If you are reading this piece, community is likely a critical part of your work.  Whether you’re employed by a library, museum, K-12 school or other non-profit, the work of building a community and strengthening it is a critical part of the sustainability of your organization.

Events are an ideal way to help engage your community as they give you opportunities to interact directly with your community. The good news is that if you are already hosting events, an online calendar is an easy way to build your community with very little work. Read on for easy ways to cultivate relationships, building your community with the help of events and an online event calendar.

How Do Events Help Build Community?

Events, both offline and online, play a crucial role in a thriving community.  One of the best ways to build community around an institution like a museum, library or school is by hosting events and inviting both devoted followers and new faces inside the walls of your organization.  There you can have relevant and authentic in-person conversations showcasing who you are and everything you have to offer.

What is Community and Why is it Important to Your Organization?

One of the best ways to define a community is to contrast it with an audience. An audience sits and listens; a community gets up and joins in the fun. Many times community members are contributors, and this helps define an organization’s true identity. The best organizations understand that brand identity is not a top-down process. Instead, it’s something organic that arises from the membership and administration as a whole.

Community means ownership. When someone feels that they belong, the emotional and resource buy in is much greater. A vested interest in growth is shared by all members. All this translates into concrete results such as:

  • Real world relationships
  • Increased advocacy
  • More tolerance, respect and cooperation
  • Live events
  • Active communication channels
  • Improved revenue streams 

But why are communities important in the first place?  You’ll have a thriving and ever-growing core audience who believes in your mission and wants to see your organization succeed.  These amazing influencers will be the first ones through the door in support of your new efforts and will often support you with finances, resources, and their time.  They’ll be your cheerleaders when times get rough, and the first to say you did well with a new exhibit, resource investment or staffing change.  Above all else, their passion for your organization will bring new faces in the door, ensuring a thriving and lasting community that will support your institution as it grows and changes.

While some might be passive contributors, many are die-hard fans.  Did you know that the value of a loyal member can be up to 10x that of a new member?  Thus community is the lifeblood of your organization and building and strengthening it will solidify your organization’s sustainability.

So, how do you build community?

1. Identify What is Important to Your Organization

Communities support an organization and keep it sustainable, but to create one from scratch, you’ll need to do some heavy lifting up front.  First, start by understanding what attracts people to your organization. This goes beyond the mission statement and hits at the heart of what you and your employees truly care about.  Ask yourself: what are the roots of your organization? How and why did it come into being? What’s the story behind the founders? When you clearly identify the core spirit of your organization, you can then understand what attracts people to your institution and create a position.

Now that you’ve found what matters to your audience, it’s time to focus on conveying that story and spirit, developing the personality of your organization. Are you serious or playful? Do you cater to a specific niche, or are you broad and diverse? Determining your personality and position helps you to stand out from others and to know who might want to join your community.

Next, figure out how to activate your core audience. Don’t focus on how wonderful your organization is, show them how they can benefit from your work – and ask them for help. A K-12 school might want parents to volunteer, a museum might want donations, a library might want attendees at events. Whatever resources your audience is willing to devote, welcome them with open arms and allow your organization’s mission to amplify those voices.  

2. Spend Time Online and Offline

So you’ve established your community base, identified their concerns and are working to grow your audience.  These days it’s tempting to go exclusively online for community building. With tools such as Facebook groups, forums and blogs, it seems like it can all be done from a laptop. However, the best results happen when you focus on the people and let the methods serve them, meeting your audience where they are, when they are there.  This could mean online or offline.     

Keys to Building Online Community

Take social media, for example. Should you have a Facebook page? It’s not a question of if your peers are on a certain platform; is your audience there as well?  Make sure any social page exists for the benefit of your members, not just to check off another platform, and that you have adequate staff to keep it fresh.

The same holds true for social platforms like Twitter and blogs.  As popular as these are, none of them are a requirement.  Building community online is a holistic endeavor, and every organization is going to use social media tools differently.  Figure out where your audience is or wants to be and meet them there, and leave the other platforms behind.  

For example, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook may be great for getting the word out about public events at libraries or museums, but if you’re working with a more insular K-12 audience, your needs may be better served by a school blog or even intranet.  The bottom line: you don’t have to be everything to everyone.

Your online community will be stronger in the long run because you’ve devoted the time and attention to meeting them where they are instead of spreading yourself too thin trying to put on appearances.

The success of your online community efforts will largely depend upon:

  • Content: Is it truly interesting and useful? Images and titles matter.
  • Sharing: Can experiences be shared easily? Go for two clicks or less.
  • Engagement: Interact with others in social media. Respond to comments and ask questions.
  • Perseverance: You can divide it up into campaigns, but think long-term overall. Your community needs constant care.
  • Ground Rules: Early on, consider codes of conduct, moderation and branding guidelines. Write them down.
  • Double Dip: Combine online efforts with live events.

