A Complete Guide to Building An Online Community

Building an online community

“Why should I spend time and money building an online community instead of a donor pool?” This is the question I get asked so frequently.

The answer to why should be building an online community rather than a pool of donors is that asking for people to donate appeals to their wallets while asking them to be part of a community speaks to their identity and emotions. When asking someone to give, there’s a huge chance that he/she will be a one time donor. On the other hand, there’s a big chance that someone who belongs to a community will keep supporting according to the value they get out of the community. So, if you want continued support for your organization, then you’ll need to spend about 70% of your time building a community and 30% building a donor pool.

Building An Online Community

Why should you care about appealing to people’s identity and emotions?

Many small nonprofits are struggling to keep afloat not because they have a misplaced mission that other people don’t care about. But it’s because a lot of people are struggling to provide for their families, therefore have nothing left to give to charity.

The other day, my wife made an online appointment with the Salvation Amy for them to pick up some furniture and clothes that we didn’t need anymore. Why did we call the Salvation Army instead of the smaller local thrift stores? The answer is simple,  We didn’t have to spend money on renting a truck for transporting the items, and we didn’t have to find time within our busy schedules to drop off the items.

The above example shows how the Salvation Army is able to advance its mission through a pickup service. By doing so, they provide a solution (value) to a problem that many people face which is time and transport. If you’ve rented a Uhaul before, you know that you need at least half a day to complete a simple task of taking old furniture to the thrift store. I for one, do not look forward to this exercise because I’d rather spend some time with my kids. So the fact that The Salvation Army provides a service that only requires me to take the furniture out of my house and leave it in my driveway, is not only relieving but convenient.

A Nonprofit's Responsibility

Now let me ask you a question, how many times do you see a man or woman from the Salvation Army standing by the entrance to your local grocery store asking for money?

I see these people all the time, in fact, to think about it, I have never donated cash to the beautiful people by the store entrance. I’m sure that am not alone in this.

The point here is that people have a way of protecting their money. How many times have you heard someone say, “oh let me talk to my wife or my husband before I can donate” The truth is that most people are not able to make a one-time donation and a recurring donation is far out of reach and most budgets?

Building an online community gives you that opportunity to appeal to people’s identity and emotions. The Salvation Army example shows us how people can make donations because of the value you provide to them. Research shows that people give because they want to feel good about themselves. Understanding and playing to the selfish reasons why people give will help you create a platform that is sustainable.

Why Building an Online Community is Better than Building a Donor Pool

Building an Online Community

Imagine someone stands up in church or any gathering to make an announcement, and he says, ” I am working on a project to provide clean dring water to poor villages in Africa. If you want to donate, please remain seated after the service.” How many people do you think will remain seated after the service?

Now imagine if the same person said, ” I am working on a project to provide clean drinking water to impoverished villages in Africa. I’d love to share some stories and updates on the project with you. If you’re interested, please text your name and email to 616161 or visit my website at … How many people do you think will signup to receive information?

I am sure the people who will sign up to receive updates will outnumber those that will remain seated after the service to make a donation.

If you’re discouraged by the poor flow of donations, this article is for you. I hope that this information empowers you to build a platform that will not only help you generate a lot of money for your organization but one that will provide value to your donors/ supporters and your organization.

After reading this article, you will:

  • Know why you should spend time building an online community,
  • Know what you need before you start building an online community,
  • Learn how to run your community effectively,

A Complete Guide to Building An Online Community.

A community is defined as a group of people with a common goal. You are building a community of people who believe and support you.

The key to building any community is providing value to those that are part of it. A community requires a high level of responsiveness and support to its members.

This list is divided into two parts. The first part is a list of things you need before setting up a community and the second part is about operations.

Things to do Before Building an Online Community

Building an online community

What’s your product?

The first thing you must do as a nonprofit is to define your product. What is it that you’re selling to the world? Or what is the one thing you want the world to know you for?

For example, the American Red Cross (ARC) is known for providing emergency assistance, disaster relief, and disaster preparedness education in the United States.

You will notice the two main keywords in the American Red Cross product definition. These are disaster relief and disaster preparedness. If you type disaster relief into google, you’ll see that ARC is one of the top results.

When people are looking for a charity to support, they search for one that is specific to a cause or problem they care about. So, having a clearly defined product is not just important but vital to the survival of your missions.

If you need help defining your product, take our free email course ” Defining your Purpose.”

how to Present Your Product. 

Now that you have defined product, it’s imperative that you present it to your audience. Your product must be evident and clear. If a first time visitor comes to your website, he or she shouldn’t have to go looking for your product. Remember that they probably landed on your website after searching for a specific term. It is vital that you present your product within the first 20 seconds of someone being on your site.

For more information about how to present your product read …


What value does your product provide?

As a nonprofit organization, you are in a very tricky position. Your job is not only to take care of the problems or your cause but also to provide value to those that support you.

Ask yourself a question, “why should someone care about my community? and what’s the benefit of belonging to my community?” if you can’t find the answers to these two questions, then you have to change a few things.

In the article ” Replace your donate button with a Join Button” we talk more about strategies you can use to build a stronger online community.

If you’re to build a vast online community, you have to figure out a way to provide value to both your cause and your community of supporters and donors.

