[GUEST POST] Building Community to Drive Sustainable Revenue for Nonprofits

When you’re looking for ways to increase fundraising for your nonprofit, building community can be a powerful place to start. Fostering a strong community around your organization’s mission can help constituents feel more engaged, build a sense of trust with your organization, and ultimately motivate constituents to support your nonprofit through donations and in many other ways.

But to gain the benefits of community-building, it’s important to understand “community.” It’s also important to evaluate how your organization approaches community today and what you can do to build stronger community among your constituents.

How community, identity, and trust impact fundraising

People seek out groups of others who share their values, interests, or ideas. What groups we choose to be a part of is a big component of how we see ourselves.

When we engage with people in a community that is a good fit for us, these interactions reinforce our identity. This is called a “social validation feedback loop.” The more we engage, the more our identity is reinforced. Being validated by others is extremely rewarding, making us more likely to engage – and the wheel goes round and round.

Interactions with members of a community also build trust. These interactions tell you, “These people are like me. What I am doing is good.” And that trust extends to the idea or cause that you all share.

Research shows that people are more likely to behave positively toward people they trust (and like). In other words, trust in the community is actionable; it makes me more likely to behave in a way that supports the community and its goals. So, when a community member (maybe someone you’ve never met) asks you to do something (such as offer emotional support or make a donation to the organization), you’re much more likely to comply.

A real-world example of the impact of community-building

For example, when Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF) set up a Facebook Fundraising challenge, they found that the peer-to-peer aspect of Facebook allowed them to foster a community of constituents that were able to communicate with and support each other.

Recognizing the bigger impact of the community than just a one-time fundraising campaign, PBTF left the Facebook Fundraiser in place and began to actively foster the community. It’s now a thriving community that has inspired community members to launch multiple do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraising campaigns, advocacy work, and more.

How to build a strong community for your nonprofit

For many nonprofit organizations, communications that are intended to help build community are typically organization-to-members, or marketing-focused communications. To build a strong community, however, the focus must be on fostering member-to-member communications.

So, how can you build a strong community around your nonprofit? Here are four steps to get you started:

  1. Understand what a strong community entails – Make sure you think of community as a group of constituents who are communicating with and supporting each other. Your organization is certainly a participant in this community, but the focus is on enabling and encouraging member-to-member communications.
  2. Evaluate your nonprofit’s community – Consider where your organization’s community stands. For example, are you focused on organization-driven communications, or are you providing a space for and fostering member-to-member communications? What changes could you make to drive a stronger community?
  3. Set your organization’s vision and goals for the community – Think about what you are trying to accomplish with your community. For example, while you might aim to increase fundraising as part of your community-building efforts, keep in mind that building a community is not a one-off initiative. It’s an ongoing activity, so, for example, it can be more helpful to look at it in terms of how it can impact lifetime value of constituents versus how it impacts your annual fundraising goals.
  4. Be prepared to nourish your community – It’s ideal to have staff members participate in your community to help your organization better understand the community’s needs and concerns while being an active part of the community. It’s also ideal to have the support of your organization’s leaders to help nurture the community.

Learn more about how community can impact your nonprofit’s revenue

This article just scratches the surface of how a strong community can drive sustainable revenue (and more) for your nonprofit. Discover more about this topic in the on-demand webinar, Community & Identity: The Path to Sustainable Revenue Illuminated by the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, which was a session from the 2023 Peer-to-Peer World virtual conference. View the recorded session and other sessions from the conference.

Katrina VanHuss, Founder Turnkey For Good, and Dr. Otis Fulton, Psychologist

Katrina VanHuss founded her company, Turnkey For Good, in 1989. Since then she has studied “how things work” with the people supporting social good as employees and volunteers. Dr. Otis Fulton, is partnered in marriage and study with Katrina as a social psychologist with an emphasis on identity-building. The pair and their two house rats live outside Richmond, VA.

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