Building an Engaged Community: What You Need to Know - Heller Consulting

Building an Engaged Community: What You Need to Know

Recent technology and digitalization trends have made it easier than ever for nonprofits to build an engaged community. Communicating and connecting with supporters using online messaging features, group chats, virtual community walls, and live online events have enabled nonprofits across the country to turn their supporters into a vibrant community—strengthening their relationships even further. 

Turning your nonprofit’s supporters into a full-fledged community has a number of benefits, too. Supporters who engage with both your nonprofit and other like-minded supporters are more loyal to your cause. Nonprofits who can create this sense of family and commonality also earn more support and improve their supporter retention. 

So you know building an engaged nonprofit community is valuable. But how do you get there? In this article, we’ll be covering four strategies that will help you build and maintain an engaged nonprofit community: 

  • Personalized communication.
  • Leverage multiple communication channels.
  • Offer valuable content and opportunities.
  • Partner with sponsors that bring value to your community.

Let’s begin.

Personalize communication.

The better you know your supporters and personalize their experiences, the more loyal and connected those supporters will be. Personalized communication helps each supporter to feel known, directly valued, and individually connected. 

Your supporters are more likely to engage with and respond to messages that are tailored to their preferences. You can learn more about their preferences by gathering social media data, and then using that data to tailor your marketing and outreach efforts. 

Here are a few simple ways you can use social media data to make your communications feel custom:

  • Address your supporters by name. Even when sending messages to your entire supporter base, including the recipient’s name in the message instantly grabs your reader’s attention. 
  • Include details about their past engagement. Your database should track details about your supporters, like their past donation amounts, activity, and how long they’ve been a valued supporter. You can reference this information, especially in your thank-you messages, to make supporters feel seen and recognized. 
  • Segment your supporters. This allows you to send specific messages to groups of supporters based on shared characteristics, such as how long they’ve been with your nonprofit, their demographic information, and what their interests are. Segmenting also allows you to target each supporter based on where they’re at in their supporter journey.  

People long for community and a sense of belonging. Building a community around your nonprofit gives your supporters a place to interact with like-minded individuals and realize greater value. That, in turn, can lead to those supporters contributing more to your nonprofit, engaging further, and staying with your organization longer. 

Leverage multiple communication channels.

Turning your supporters into a lively community requires connecting with them through multiple touch points. Not all of your supporters use the same channels or relate to the same kind of approaches. Creating a multi-touch strategy gives every supporter the chance to engage in their own way. Plus, it keeps your nonprofit at the forefront of their minds. 

Keep these tips in mind as you leverage each communication channel to develop your engaged community:

  • Your website: Before you start building your community, audit your nonprofit’s website for areas of optimization and improvement. Make sure your message is clear and that every site visitor understands the value they get from being a part of your network.  
  • Social media: Social media is a versatile tool that allows you to casually connect with your supporters, build nonprofit awareness, post supporter-generated content, and share updates. To get the best impact from this channel, learn what social media platforms your supporters are most likely to be on, and then focus on those channels. On those channels, encourage supporter engagement by creating polls and surveys, asking questions, posting videos, and re-sharing your supporter’s content. 
  • Email: Use email to reach a wide range of supporters, to share resources, or to show appreciation when a supporter engages or donates. Email is also easy to segment, allowing you to send even more personalized communications. In fact, segmenting your email recipients can lead to a revenue increase of as much as 760%! 
  • Text messaging: If you have a supporter’s permission to utilize text messaging, it can be an effective way to build community. Use text messaging for quick event reminders, thank-you messages, and updates about your nonprofit. 
  • Direct mail: To send donation requests, gratitude letters, and event invitations, consider leveraging direct mail. Having a physical reminder of your nonprofit, something your supporters can hold and read, further solidifies that sense of community you want your supporters to feel. 
  • In-person and virtual events: It’s easy to see how events help every supporter feel like they belong. Gathering a room of supporters together is a great opportunity to share your message, build lasting relationships, and retain your supporters. 

Notice how your supporters engage with your nonprofit through each of these channels. Is one particular channel working better than the others? Does one appeal to newer supporters, while another attracts long-time supporters? While you should continue utilizing multiple channels to maximize your reach, noting how each channel aids your overall outreach efforts can help guide your future community-building strategy and maximize your resources.

Note: the fastest way to dismantle the engaged community you’ve built is to over-communicate with your supporters or disregard their communication preferences. Ask your supporters which communication channels they prefer, then follow those preferences carefully. 

Offer valuable content and opportunities.

Your nonprofit has the potential to provide significant value to your supporters—if you have the right tools to do so. Remember, creating an engaged community is about more than just increasing your donations to further your nonprofit’s mission. By creating a place where your supporters can connect with one another, volunteer together, share ideas and solutions, and be enriched by your nonprofit’s relevant content and resources, your positive impact instantly expands. 

Here are a few ways you can help your supporters engage and connect:

  • Volunteering opportunities: When your supporters volunteer together to make progress on a shared goal, they develop connections that extend beyond that day’s activities. Planning volunteer initiatives that allow your supporters to work side-by-side is a great way to create community. 
  • Informative articles: Offer greater value to your community of supporters by keeping them up-to-date on what’s happening in your industry. To increase engagement, have a comments section on your articles where supporters can discuss the topic further. 
  • Merchandise: Build camaraderie among your supporters by offering branded merchandise, like hats, t-shirts, backpacks, or stickers. When your supporters run into one another, they’ll instantly feel connected. 
  • Community activities: Hosting a local activity like a father-daughter dance, a recipe contest, or a picnic in the park gives your supporters the chance to meet one another and start building relationships.
  • Virtual opportunities: Your supporters don’t have to be local to help. Virtual volunteering opportunities, like telethon fundraisers, a community helpline, and administrative tasks can be completed from anywhere. 

Remember, by offering events and engagement opportunities where you don’t ask for donations, you’re showing your supporters that you value them for more than just their backing. That appreciation goes a long way in creating a healthy community. 

Partner with sponsors that bring value to your community.

The sponsors and businesses you align with have a strong impact on your reputation—for better or for worse. The right partnerships can make community-building easy by helping you attract new supporters and retain your existing ones. But to avoid a costly misstep, ensure that your partners’ goals align with your nonprofit’s before you announce the collaboration. 

The right sponsorship can also have a dual benefit, bringing in much-needed funding and offering additional value to your supporters. Here are a few examples: 

  • Donation matching: Some nonprofit partners will match the donations you receive during a certain timespan. Not only does this increase your nonprofit’s funding, it encourages more donations from your existing supporters. 
  • Free resources: If you partner with a business, that business may offer special perks or resources to your supporters, such as a discount on the company’s product or services.
  • Volunteering programs: Corporate sponsors often have robust volunteer programs that give employees special time off for volunteering with certain nonprofits. If you partner with a business that offers this kind of employee program, you can receive additional volunteer hours with little effort on your part. 

Some community engagement platforms, such as TagFi, allow nonprofits to set up a special marketplace where a portion of all sales support the nonprofit. These kinds of platforms allow supporters to share their products or services while assisting the nonprofit they care about. 

A strong community, built through personalized communications, allows your nonprofit to carry out its mission and provide greater value for its supporters. Each supporter has the chance to engage with your nonprofit in their own way, ensuring no supporter feels left out of the community. These custom connections future-proof your organization in a powerful way by both increasing your donations and helping you to retain your supporters. People want to be a part of a vibrant community like this. Shouldn’t they be a part of yours?