March 6, 2013

6 Tips to Engage and Empower Your Community All-Stars

You know and love them. They are those vocal and well-connected champions of your cause. Eager to get involved and rally your efforts, your community superstars are vital members of your community. Just as your organization is looking for ways to entice new backers, you must also nurture your most dedicated community members. It’s important to remember that they need cultivation too.

Here are 6 tips for engaging and empowering your community stars:

Practice random acts of thank you

Supporters expect a thank you note when they give to your cause or volunteer their time (you’re sending them one, right?), but what about acknowledging your key evangelists at other times? Consider giving them a “just because” thank you. Maybe it’s sending them a t-shirt or other piece of swag. Or perhaps surprise them with a small gift card or a unique gift related to your cause. Even just a written note of appreciation can make your core supporters feel appreciated and happy to continue their involvement.

Provide opportunities for connection

Where do your evangelists hang out online? In-person? Give them direction and tools, but allow them the freedom to self-organize around their location of choice. Consider organizing or facilitating exclusive events and meetings (in-person or online) as a way for your key leaders to connect, coordinate efforts, and brainstorm ideas. It can be as simple as a conference call or informal happy hour. Many organizations are experimenting with Google Hangouts to provide a more face-to-face experience when geography doesn’t allow for in-person meetings. Connecting your supporters together can re-invigorate energy and enthusiasm and validate why they choose to put their support behind your organization.

Make it easy for them to promote you

Your advocates are passionate about your cause and they want to get others excited too. Don’t let this be a missed opportunity to gain more followers. Help them spread the word by making handy talking points available. Have a clear “elevator pitch” about your nonprofit available in the form of a short website blurb that describes what your organization does and why people should get involved. Provide them with succinct, attractive printed marketing collateral that they can pass on to others who are interested. If you’re running a campaign, create sample social media posts that they can easily copy and paste and send out to their networks. People respond to stories, so encourage your advocates to share their own experience of what motivates them to be involved with your work.

Listen

Be open to feedback from your champions. They are out there in the trenches and can offer a deeper perspective and valuable insight into the needs and sentiments of your constituents. Involve them in the decision-making process. Ask for their opinions, be open to criticism, and truly listen to what they have to say. Most importantly, use their input to inform your strategy. While you may not implement all of their suggestions, a key part of listening is reporting back. Acknowledge their points and tell them what you are doing in consideration of their input.

Turn the spotlight on their work

Your marketing shouldn’t be all about you. Highlight your strongest supporters by publicly acknowledging their efforts, emphasizing how these contributed to success both for your organization and theirs. You might feature them in your newsletter or Facebook page or thank them publicly via your social media channels. A guest post or interview on your blog or even involving them in a case study is a terrific way to showcase their achievements. They get the honor and recognition of being in the spotlight and you get to put a human face to your mission and your organizational purpose and impact. Win-win!

Have them help recruit and mentor new leaders

It can be easy to turn to your core individuals because they always seem to come through, but a healthy community breeds new cycles of leadership. You want to keep your community sustainable without burning out your longtime volunteers. Have your key leaders help identify good candidates among newly involved constituents. Give them the opportunity to mentor the next wave of leaders. This allows your superstars to play a less intensive role in your community, yet remain active proponents of your cause.

How do you keep your key supporters engaged? Share your strategies in the comments.

Megan Keane
Megan is a long-time San Francisco bay area resident with an extensive nonprofit background in community management, social media, and volunteer management. She's a problem solver and network builder passionate about connecting with people both on and offline. As NTEN's Membership Director, Megan supports the NTEN community, helping others connect, learn, and make the most of technology, and has spoken internationally on nonprofit technology. While she's not online, Megan can be found teaching or practicing yoga, hiking, or curling up with a good book. She's also a self-professed penguin nutcase, er, enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter: @penguinasana