Traditional marketing strategies are becoming less effective. Advertising is ignored, fundraising letters go unopened, and digital ads are tuned out. Nonprofits need new ways to connect with donors and community may be the answer.
According to author and marketing expert Mark Schaefer, community is “the last great marketing strategy.” Schaefer argues that community builds the meaningful relationships and trust that nonprofits need to succeed. Community creates ambassadors who spread your mission through word-of-mouth marketing. It provides a space for cocreation where donors shape your work.
But how do you build community with limited resources?
Schaefer recommends starting small by identifying five engaged donors or volunteers. Bring them together in person or online and create opportunities for conversation. Let them shape the direction and activities. As the group grows, elevate members into leadership roles to help manage the community.
Schaefer warns against trying to control the message or measure community like other strategies. Focus on engagement and be present to nurture relationships. Provide “hero products” or experiences that people want to share outside the community. For example, give members exclusive behind-the-scenes access or share impact stories and updates.
Building community requires time and experimentation but the rewards are worth it.
“My community is bigger than my business,” says one executive Schaefer interviewed. “Most people don’t even know I have a business.” A thriving community can become the heart of your organization and a catalyst for growth.
The key is starting small, selecting members who share your purpose, and giving the community autonomy to develop in a way that’s meaningful for them.
With the right nurturing and care, community has the potential for organic growth and impact well beyond any one marketing strategy alone. For nonprofits, community may be the best path to building the lasting relationships that drive progress.
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