For example, Lisa had been struggling to fund her small nonprofit missions. Although she was passionate about her cause, she didn’t have enough time in the world to spend on looking for donors. Lisa then decided to start a blog on her website where she shared some information about her weight struggles. Soon her blog was getting a lot of traffic and followers. Lisa decided to use her platform to fund her nonprofit. This move was easy because Lisa already had earned followers’ trust. She began to feature some affiliate products and soon her missions where 100% funded by her blog.

The example above shows how Lisa was able to use her passion to build a community and use that community to fund her missions.

What other skills or passion that you or anyone on your board has that you can use to provide value to your community?

Solid Foundation

Whatever type of community you’re building, it’s essential that you have a strong foundation. This foundation should be built on your principles and your direction. Remember that people will join your community because they believe in what you do and how you do it.

One of my favorite quote by Lewis Carroll says ” If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Building an online community - If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Having a strong foundation of principles will not only help you reach your goals, but it will also help you keep some order in your community.

Set up some Rules

It is most likely that you’ll be building your community through social media and or your website. Whatever platform you decide to use, make sure that you set up some rules for your community to abide by. Remember that some people will come with different ideas and goals for your community, and if you don’t have rules, you will experience a lot of drifts and confusion. As a result, you might end up losing some members that are there for the right reasons.

Operational Guide to Building an Online Community

Building an online community

The second part of this list is about the operation. Even though I highly recommend that you leave some spaces for your community to lead, it’s imperative that you have some operational guidelines and goals.


Building an online community is like building a love relationship. What would you do if a stranger walked up to you and asked you to marry her or him? People get similar reactions when you ask them to donate without building a relationship. Regarding a love relationship, both partners have to go through some stages before they could get married.  The most significant part of the love relationship is nurturing. The nurturing process is the time when both partners build trust for each other.

Nurturing starts when someone signs up to join your community and you must do everything possible to make sure that every member feels comfortable and seen. Without automation, this job can be time-consuming especially if you have a large community. If you want to learn more about the automation tools and strategies, please download my free e-book.

Give support and respond timely

It is effortless to let your community run itself. But remember that you’re not just housing people that consume everything you have to offer but people who believe in your missions and will end up supporting you.
It is critical that you remain active in your community supporting and helping you your members. Remember that these people are here because they somehow connect with what you’re selling or providing.

Help others without expecting anything from them

One of the biggest mistake that most charity organizations make is that they usually don’t attend to those who don’t support them. Imagine that you are talking to someone about donating to your organization and they said they didn’t have money at that time. What would you do next? The wrong thing to do would be to walk away. The right thing will be to ask if they’re interested in receiving some information about the organization. It is most likely that they’d say yes.

That been said, you going to build a community full of members with nothing to give. You must still treat them as though they give because they will eventually support you.

Solve other people’s problems and not yours

Earlier I talked about you ( nonprofit) being in a tricky position. You’re in a place to solve problems. In other words, you’re solving problems for both your source and the cause. Therefore, your issues are secondary. You must make sure that you spend time-solving your community members’ concerns and not yours.

A Community Holding Hands


This element is a no-brainer. I cannot stress the importance of consistency enough. During the trust development stage, people come to expect certain things from you. For example, if you promise to send out newsletters every week, you have to make sure that you do so. I want to say that I have sometimes skipped this critical element just because I thought people were not reading my content. But as life goes, the moment you decide to skip is the moment that some people notice.

You have to be consistent in everything you do because your relationship depends on it.

Be personal

When sending emails to your community members, it’s vital that you address them by their names. This task can be huge if you’re manually entering their information, but it’s so easy when using email automation software.

Know your audience

We’ve talked about how vital naturing to building an online community and now we get to talk about getting to know your community. Just like a relationship, you must make time to understand your partner. In this case, we’re talking about an online community. So how do you get to know your members?

That’s a great question. Well, you’re going to use what we call surveys. From time to time, you’ll have to send out inquiries to collect some information about your community. The survey will allow you to know what kind of content to put out. The members will also let you know what they think about your organization and how you can improve them. Please read ” Getting to know your donors” for more information.

Connecting people and not promoting your agenda.

It is very tempting to use this platform to promote your agenda and yourself because people are listening. But this could be bad for your community. Remember that you set up this community to help people and not your agenda. You may be asking how then do I promote my organization?

Let me start by saying that you are going to have two things running at the same time. A community platform such as a Facebook group or a blog (a forum) should be about the members and the help you’re giving them.

You will also have your email list going. Email is the most effective way to promote your mission. The email is more personal, and people will feel more comfortable responding to your requests than, they would in an open forum.

For instance, I used to attend a church where during the offering, they would put the buskets in the front, and people would stand and walk to the front to return their tithe and offerings. It was so embarrassing when I didn’t have anything to give. I did not like this idea at all as I thought that everyone was looking at me. I ended up leaving that church and started going to one about 15 miles further.

As you can see from my example, using the forum to promote your agenda can be a negative. Therefore, concentrate on helping and connecting others rather than yourself.

I hope that this information pushed you just a little further in your quest to change the world.

The next step

If you haven’t taken the free course ” Defining your Purpose ” yet, please do so. This course is going to help you prepare for the road ahead.

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Nelson Musonda

Nelson Musonda

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