Thursday, 23 May 2024
Thursday, 23 May 2024

How can charities create a vibrant community at a distance?

By John Nicklin, MD of Sorce

Building a ‘community’ is crucial for charities as when people feel a sense of belonging and connected by a meaningful purpose, they are more inclined to ‘go above and beyond’ in the support they provide. Charities can build a vibrant community, especially among its employees and volunteers, but it becomes more challenging when all its people are dispersed across the country and perhaps working shift patterns. Relying on the right technology, such as an intranet, to help nurture ‘community’ becomes key when everyone can’t be together. Here’s how to make it work for you.

Community is everything!

Everyone wants to belong to something important, and charities should focus on ways to harness this basic human need through building a community.  

When an organisation works well as a community, there is a ‘togetherness’. People care and watch out for one another and have their best interests at heart. Everyone is connected by a common purpose and vision and strives to do their best for the good of each other.

The challenges arise when people are spread out. How can you bring people ‘together’ when they’re physically apart? The answer lies in using a collaborative and mobile-enabled IT platform, such as a modern intranet, that can become the technological heart of the charity – a home for purpose-driven content and relationship building.

To nurture the community via an intranet means ensuring the charity’s purpose and vision are clearly articulated, not just on a carefully crafted ‘mission’ page but in all content and activities. Take, for example, a charity that cares for troubled dogs with its purpose being ‘To ensure all dogs have an opportunity to feel safe and loved’. How can this be lived and breathed across the intranet? Ideas include a ‘doggie spotlight’ every week in which employees and volunteers can learn about a particular dog – his/her name, background, temperament, and what they like and dislike. There can even be a ‘sponsor me’ link at the bottom or a ‘visit me’ button to allow employees and volunteers to form personal relationships with the dogs. The CEO could also give ‘virtual’ updates and tours from the dog kennels, personally introducing new dogs, employees and volunteers. 

In addition, the intranet can be used for celebrating successes so that everyone feels part of a ‘winning team’, with regular opportunities to nurture and deepen relationships. Virtual social events, forums and blogs from both employees and volunteers, are just some ways of achieving this. Plus, ‘above and beyond’ achievements by employees and volunteers can be frequently showcased with peer-to-peer appreciation encouraged.

The practicalities

Once the desire to build a community has been established, the practicalities of doing so via an intranet must be considered. For instance, will you give intranet access to all volunteers? Every charity has a mix of volunteers – those who put in long hours together with those who provide occasional support. So do you go to the considerable effort of giving intranet access to every single volunteer? There’s no right or wrong, it’s just important to consider the best approach for your particular charity. 

Plus, how will volunteers sign-on to the intranet when they don’t have a company email address? It’s important to balance ease of access with security so you may want to enable email access using personal email addresses but with two-step authentication. 

Another consideration is whether volunteers will be able to access exactly the same content as the employees. This may not be wise as some content may be sensitive or irrelevant. The best approach is to use access controls so that some pages are locked down to certain people while others, such as the news and blog pages, are accessible to all.

Similarly, should you tailor content for different users? Perhaps there can be specific pages for volunteers which include key contacts, information about new volunteering opportunities and guidelines. Taking the time to understand what the different stakeholders would benefit from knowing and accessing is key here, but it’s important to avoid the intranet becoming too siloed. There must be plenty of opportunities for employees and volunteers to interact.

Finally, ensuring the charity has sufficient resources to create an intranet community is key. If the intranet team simply can’t cope with keeping everything updated for both employees, volunteers (and perhaps other stakeholders), then it would be worth growing the intranet team and/or the number of content creators across the organisation.

Harness the power of community!

The power of community shouldn’t be underestimated. By investing the time and resources into building a thriving online community, charities will reap the benefits of both employees and volunteers feeling more engaged, inspired and dedicated to the cause.


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