Keys to Building Offline Community

The offline space is equally important to consider. For example, the grand opening of a display or collection is typically accompanied by an event. Events are essential to building community since they offer real-life touch points that we all desire. Live events not only strengthen bonds between the organization and members, but also foster camaraderie among members. This marriage between vertical and horizontal bonding can provide your institution the depth and vitality that last for generations.

As a K-12 school, library or museum, you enjoy an advantage, since your physical space plays a key role. Building community often revolves around events, and for any event, attendee empowerment can do wonders for building community.  Allow community members to participate in your events, whether that’s volunteering to help set up, fundraising to help support events or facilitating audience Q&As after a speaker has finished.

What kinds of events might work for your community?  

Libraries might consider hosting:

  • Author signings and storytime
  • Community history talks
  • Book or craft fairs
  • Language classes

For museums, these standbys are tried and true:

  • Academic lectures
  • Behind-the-scenes tours
  • Film screenings

K-12 schools, on the other hand, may consider:

  • In-school assemblies
  • After school classes for students
  • Meetings that bring together parent groups
  • Babysitting fundamentals courses

Whatever the event, make sure that you’re doing your due diligence with event management.  Don’t be afraid to reiterate that your event is going to happen. We’re all inundated with data, and you want to stay current in their minds. The right interactive event calendar will enable you to send reminder emails in the days leading up to your event, ensuring that see an audience that will suit your needs.

Mix & Match

We’ve discussed the keys to making to the most of your offline and online communities.  The best organizations, however, know how to mix the online and offline space to make the greatest impact. For example, imagine a K-12 school launching a fundraiser for a local charity.  Though the fundraiser might take place offline, it’s important to build online buzz through social media and secondary events.

Perhaps a library has plans to host a webinar online. Why not add in a live-feed interview with an influencer or expert in the field that takes place at an offline location?  Better yet, replicate the content of the webinar in person at the library itself, thereby expanding the potential audience.

Online and offline can easily complement each other. Event apps might represent the pinnacle of this type of interaction. Imagine people registering online only later to get event info via the app that then helps them navigate the scene on the ground. They can even remind them to pick up their swag bags.

Remember to focus on the channels that matter to your community. For instance, museums might not find much traction on the business-minded LinkedIn, but image-heavy Pinterest might be the perfect museum social media outlet. And as always, make sure you have the staff to keep things current and engaging.

3. Use Events and an Online Event Calendar

When it comes to building community, online calendars are a powerful tool. One of the reasons is the universal appeal. For instance, not everyone will be interested in your latest blog post or Facebook update. But for true community members, they’ll want to know about significant events and when they are happening. This can occur at an administrative level and a broader membership level, and both serve to build community.

Online calendars, such as Localist, for your broader membership offer an opportunity to provide a precise roadmap of where your organization is headed. Today’s calendars are more than just a name, place and date. Instead, calendars are interactive access points to deeper content that further drives home your brand message. This is the type of service members not only expect, but thrive upon to be more active in the community. When you help them integrate their community activities into their busy lives, members are much less likely to miss a beat.

When an event is planned, the online calendar offers the opportunity to discover more at the point where a person is actively seeking information. The most versatile event calendars allow users to follow, comment and share. This brings us back full circle to the powerful leverage between digital and offline community building strategies.

4. Spend Time Building Community, But Don’t Forget to Nurture What Exists

While it’s important to continually attract new people to your community, you can’t forget about the people who’ve made you who you are up to this point.  Treat them with care.  Make sure your activities align with both demographics, the new audiences you hope to attract as well as the tried and true followers of your organization.  

In the long run, this is a protective strategy for your organization.  Consider a library with activities catered solely towards pre-K children; what happens when those children age out and start attending primary school, with no more room in the schedule for attending library events?  If the library in question hasn’t devoted time to building a new, fresh community during the time that they were nurturing their traditional patrons, event attendance – and community engagement – will suffer.  

The converse is true as well.  If you spend all your time nurturing new audiences, you may find that it’s at the expense of authentic community engagement with your existing ones.  If you work at a museum that focuses all its time and money on galas and membership drives to attract new eyes, for example, you may find that those newly converted members are dissatisfied with your event offerings once they’ve paid their membership dues.  It’s important to balance both demographics, and doing so will make for a happier community in the long run.  

The Bottom Line

Community can be found offline, online or in a mix of the two – what truly matters is where you devote your time and energy to growing it.  When it comes to community, your organization has a lot to gain from hosting events and promoting them with the right online event calendar, so get started today. Good luck!