What Nonprofit Online Community Managers Learned in 2020

online community managers talking

One of the many jobs of nonprofit program managers that has grown in importance (and workload) over the past year is online community management. For most nonprofits, COVID-19 office shutdowns in 2020 impacted how team members interacted, communicated, and engaged with clients, partners, funders, and colleagues online. For teams lucky enough to have the technology available to move their engagement, communication, and training functions online, building a digital community came with both challenges and opportunities.

As we move forward in 2021, many nonprofits will open back up to pre-COVID levels of in-person engagement throughout the year. But as we go back to in-person meetings, events, and service projects –it’s important to learn from our online engagement over the past year. Some of you may also continue to build your online communities because they bring new ways to engage with key audiences throughout the year.

Here are a few lessons program managers learned about effective digital community management in 2020:

Identify community leaders

Building strong, equitable, and engaged online communities takes continuous management. To build a community that serves all of your individual members and provides a safe space to share ideas, connect and serve clients, takes a lot of work, maybe more than your team can afford on a daily basis. To overcome this obstacle, identify your communities’ most engaged participants and give them the tools they need to lead. Whether that’s training, FAQs and messaging, community rules, or more–identifying who the best spokespersons are within your community and giving them the resources to continue that service is key to growth.


Share news and information

One way to build an engaged online community is to create real value for its members. Do this by sharing news and information first within the group. You can even use your community members as a sounding board to share ideas and collect feedback before major announcements or service changes. If people learn information that relates to them, helps them reach their goals, and they can only find within your community–they will come back for more.


Take a minute to breath

This is an important lesson for all program managers but is essential for online management. Rather than reacting quickly to negative feedback or other information posted online, it’s best to take a minute and breath. If your community is engaged and effective, members will ‘police’ themselves, including helping new members learn the rules that govern the group. It’s important to identify and respond to negative interactions so we can build a safe online space together, but sometimes taking a step back and a moment to breathe can help you be a more effective community manager.


Entertain as well as inform

One thing people expect online is to be constantly entertained. For community managers, this means thinking of new and creative ways to share content and engage members. In addition to important news and information, consider ways you can bring smiles to your community members’ faces with entertaining content that relates to your mission. One way to do this is to create a content calendar that identifies fun holidays, from National Puppy Day to Take Your Child to Work Day, and plan engaging content to share in advance.


To go beyond email and text message services and create a meaningful online community, take a look at the full list of features available from WeThrive’s community engagement tools

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