Online Community-Building for Nonprofit Members

How important is online community-building for your nonprofit members? Read our guide to learn how online engagements can strengthen your membership base.

By Jake Fabbri

Creating a membership program for your nonprofit is a smart way to increase fundraising and donor stewardship. In exchange for charitable gifts in the form of membership dues, nonprofits grant their members privileges or perks, host engaging events for them, and offer additional opportunities to drive their mission. The people who join your nonprofit membership program are going to be some of your most passionate supporters.

One of the top reasons why supporters become members is to meet other like-minded people with aligned goals and to be a part of a community. The stronger this community is, the better you can attract new members and retain current ones. 

However, your nonprofit member community can only build and grow if you provide them with the right engagement tools and offer them meaningful experiences. 

Let’s say your nonprofit often hosts in-person events. There are certain tools and solutions you can invest in for community-building that will help attract new members and make the event more enjoyable. 

However, with the modern world growing increasingly dependent on digital solutions and a global pandemic keeping most of us inside, your nonprofit should be taking the steps to expand its online community-building. The bottom line is that 90% of Americans use the internet. These steps are crucial if you want to ensure your membership program is a success.

When you put the effort into building your online community, your nonprofit can:

  1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.
  2. Boost engagement among current members.
  3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.
  4. Manage nonprofit data better.

Don’t miss out on these community-building efforts. Look at your current membership management solution and ensure you’re doing all you can to engage your online community. Your current members will appreciate it and prospects will be attracted to it. Let’s begin!

1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.

For many nonprofits with membership programs, a top priority is attracting new supporters and growing your membership base. To keep your membership growing and get people interested in your mission, it’s important to have an established online presence.

For starters, your online space is the first place people visit to learn more about your organization, your mission, and any program guidelines. How you present your organization and membership program is crucial, especially if you want to keep everyone on the same page about your goals and mission. 

However, the internet is also saturated with others trying to do the same thing. It’s likely you’re not the only organization targeting your specific audience. That’s why it’s imperative to ensure that your nonprofit stands out, particularly through digital strategies. Consider these top tips:

  • Leverage your nonprofit website. Make sure your website clearly represents your organization. With a dedicated website, you can effectively explain your mission and provide a calendar of upcoming events. Host all necessary information in an intuitive way so prospective members and supporters can easily take the steps to join. 
  • Use microsites for member committees. Along with your dedicated nonprofit website, consider creating microsites. Microsites are websites that are associated with a main webpage, but also stand alone as an independent entity. This is a good way for you to organize and manage your various nonprofit member committees. You can even make these microsites private to host exclusive member-only content.
  • Offer online learning opportunities. Many members join your nonprofit to learn more about your mission and play a larger role. Consider offering online learning opportunities through video courses and classes. Make sure to advertise this on your website so potential members have a clear impression of all you have to offer.

By focusing on your online presence, you can showcase your nonprofit’s opportunities for community-building. Encourage people to join your organization, start their online journey off on a positive note, and set the foundation for future engagement.

2. Boost engagement between your current members.

While one of the main attractions of nonprofits are live fundraising events and other experiences, it’s challenging for every member to participate and attend. This gets increasingly difficult as your membership grows and spans across different locations. 

Therefore, it’s important to have a dedicated online place where you can engage current members and they can also interact with each other. Remember: a huge driver to joining your nonprofit membership program is the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who are already a part of the community. 

Your best bet to encourage online member engagement is to provide members with a portal that’s accessible from your nonprofit website. As soon as they join, members can start experiencing what you have to offer instead of waiting around for a live event.

Within your member portal, allow members to:

  • Navigate a searchable member directory. Give your members an opportunity to get to know their community even if they can’t actually meet them. This way, each member can have their own profile with a photo and basic details.
  • Communicate within message boards and forums. Online message boards and forums are popular places to discuss various topics. For instance, members can use message boards to discuss major events that may affect your nonprofit mission.

Active efforts to engage your members online will increase their chance of renewing their membership. 

To further drive online engagement with current members, evaluate your existing management tools and determine if you have the ability to automate triggered communications. For instance, if a member begins a form and doesn’t complete it or there are long periods of inactivity, you can automatically send out email reminders nudging them in the right direction.

Even if your membership is large, your nonprofit won’t create a meaningful impact if your members aren’t active. Ensure your online engagement efforts are at their best with a member portal and smart communication methods.

3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.

With most in-person engagements on pause, your nonprofit is likely planning a variety of virtual membership events. As you prepare for these events, consider the strategic online steps you can take to increase excitement and even attract new attendees. 

In addition to keeping current members satisfied, events are a great way to showcase your nonprofit’s accomplishments and mission for prospective members. It all comes down to how you market the event beforehand.

It’s not enough to just send out a mass email to your entire membership directory and think your online strategy is complete. Engage in additional digital efforts to help bring your members together. This way, you can garner excitement and encourage more member-to-member interaction. 

Consider these online engagement tips to market your next nonprofit membership event:

  • Get your members’opinions on event preferences. If you’re live streaming a speaker or multiple panels, send out a survey to get a sense of what topics your members are looking for. 
  • Host a dedicated event website. Consider building a microsite for each of your nonprofit membership events. This is a great way to attract new members! Non-members can easily find your event and a dedicated microsite eliminates the chance of getting distracted by other information. You can also capture leads and determine which of your marketing efforts are working best.
  • Customize targeted communication leading up to the event. As the event gets closer, make sure you segment your members based on registration status and ticket level (general admission vs. VIP) to send more personalized messages. According to this article, segmenting your constituents is one of the best ways to increase online engagement and build meaningful relationships. Your members are more likely to engage back when they’re only receiving communications that are uniquely relevant to them.
  • Let members build the perfect event schedule. If your virtual event consists of multiple speakers or activities, empower your guests by letting them create their own event schedule. This way, they know about all available opportunities and can plan their route in advance of the big day. If you offer a mobile event app, your guests can access their schedule from there.

Nonprofit membership events are successful because they provide a dedicated space for members to engage with each other and your mission. Take these additional steps to increase online engagement and continue to build your community. Additionally, the more you put into your online engagements, the more excited your members will be about your event.

4. Manage nonprofit data better

When increasing your online efforts and working to build your digital community, this offers a great opportunity to start tracking those engagements. As reported by Fonteva’s guide to the best membership management software, a solid software solution will effectively record and manage all important member data and metrics.

Along with your nonprofit management and fundraising tools, you likely also depend on a constituent relationship management (CRM) system to track all the data produced by these tools. Rather than manually transferring data to your CRM, many intuitive tools have integration capabilities and some are even native to the CRM. This eliminates the need for complicated and time-consuming integrations later.

A strong software solution will provide a complete view of strategic insights like revenue forecasting, trends, and member engagement. With your management tools and CRM collaborating, it’s easier for you to review past data and gain valuable insights. 

For instance, generate comprehensive reports to see which of your events were most popular in the last year. This can help you determine the types of events your members might want in the future or solidify a core marketing strategy that can be applied to all events. 

The best way to build your online community is to learn from past mistakes and always strive for improvement. Staying stagnant won’t motivate prospective members to join and may even discourage current members from renewing. 

If you’re wondering if increasing your online engagement is necessary for your nonprofit, the answer is yes. Don’t miss out on the chance to nurture a valuable online environment for your members, whether that’s with enhanced online member communications or with key data management strategies. This is the best way to keep members coming back year after year!

Jake Fabbri is the Chief Marketing Officer at Fonteva with over 18 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events. 

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