How nonprofits can build own community from scratch and attract new donors
In the nonprofit sector, we all want people to care about our cause. That’s why community is the magic ingredient when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. Building a community around your organization’s mission will connect your supporters and amplify their message as they work together. Eventually, engaged community members will turn into donors and help you attract new community members and donors.
According to our decades of experience in the nonprofit crowdfunding space, online fundraising success for nonprofits is strongly linked to having a community behind your cause. This group will be the first to support, cheer on and spread the word about your cause and all new initiatives.
However, don’t despair if you don’t have a community or large donor base at this moment. Any nonprofit organization or social enterprise can build a strong community base if they’re prepared to put in the effort it takes.
Before we dive deeper into what community is and how to build it, let’s highlight some key concepts around building a nonprofit community and attracting new donors:
- Community building is not a one-time activity. It’s an ongoing process and requires consistent effort. Abrupt actions and sporadic pushes will bring short-term results but won’t make your community stick or become loyal supporters. It’s worthwhile to consider dedicating a set number of hours a week to this activity or assigning community building exclusively to one team member or volunteer.
- Your storytelling and engagement skills will become essential. You will have to start thinking about your cause and mission from the storytelling perspective. For example if your mission is “we ensure that the extinction of some endangered species is prevented and aid their recovery in the wild”, try breaking that down into descriptive stories of real animals that your organization has saved with your work. People are wired to remember stories better.
- Just because a community is built online doesn’t mean that it won’t require offline activation to bring in as many potential supporters and donors as possible. If you run events, attend meetups or have a physical location where people drop off cheques and donations, you will have to engineer the path that will lead everyone who engages with your cause offline, to join you online. Offline supporters that have joined your online community can be some of the most loyal and active members, as they know you personally and trust you more. We’ll talk about this more later in this article.
- Keep building your community even if its members aren’t turning into donors right away. It takes time for people to know your cause, get emotionally involved in your work, and trust your organization. If you are consistent and enthusiastic, they will eventually turn into recurring donors and in turn, help you attract new donors.
So what is a community?
Community is not a place, a building, or an organization; nor is it something that happens only over the internet¹. Physical spaces like neighbourhoods, schools, and places of worship can foster community, but they are not communities themselves.
Members of a community have a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves – they feel safe in their community and able to care for other community members. They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of that community, make a difference and matter to each other.
There are both formal and informal communities. Groups of friends or those with a shared interest, such as gardening clubs or regulars at a coffee shop, are examples of informal communities. Formal communities include groups such as schools, governmental bodies, and what we will discuss here – the nonprofit sector.
How do I know who will join my community or become a donor?
Gather as much information as you can about the demographics of your existing audience and donor base. What can you find out about them, and what trends do you see? Age, gender, geographical location, level of education, and interests are just a few categories, but don’t stop there. Think about what they value, what they’re passionate about, what their life goals and challenges are. These factors will give you a psychographic description of your community and hint at some conversation starters.
Then, use this information to build a few different donor profiles. Having a sense of who the members of your community are, both in how they differ and what they have in common, will help you to see them as a group of individual people.
Aim to build from 2 to 6 different donor profiles, and feel free to revise and update them as you gain more knowledge about your community – remember, this is meant to be a journey to greater understanding, not a rigid document.
example of donor profile, developed and copyrighted by prosper-strategies.com
Building And Growing Your Community
After you have a sense of who your community is, you’ll need to figure out where it will be. Online and offline channels are equally important as you build your own group of supporters. Online, consider places like Facebook Groups, the comments on your own Facebook page and in blog posts on your website, Instagram, and Twitter. It could also be followers or supporters of similar-interest groups as well as employees of a business that support causes like yours.
Offline, community can be fostered at your organization’s headquarters or physical location by hosting events. You can also partner with other meetups or events whose audience may have interests that are relevant to, or overlap with, your own.
Once you know where to focus your community-building efforts, it’s time to put your plans into action. When approaching offline community spaces, it’s important to build trust and establish a positive reputation with your existing and potential audience. Prepare a clear and engaging pitch about the real-world problems your organization works to solve, and the tangible results of that work. Deliver this pitch repeatedly, via different avenues. Each time your message is shared, only a small portion of those who hear it will become part of your community, so it’s important to share again and again.
Ideally, you’ll also want to set up a system to convert offline traffic to online. Posters and campaign announcements are two good ways to approach this.
When it comes to building online community, ongoing and consistent effort is key. Well-moderated online communities promote conversation on an ongoing basis by responding to users and recognizing those that are active and generous members of the community. You should also look at your online community as a constant source of exciting updates on your work and mission. Track the kind of posts and content that perform the best, and use that to guide your community’s structure and routine going forward.
Best performing tactics for growing and engaging community:
- Write frequent updates about what’s happening inside your organization. It could be victories, struggles, innovations, experiments, new team members or small achievements. This will demonstrate to your community that your cause and efforts are driven by real people who deserve their trust.
- Tell stories about your impact. Any proof and demonstration that your mission is being translated into actions will be a great reason why people will support you. Remember, in the beginning we mentioned that real communities give people a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves, and that they are able to care for other community members. Show your community members what a difference you all are making!
- Make them celebrate, laugh, cry and fight with you. Engaging your community members emotionally and rationally is equally important.
- Ask your community questions – and truly listen to their answers. Real community is not about one-way communication or broadcasting. Ask your community members for help, share your doubts, and seek their advice.
- To accelerate the growth of your community, try paid ads on social. Paid might sound like you have to invest a lot, however, promoting your group doesn’t need to be expensive. You can start with as little as $5-10 a day and have your content in front of a large group of people. Here is the video from us that might help:
- Meet your community members offline. Travelling to a new city? Attending an event? Organizing an event? Drop a note in your community that you are there and ready to meet them. Nothing replaces in-person engagement and you will see how your online members return from a meeting as an even more enthusiastic fan or donor.
Common Concerns of Nonprofits:
Making community-building a priority can seem overwhelming or intimidating at first. You may feel that community building as a method to bring in support and donations takes too long – that you need this additional support now.
While we at FundRazr certainly understand the intense workload that many in this sector are under, the fact of the matter is that community-building is a long-term project that should be a top priority. If you have a project in your mind and need additional brainpower to help you with community building ideas, you can book a free session with one of our crowdfunding strategists that will help you create an actionable plan.
¹ based on Stanford Social Innovation Review article