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Donor Participation Project

Why Engagement Isn’t Enough: Building Trust and Advocacy Through Community

For nonprofits, building an engaged audience is important but not enough. True impact comes from developing a community of advocates and supporters who trust and believe in your mission. According to marketing expert Mark Schaefer, “Community is the last great marketing strategy.”

Schaefer argues that nonprofits must move beyond engagement metrics and focus on building authentic relationships. This means creating spaces, both online and offline, for people to connect over shared interests and values. Bring together your most loyal supporters and give them opportunities to bond over their passion for your cause. Even starting with just five highly engaged people can be enough to get the momentum going.

A thriving community has benefits that engagement alone does not provide. Organic advocacy happens when community members spread your message through word-of-mouth and social sharing. Their endorsements are far more powerful than your organization saying the same thing. Community also offers a direct line to your supporters that provides instant feedback and ideas to help you stay culturally relevant.

However, community requires nurturing the right culture. It must be a welcoming space built on trust, respect, and support. Members want to feel that they belong and that their voices are heard. Identify and empower community advocates by giving them leadership roles and opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. While community may mean giving up some control, the rewards of relevancy and organic growth are well worth it.

For resource-strapped nonprofits, community may seem like an impossible challenge. But according to Schaefer, it does not require a huge budget or staff.

Start small by experimenting with a Facebook group or monthly meetups. Focus on creating interesting content and experiences that elicit emotion and participation. As leaders emerge, reward their contributions to help the community thrive with limited resources.

In the end, community comes down to people – how they connect, share, and advocate for a cause bigger than themselves. Nurturing these human connections will build trust in your organization and a shared belief in your mission that endures well beyond any single campaign or communication. While measuring engagement provides data, building community creates true and lasting impact.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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