Creating, Building, and Sustaining Nonprofit Communities
What does it mean to be a community organization? Nonprofit professionals use the word "community" a lot. We talk about serving the community, building community, and engaging community. But sometimes we forget that "the community" is not just an abstract demographic.
I'm lucky to live and work in downtown Chandler, a community with an active merchants' association and a city that is very interested in creating a sense of place. What I've learned from Chandler is that community is not a place — it's a practice. This community works because we know our neighbors, because we look out for each other, and because, sometimes, we care enough to argue with each other. I see community when the barber shop next door to my office holds packages that were delivered when we were out. I see community when business owners get up early to go to a meeting about parking restrictions. I see community when someone asks me for a recommendation, and I can say, "Sure, I know exactly who can help you. They're just down the street."
If you're looking for ways to find community, the best strategy I've seen is Asset Based Community Development (thanks Public Allies!), which uses the strengths that already exist in a community to effect positive change. You can click here to read more about the theory, or you can start exploring the resources near you with an asset map.
Asset Based Community Development can be a great way to start thinking about community, but the important thing is to move beyond theory and on to action. Action in this case really means interaction. Community is built on a million everyday interactions between community members. You can find websites with practical ways to facilitate community interactions, or ask colleagues at other nonprofit organizations for tips.
I would encourage everyone to start looking for community in their local area, but you’re not limited geographically. Nonprofits can also reach out to online communities through social media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs (like this one). Maybe you'll find that your community is made up of people around the world, or maybe you'll discover that they're right next door.