February 18, 2015

Supporting Communities Within Your Community

Strategy advice, best practice articles, and how-to guides providing information about engaging and supporting our community define community as our constituents and supporters. That very much is the community, of course. However, we may be missing a few important trees while looking at the forest: our staff and board members. The same practices and appraoches we use to effectively create community with our constituents should be put to use to create community amongst our staff and our board. 

Sharing the Gratitude

We all know that donors and supporters should be thanked, often and publicly! But why aren’t we using that same practice within our organizations to thank each other as colleagues? Consider that board members are your most engaged volunteers (which they truly are!), and therefore people whom we should certainly have many reasons to thank. It doesn’t have to be for big things; small, regular opportunities to show appreciation can go a long way towards building a sense of community. Depending on your organization’s culture, saying thank you may be internal or public, in a staff email or meeting or a shout-out on Twitter. As I recommend with constituent communities, find ways to recognize contributions in the space where they mean the most to the recipient and not to you. For example, if a staff person or a board member doesn’t personally use social media, a message of thanks on Facebook isn’t going to mean much to them; if they are always the first to the meeting and last to leave, shining the light on them as a formal agenda item may be the right approach.

Right Tools for the Right People

Unless we are all able to gather together in the same room every day, staying connected requires the help of technology. Luckily, we have plenty of tools, social networks, collaboration platforms, and project management services to choose from! If we were to launch a new website, online group, or shared working space to collaborate with our constituents, we would probably put out a poll or survey to get feedback, ask some members what kind of functionality they need, and even set up a selected tool as a pilot with a beta group of testers first. Similarly, we can use that same approach to understand the needs and identify appropriate tools to keep staff connected or board members engaged. We all love a great all-staff email, but email may not be the space where we are all able to engage as effectively as we want to. At NTEN, we’ve tried many different tools, from Yammer to Slack. One consistent tip for success: Be open to changing tools if it doesn’t support your values, add to your culture, or provide an easy and adoptable way to communicate.

Listen First, Listen Always

If you’ve read a blog post about best practices for communicating with your supporters online, you’ve probably been reminded, at least once, to listen first. Your organization doesn’t want to be the one tweeting about a funny local story when all of your constituents are experiencing a natural distaster or focused on breaking news. Similarly, knowing which topics are priorities to follow can help you avoid making it on the next social media mistakes list. The same is true with your staff and board. Listening doesn’t need to be difficult or onerous. It can mean creating a Twitter list for your staff (at least the ones who use Twitter, of course) so it’s quick to see specifically the tweets from the team. You can do the same with your board. Are you connected to your staff and board on LinkedIn or other social networks? Take a minute or two to check in and see what others are posting about before you hit send on your own post. 

Honor the Ladder of Engagement

Whether we are creating a new campaign or planning for year-round constituent engagement, we know our plans should include multiple levels of participation, accommodating those who, at one end of the ladder, may want to forward an email, and those, at the other end, that want to be a leader publicly for your work. There’s inevitably a ladder of engagement within the community of our staff or board, too. Concentrating efforts in a single channel — a group platform or project management tool — will only be effective if we plan to reach out to individuals through other channels (e.g., reminders, notifications, or invitations to jump in on appropriate conversations), and create expectations that are shared across the team. 

What would you add to the list? How have you supported community engagement amongst your staff or your board? Do you have tools you’ve found successful, or more best practices to share? I would love to hear your tips and experiences!

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Amy Sample Ward
Amy Sample Ward is NTEN's CEO. She is also a blogger, facilitator and trainer focused on leveraging social technologies for social change. In 2013, Amy co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere with Allyson Kapin. She previously co-authored Social by Social: a handbook in using new technologies for social impact. She has worked in and with advocacy organizations, private foundations, and community groups in the US, UK and around the world.