Discover actionable tips on strengthening your board and ensuring its members champion the values that uphold your nonprofit’s mission.
Strength in Community: How to Organize & Empower Your Audience
Discover how your nonprofit can build community around your cause by investing in efforts to cultivate lasting relationships with your supporters.
Community is a place in our minds, a place where we can find a hand to pat us on the back when things go well, a shoulder to cry on when things get tough, and a place where we find advice, consolation, and acceptance. Community defies the limits of geographical boundaries, turning strangers from all corners of the world into neighbors and friends. Community is powerful and, in many ways, unstoppable, which is why community is the very foundation of the missions nonprofit organizations seek to make a reality.
In our webinar, Strength in Community: How to Organize & Empower your Audience, we spoke with leaders in the nonprofit space who are well-versed in bringing together the people who make their cause possible. Our panel included:
- Mitch Stein: (Moderator), Co-Founder & CEO at Pond
- Jonathan Meagher-Zayas- Director at Villa Of Hope
- Kenrick Ross - Executive Director at National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
- Denise Spivak - CEO at CenterLink
- Leya Simmons - Co-Founder & CEO at BetterUnite
Check out their practical tips and advice for tapping into the collective power of all the wonderful people who want to see your cause succeed.
Focus on Building Relationships
Community can be the people you serve, staff, volunteers, donors, and partners. It’s the people power that fuels your mission, so you must ensure that community is core to everything you do. Following the programs that bring your mission to the field, community-building is the most important second.
Your organizational strategy should seek to answer the essential question, How can we effectively develop and strengthen our relationships with community members, so we're building a space where everyone feels welcome and included?
Be Specific About the Communities Your Nonprofit Supports
When we speak about identities within marginalized groups, we want to use the word "communities" because we're trying to dismantle powerful systems. That work requires the passion and efforts of many people working together.
To ensure that marginalized groups and people with intersectional identities feel specifically welcome and represented in your mission, you must live out your mission through an intersectional lens. No one agenda or program will serve everyone, so here's where you need to reach out to these community members and ask them where they stand on particular issues and how your organization can best serve the causes they care about.
Reach Community Members Through Nonprofit Tech
Multiple communities and identities live within any one community, and your communication strategy should reflect that. We often say things like, "We need more donors," or "We need more volunteers." But what if, instead of these questions, we asked, "How can we grow our community?"
When you use this type of relationship-centric language, you think about engagement differently.
- Curating newsletter topics that donors respond to
- Throwing an event to thank current volunteers and onboard new ones
- Generating buzz on social media by featuring community members and actively responding to commenters
- Writing outreach materials in the multiple languages used by your community
Let's face it. Not everyone wants to receive daily emails from you in the same way that a number of supporters would love if you offered a virtual option to coincide with your in-person event. You can only achieve this by understanding what your community members want. While it's impossible to converse with every single person who sees your social media post to find out what they think, your data can tell you everything at a glance in real-time.
Investing in a fundraising and donor management CRM empowers your nonprofit to measure the success of your efforts so you can quickly and easily see what's working and what's not. This data saves you time and resources in understanding which initiatives you should pursue. Plus, it will also help you better connect with community members by sending resonant messages, throwing hit events, and, when you do ask, setting the appropriate giving levels.
When your supporters feel like you know them, they consider your cause and your organization as their own, which is why the most engaged in your community are the ones who are happy to participate in advocacy initiatives, peer-to-peer fundraising, and other activities that bring people together around your shared goals.
Find Your Nonprofit CRM on Pond
When you join Pond (for free), you’ll save serious time and money connecting with everything you need to maximize your impact.
Welcome New Ways to Engage Your Community
One of the things that COVID-19 forced nonprofit leaders to do is to think differently about what engagement is and what it can be. Instead of hosting the same event over and over again, be open to radically new and different ways to connect with your community and bring people together. Maybe that's a timely-themed fundraiser, membership drive, or peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Or it could be a walk, run, race, or dance-a-thon.
And while hosting a brainstorm for new ideas may feel risky, if you've got tracking in place and a wealth of data to influence where you land and give you real results, you can move forward in confidence, knowing your decisions are based on much more than a hunch. In addition to tech, you can always get feedback the good old-fashioned way: Asking people!
Instead of tired surveys, follow the lead of some of the most successful and innovative startup leaders by conversing with people in your community. This way, you can elicit real, raw feedback that gives you a clear-eyed view of the potential effectiveness of your idea before you make it happen as well as its level of success once your initiative is complete. And note that in these conversations, the questions you ask will determine the value of the data you receive. For example, instead of asking, "What did you think of our gala?" ask specific questions like:
- What did you learn about [ORGANIZATION NAME] at our gala?
- Did you meet someone new at the event?
- Is there anything you think was missing from our event?
- Are you interested in getting involved in our organization more? If so, how?
Understand When and How to Show Up In Hard Times
When headlines cause a jolt through your community, it's important to know how to respond. And note that we said respond, not react. Fueling negativity or sending out "the sky is falling messages" to fundraise can heighten the anxiety of your community members or cause their frustration to turn toward your organization.
Responding means engaging in conversations and community-listening exercises that let your team know what kind of messaging and action will be productive. Sometimes that will be letting supporters know that you offer services to help people impacted by current events and that those who want to pitch in are welcome to donate. Sometimes that's putting out a post on social media simply letting supporters know that you're there to listen if they need you or that you can connect them with a neighboring organization that can assist them.
Hone In On the Skills That Will Strengthen Your Community
When you invest in truly knowing the people in your community, you gain a better understanding of what each individual can bring to the table. Chances are, you have lots of enthusiastic members who can bring your strategy to life. Let’s say you’re running an advocacy campaign. You can probably lean on your relationships to connect with people who can:
- Make phone calls to elected representatives
- Donate a venue for a fundraising event
- Volunteer skills for your marketing campaign
- Rally their business/customer communities to join your cause
And again, this is just another way that your cause, your organization as a whole, becomes their own. The more you invest in making each member of your community feel seen, heard, and valued, the better you can hone your outreach, mobilize action, and create the change you all want to see — together.