Examples of online communities in the not-for-profit sector

A busy week at FreshNetworks has meant that we're a little later than expected bringing you the third in our series of Online Community Examples. After looking at examples in the retail and automotive industries, this week we are looking at examples from the not-for-profit sector.

Online communities in the not-for-profit sector

There are many great example of not-for-profits using social media and it is sometimes the case that this sector can be more innovative than the private sector. There are many reasons for this: the financial pressures are different, there is a real need to engage people in an issue, topic or theme rather than enter into a transactional relationship with them, and this is a sector where innovation has always been important. (A great resource for information on not-for-profits and social media is Steve Bridger's nfp 2.0 blog)

We're written before about some great examples in this space, from the well-documented role of online communities in the Obama campaign, to Oxfam's use of social media in the UK. Here we look at three examples that from across the not-for-profit space, from government departments to charities and association.

The US Navy's Navy For Moms

Navy For Moms is an online community for mothers whose children have joined or are thinking of joining the US Navy. Launched in 2008, the site has over 13,000 members - moms (and some dads) who are sharing their hopes and fears, supporting each other and getting advice from others in the same situation as them. They can share photos and videos, join discussions and regional (or State-wide) groups and learn and gain support from people who have been there before. The community is, as you might expect, very vibrant and is clearly managed both by the official community manager, but also by obvious community leaders across the site.

This site is a classic case of an online community - the members share a common experience and are connected not because they know each other but because of this common bond. This makes it very easy for the community to grow - people can join even if they don't know others because the community is built around ideas and experience not previous connections. It is also easy for each new member to add value to the others - everybody brings their own experiences and can advise and support others.

One sign of a well-managed community is that people are quickly assimilated and feel comfortable talking about their thoughts, ideas and experiences. They share their hopes and fears and ask for and trust the expertise they are getting from others. This is all very evident in the forums and discussions where people are sharing advice on topics from the emotional process of deployment to the roles in the Navy for those who are colour-blind, as well as sharing personal stories about their children.

This is a great example of where online communities can offer a real resource and a real support to people even if they don't know each other and are not close geographically. Online communities offering a real resource and service that would not have been possible in the same way offline.

American Association of Retired Persons' Online Community

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of people over 50 in America. They are strong supporters of collaboration and helping their members to support each other, and the AARP online community is a clear manifestation of this.

Within the AARP community, over 10,000 members connect to share information, provide and accept support and advice, discuss organisational goals and generally enjoy themselves. In this way, the online community spreads the AARP message and support through word-of-mouth. Reaching more people and growing the community and the support the members support each other.

But the primary role of this online community is to allow the over 50s to meet and support each other, to find people with similar interests and discuss and share these interests with them The site performs a clear social function with a group that can find themselves sometimes isolated from friends and family. There is a clear and valuable role online communities can play here, supporting people but also allowing them to share their passions and hobbies with others.

For the AARP, this kind of community has a very clear benefit. By providing a service, they are offering a real and immediate benefit to their members. And satisfied and united members mean an effective and engaged support base for your cause.

UK Fundraising's Forums

Sometimes, simple can be best. It can be tempting to build a complicated online community with lots of social media tools when this doesn't meet the needs of the organisation or of the members of this community. UK Fundraising is an example of site that is very successful, supporting those who work in the charitable sector with advice on fundraising - from best practice to legal advice and support on a regional level.

For this kind of sharing expertise and discussing issues, a forum can be the best solution and this is what UK Fundraising does so well. They have a very vibrant and active forum as part of their broader community site - mixing the forum discussions with events, experts, training and news. The site combines the member discussions with these other services to create a portal that really adds value to those in charities and those tasked with fundraising.

This site works well by providing a real service to its users. It is the place to go to for news and events, information on training as well as discussions and advice from others in a similar situation. It is often the case that users of your online community will not mind where the information comes from, they just want reliable and useful answers to their questions. This may be from other members, experts or editorial. It is the information that's important and presenting everything in one space makes it easy for members to get access to this, wherever it comes from.

From the FreshNetworks Blog

See all our Online Community Examples

Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

Matt Rhodes

Phasellus facilisis convallis metus, ut imperdiet augue auctor nec. Duis at velit id augue lobortis porta. Sed varius, enim accumsan aliquam tincidunt, tortor urna vulputate quam, eget finibus urna est in augue.

No comments: