How to Build an Online Community for Your Nonprofit

David Pagotto • Jul 15, 2022

The nonprofit sector thrives on support. Promoting a good cause is easier when you have real people who understand and share your passion. 

An online community is one sure way nonprofits can achieve their mission. Through an engaged community, your nonprofit can run impactful campaigns and drive transformation in its area of focus. 

But how do you successfully build an online community?

Here’s how:

1. Choose a Platform That Suits Your Nonprofit

The digital space gives you a wealth of platforms that you can use to build your online community. 

According to Statista, there were five billion internet users as of April 2022, and 4.65 billion of them were social media users. That means that apart from having a website, you can benefit from the online space by showing up on different platforms.

Social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn give you access to a good amount of this digital population. However, when you decide to take your mission online, choosing a platform that suits you is best. 

To determine the right platform, you need to have a clear definition of what your organization represents. That will also help you identify the audience you’ll be talking to. 

Each social network operates differently and gives you access to various engagement opportunities. Therefore, knowing which purpose your community will serve will help you identify the platform to use.

For instance, if you want to build a community of businesses that will invest in your cause, you should work with a B2B platform like LinkedIn. To create an informal community, you can consider social channels like Facebook and Instagram.

Look at where similar organizations and interest groups have built their online communities. For instance, if most of them are on Facebook, there’s a high chance it will also work for you. 

It’s also okay if you use various platforms to spread your reach.

2. Create a Mission Statement

Your mission statement is the underlying purpose of your organization—it states why your nonprofit exists, who it serves, and how it benefits them. Your mission statement gives like-minded people a reason to support your cause. Having an effective about us page on your organization’s website is also essential.

A well-crafted mission statement sends a powerful message to your audience and sets the framework for your organization’s activities. Therefore, if you don’t have a mission statement, create one. It should be clear enough for people to understand at a glance. 

When creating your mission statement, include values that are important to your nonprofit. These values should resonate with your community, too. 

You can get clarity by observing those you wish to help through your nonprofit—make a list of needs you have identified and narrow it down to something specific. 

It’s okay to seek inspiration from organizations committed to a similar cause but be true and original with your statement. 

Here are some examples of well-crafted mission statements:

  • New York Public Library – to inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities.
  • Save The Children – we work every day to give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn, and protection from harm. 
  • Boy Scouts of America – to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Your mission statement will help you build an online community of people that desire to volunteer, spread the word or participate in whichever capacity they desire. It also gives direction to the content you distribute. 

Craft Your Nonprofit’s Mission Statement with this FREE Template

Use this template to write a mission statement that keeps your team aligned and motivates your supporters to commit to your nonprofit’s cause.

3. Focus on Engagement

After building your online community from scratch, the next call is to nurture it. That is where engagement comes in. Engagement is all about how your audience interacts with your content. Beyond the likes and comments, you also want to keep people inspired by what your nonprofit represents.

Create a sense of community by allowing people to contribute through thought-provoking conversations. To achieve this, you can assign a community manager responsible for moderating discussions and implementing community guidelines. 

Build an engaging community by sharing your new initiatives, running campaigns, and discussing issues within your community. Adopt a content strategy that inspires followers to take an active part in supporting your cause online.

Your strategy can include hosting virtual events through live sessions on your social media platform, raising online petitions, conducting polls—or sharing relevant content through blog posts. Also, your type of content could be in the form of compelling stories about your staff members, donors, and outreach programs. 

Here, Pencils of Promise, an international education nonprofit, uses LinkedIn to share how they support quality education through school visits. This type of content encourages engagement and ensures transparency.

Add User-Generated Content (UGC) to your digital marketing strategy. It’s one way to keep your community going.

Let’s take Design for Change as an example. The US-based nonprofit empowers children through design thinking. On their Instagram page, you’ll find videos of children within their community sharing their views on different topics. 

Another example is National Trust, the nonprofit that runs a weekly challenge with the hashtag #NTchallenge. They encourage followers to upload images using the hashtag and repost these on their profiles. That’s how they spread awareness about their cause while keeping the community engaged. 

UGC is an effective way to get people involved with your organization’s events. They’re helpful for fundraisers, awareness campaigns, or fun competitions. 

Also, you can improve your engagement by posting regular updates, following, and engaging with influencers in your field. Comment on, like, re-tweet, or repost their content.

FREE Webinar: Social Media 101 for Nonprofits

Watch this on-demand webinar recording to learn how to implement social media marketing and best reach your donors.

4. Empower Your Community Champions

When building an online community, you need to understand the importance of recognizing and appreciating people. Your community champions are those who actively support your cause. 

Look out for volunteers who always take the initiative and come up with solutions to problems—those who show remarkable leadership skills and effortlessly ensure that your organization makes an impact.

These community champions and influencers give effective feedback and suggest ways to improve. Ensure that you thank them for their contribution to your progress. 

You can also allow them to be more involved by offering them an opportunity to serve in an administrative capacity—especially since you have identified them as passionate community members.

In the above image, @charitywater (a nonprofit that provides clean and safe water to families around the world) gives a shout-out to @HumbleBundle, another nonprofit community that supports them. Doing something like this would show that you appreciate the contributions people make.

Also, some people consistently engage with your organization online. You should identify and empower these people as well. 

5. Track KPIs

Building a solid community requires hard work. That is why you want to ensure that your efforts are paying off. So, measuring your success is crucial because it helps you identify which of your activities are producing results. This way, you know where to put in more effort as you build your online community. You should set and use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to determine what works best for your organization. 

For instance, since you’re working with an online community, it would be helpful to determine if your content strategy is effective or needs improvement. You’ll want to know if you’re sharing valuable content or how well your community engages with your social media platforms.

Your KPIs could vary depending on the platform you’re assessing and the set goals. For example, monitoring your social media engagement will be a priority if you’re using social media channels. That means you’ll look for KPIs such as likes, comments, follower growth, website visits, or link clicks. 

Tools like Hootsuite, Google Analytics, and inbuilt social media analytics platforms help you track your performance online. This post by Hootsuite will show you how social media analytics works. 

You can also use sign-up forms or e-questionnaires to determine how many new donors, sponsors, or partners came from various online platforms.

Successful communities online will help you achieve your organization’s goals. With these communities, you can reach out to people on a personal level. They can serve as your audience that will collectively represent your cause.

To create an online community for your nonprofit, choose a platform that suits you. If you don’t have it just yet, create a mission statement that reflects your values, which your target audience can clearly understand. Engage and empower your community champions, too. Finally, track your KPIs.

Follow these tips, and you’ll build that online community that can help you achieve your nonprofit goal and make the world a better place.

About the author:

David Pagotto, Founder and Managing Director of SIXGUN

David Pagotto is the Founder and Managing Director of SIXGUN, a digital marketing agency based in Melbourne. He has been involved in digital marketing for over 10 years, helping organizations get more customers, more reach, and more impact.