Socially Enabling your Mission—How Nonprofits Can Benefit from Online Communities

Earlier today I presented on an NTEN webinar with Jeff Patrick from Common Knowledge and TJ Muehleman from ThePort on “How to Implement an Online Community That Integrates with your Constituent Management Database.” The webinar covered online community best practices, showcased an in-depth case study on a new community Common Knowledge recently helped launch and how to reach the zen of integration with your online community and your database—i.e. pulling information from one to the other.

It was clear from the webinar that the natural progression of online technology and the best practices has progressed greatly over the past 18-24 months and that the nonprofit community has more opportunity than ever to recruit new supporters, raise more money and empower constituents to take action using social media like online communities.

Jeff Patrick shared some really interesting statistics about online community participation to help provide a high level view of what nonprofits can expect from user participation (note Holly Ross’ conclusion that everything seems to relate back to the Power Law!)

  • 1% of nonprofit community users are super users and contributors
  • 1% create a significant amount of the participation and are evangelists within the community
  • 10-30% only participate at a low level
  • 70% of participants see, read, learn from the community but might never actually interact by writing a blog post or taking other action (caveat: Jeff says to NOT forget or neglect these people, they are still important!)

And TJ Muehleman added a few points about integration that are music to any nonprofit’s ears: the level of integration we are seeing now between community platforms and organizationss databases is better than ever before! Long gone are the days when the two couldn’t talk to each other and information couldn’t be pulled from an online community back into an organization’s systems. And this technology is allowing nonprofits to have truly “socially enabled missions” by empowering their supporters to take action on behalf of their organization like never before – whatever that desired action may be for any given organization.

Below are my slides on best practices for building and managing an online community. As for my top tips for online community management:

  1. Set expectations about what you can achieve in the community early
  2. Have a strong understanding of why you want a community in the first place
  3. Define your success metrics
  4. Make it about your constituents and provide the tools and information most important to them
  5. Be genuine and show a humanistic side in all community efforts
  6. Be participatory and responsive