This is the second step of our Leverage Impact Program (LIP). In the first step of the program, we talked about strategy development for your non-profit/social enterprise. But in this second step, we are taking a look at how a non-profit and social enterprise can build and facilitate a community that works.
Let’s get started.
What does the word community mean to non-profits/social enterprises?
When we talk about the word “community” as it relates to non-profits and social enterprises, it is made up of two different words “common” and “unity”. Common implies shared interest and unity signifies oneness.
So bringing both words together makes up community which means people with unified common interests. For a Non-profit/social enterprise, a community is a group of people with shared interest. They might be a difference in gender, geographical location, nationality, or religion, but there is a common interest that brings them together, and that is what we can define as a community.
In for non-profits and social enterprises, their community is beyond geographical boundaries. The focus is on people with a shared interest or a shared goal, regardless of where they are in any part of the world, and this common cause is what unifies them. Whatever their cause is, the people who share an interest in that cause or mission regardless of their location are the people Non-profits/social enterprises should identify as a community. As long as they are aligned together in their goal, a community can be formed.
Whether it’s some set of people trying to solve issues that borders on the lack of water supply, drug abuse, poverty, hunger, cancer, HIV/AIDS prevention and control. Whatever the cause or mission or vision is, your community as a non-profit/social enterprise are those who are equally concerned about that cause, vision or mission.
How can non-profits/social enterprises identify the right community for their causes?
The right people for your community as a non-profit/social enterprise are made up of different categories. And to truly thrive, your community must deliberately attract and engage all these categories of people.
From a broad perspective, the beneficiary of your cause essentially becomes your community. These are the set of people that are directly impacted by your cause, mission or vision as a non-profit/social enterprise.
There are also people who show significant interest in your mission, you might not be directly impacting them with your cause, but they have displayed interest in what your mission is. They could be high networking individuals in the society that are passionate about solving the challenges you are trying to solve. These are basically the people that are right for your community.
Another set of people who are right for your community are those who achieving your cause equally help them in achieving their own goal directly or indirectly. In other words, what you are trying to solve, does it help them achieve their set goals too?
Let’s take for instance, if one of your goals is getting treatment for malaria like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation; does your effort help another organisation out there who wants to solve the same problem of malaria?
Likewise, if you take the cause of providing water for your community, there are other categories of people for example the government who are equally interested in addressing this issue of water supply.
So in essence, your cause is also helping them to meet their own goal; and these are all the people that should make up a part of your community. Why? Because you are all sharing a common interest and concerned about solving the same problem.
Having them as members of your community is crucial because such people are already deploying resources into solving the same problem as your non-profit/social enterprise.
What is community building to non-profits/social enterprises?
Having established what a community means to non-profits, it is important that the non-profit builds its community. Since we have identified the kind of people you should have in your community.
For you to build your community you need;
To take deliberate action:
Meaning deliberately bringing people with a shared interest together. These people exist whether you bring them together or not, so they won’t automatically be a member of your community without a deliberate step on your part. Taking this deliberate action is about leveraging on their passion, energy, enthusiasm to solving the same problem through your cause as an NGO should be your focus.
Remember they can achieve the same goal you are pursuing through some other non-profits/social enterprises with similar causes. So your job in building your community is to deliberately seek them out and win them over to your own non-profit/social enterprise.
But then, it is not enough to just gather them or bring them into your non-profit/social enterprise, you have to activate them. This brings us to the second thing you need to do for building your community as a non-profit/social enterprise.
Engagement and interaction:
Upon taking deliberate action to bring these people together, you need to constantly interact and engage with them to institutionalise the whole process. In other words you have to create a system; that way, there is idea sharing and participation, giving them a sense of belonging.
More like making everyone a stakeholder in your cause and this stimulates fund raising and advocacy. As a result of engaging and interacting with them, their level of participation naturally grows such that they become advocates for your cause and donate time, money and other resources to achieving the mission of the non-profit/social enterprise.
At this level, they have become co-owners of the cause, vision or mission and will do everything they can to make it happen. So without engagement and interaction in the community, you can’t get the buy-in you need from them. And when there is no buy-in, they can’t run with the vision.
Why is it important for non-profits/social enterprises to build a community?
Building a community for any non-profit/social enterprise is to a very large extent a guarantee of sustainability. If you don’t have an active community, what happens is that you keep running with your own resources and the little you are able to privately source for.
But with a community it guarantees sustainability because you have shared the burden of attracting resources. So, you have a pool of people who can contribute in cash, in brand equity, in time to whatever it is that you are doing.
In essence, you really cannot grow as an NGO without an active community; you will be operating within a limited sphere. The community is the life-blood of any social enterprise or non-profit.