Five Nonprofit Online Communities that Inspire Action & Generate Results

Creating an online community to mobilize your supporters and further your nonprofit’s mission might seem like a big task.  What to do?  Where to start?  A simple way is to look at what your peers are doing.  Below are five examples of what some innovative nonprofits are doing with their online communities.

Think online communities are just a general space on your website?  Think again. Each of these are purpose-driven online communities designed to achieve specific results for the organization.

1. american-cancer-society-relay-nation-onlAmerican Cancer Society – Relay for Life: Event Participant Community

Relay For Life, the world’s largest fundraising event series, had a challenge: how to make its fundraisers more successful.  Enter Relay Nation, the online community for Relay For Life participants.  In Relay Nation, event participants, fundraisers, team captains, event committee members, and staff all come together to share tips, ask questions, get answers, and encourage one another to become better fundraisers and supporters.

The results: check out their Take a Tour video, it says it all.

2. American Heart Association – Professional Online Network: Membership Community

As a part of its overall mission, the American Heart Association (AHA) also serves


the science community in the way that most membership-based associations do.  To add value to AHA paid membership, American Heart Association created the Professional Online Network, the Association’s online community for its member doctors, scientists, nurses, and EMTs.  Inside, members can connect with other professionals, ask questions about upcoming conferences, and discuss the latest science news.

The results: Professional Online Network members upgrade to a higher paid membership 74% more often, contribute 54% more revenues per capita at events, and renew their AHA membership 10% more often.

3. Operation Smile – Medical Volunteer Action Center: Volunteer Community

Operation Smile is an international nonprofit that delivers cleft lip and cleft palate


surgeries to children in developing countries.  To accomplish this, Operation Smile must attract volunteer doctors, move them through a 3-step approval process, match them with medical missions, send them on mission trips with 5-30 other volunteers, and maintain quality control throughout the process.  In the past, Operation Smile accomplished this with overworked staff, email, hard copy forms, and lots of good old-fashioned nonprofit hustle.  Today, Operation Smile accomplishes all of this online through their community, the Medical Volunteer Action Center.

The results: today Operation Smile processes more than 1,000 medical mission applications per month, introduces volunteers to one another before the mission trip, and improves the experience for everyone involved.  Can you spell volunteer retention and staff productivity improvements?

4. United Nations Foundation – Girl Up Clubs: Youth Advocacy & Fundraising Community


Girl Up, a program delivered by the United Nations Foundation, gives American girls the opportunity to become global leaders in the fight to raise awareness and funds for UN programs that support adolescent girls in the developing world.  Using their online community, Girl Up Clubs, the Girl Up program has created over 200 new clubs at high schools and colleges across the country.  Integration with Girl Up’s constituent database helps limit access only to eligible potential members.  Each club serves as the collaboration nexus for club members, as well as a way to connect club leaders and participants across the country.

The results: Girl Up Clubs has turbocharged the program, which is adding more than 200 new supporters per month who generate more than 3,000 community actions per month.  Plus, after launching Girl Up Clubs, fundraising dollars generated by the program increased 20X!

5. CARE – Online Community: Field Staff and Supporters


CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty.  To help connect its supporters to its mission, CARE’s online community utilizes a variety of user contributed content options, including its Notes From the Field, which enables staff and supporters based in developing countries to easily share blog posts, photos, and videos with the community to give direct “from the field” insights into CARE’s work and impact.

The results: More than 7,000 from the field member contributions have been shared with CARE’s supporters, increasing their connection to CARE’s mission.connect its supporters to its mission, CARE’s online community utilizes a variety of user contributed content options, including its Notes From the Field, which enables staff and supporters based in developing countries to easily share blog posts, photos, and videos with the community to give direct “from the field” insights into CARE’s work and impact.

nwf-ecoleaders-online-community.png Extra Credit:  National Wildlife Federation – EcoLeaders: Student Advocacy Community

EcoLeaders is an online community for National Wildlife Federation student environmental leaders where they can create sustainability projects & campaigns, share them with others, and be recognized for their efforts.

The results: Stay tuned!  EcoLeaders is now in pre-launch beta, but you can follow along.

Looking for more examples to see what other nonprofit organizations are doing?  You can read them at:

What do you think?  Do any of these purpose-driven communities map with any programs at your nonprofits?  Let us know in the comments below.

Michael Wilson
CEO & Founder
Small World Labs
Michael founded Small World Labs with the goal of providing organizations with the collaborative technology and solutions necessary to better connect with and empower their constituents, in a manner similar to which Michael saw early Internet technologies empower his deaf parents and connect them with the outside world. Prior to founding Small World Labs, Michael served as the Director of Product Management at Coremetrics, a leading provider of web analytics solutions (now a division of IBM). As head of the group, Michael's responsibilities included delivering new products and services, evaluating new markets, and assessing partner technologies. Prior to that, Michael was a management consultant for R. B. Webber & Company (a spin-off of McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group associates) where he led projects for high-tech companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Sprint, FedEx, ReSound (a hearing assistance accessories provider), and several start ups. Michael holds a B.A. in economics with summa cum laude and departmental honors from Yale University, and has completed studies in international economics at Oxford University. Michael also serves on the board of the Texas School for the Deaf Foundation.