goals for creating change. Be sure to provide clear entry points beyond donating.
Social impact organizations that have embraced a digital-first approach make their communities easily portable. You don’t need a physical presence to keep members engaged. This is even true for some hyper-local organizations, like food banks, where people continue to contribute as a way of maintaining a connection to a community.
The longevity and strength of your supporter community is based on finding the balance between structure and evolution. People are more likely to stick around when:
There is a sense of organic evolution
The participants are driving the activities
Everyone feels safe to be themselves
They know that they are making impact
Remember that people elect to join your community. Find ways to keep it flexible while remaining on mission. Schedule events out several months in advance to make it easier for members to include advocacy in their busy lives. Use a tool like Discord as a frictionless digital solution to keep people connected without your direct presence.
Provide ways for members of the community to know that their presence is impactful. They joined the community to make a difference. Reward them by sharing successes.
Use metrics to give them a tangible way to understand their impact. Thank people for what they have done, publicly if they are comfortable with that, and privately if they’re humble and want to keep a low profile. Showing measurable change is vital to keeping people involved.
Forcing community never works. An effective and enduring community requires a skilled community curator to help elevate people’s voices and desires without making anyone feel like they’re dealing with an overzealous cruise ship activities director.
The best communities are curated — mostly from within. You need someone from your organization to be a final arbiter of disputes, but good communication can usually resolve conflicts without the need for top-down intervention.
Rely on and empower established members to help moderate the norms on your behalf. Encourage people who have been doing social impact work for decades to act as mentors for new people. New members bring fresh perspectives that are often embraced by their new community. Make sure that yours is open to radical thinkers.
Give the People What They Want
Know what your community wants — and give it to them. They want to belong. They want to make a difference. They want the sense of accomplishment that people used to get elsewhere, but no longer do.
They chose your organization and your community to fill that role in their lives. Reward them by making them part of your journey and they’ll reward you back through volunteering, donating, digging in the dirt, protesting, amplifying your voice, and making your mission one of their passions.