The Surprising Benefits of Online Community Building

By Danielle Rocheleau

It would seem that everyone has been holding their breath, behind their masks, waiting for a new calendar year to mark a new beginning. A fresh start. A renewed energy. A hope that the challenges of 2020 will forever remain with that calendar year. Of course, rationally, we each know that this just isn’t the case.

Having a couple of weeks off, after a year that seemed to have no breaks at all, has allowed for some reflection. Thinking about some of the challenges our clients have faced, what went really well through our work, and what was learned through a year of unfortunate events, uncontrollable circumstances, and undeniably difficult decisions made by leaders around the world, has truly given me hope and excitement for the year ahead.

How Community can Help Non-Profit Leaders

A Challenging Time for Leaders

Non-profit leaders – executives, directors and managers – often have a couple things in common:

  1. They have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders
  2. They don’t have many peers within their team, organization, and even personal networks, who can understand their unique situation, offer guidance, and provide support for learning and troubleshooting.  

This combination can be challenging.

This idea, along with some of the powerful experiences in 2020 (which I will get into a little later), really reinforced a key theme I have felt during this time of reflection: the importance of community.

By developing connections with peers in other organizations, leaders can connect with – and build – communities, creating mutual support networks, enabling professional development, and providing feelings of confidence, security and inspiration.

The Value of Community

At Laridae, community is a core value. We view it in a couple of different ways. At a basic level, a “community” is a group of people living in the same place or having a characteristics in common. But more than that, community is also a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. We as individuals need connection. We find meaning in having a sense of community – with our family, friends and networks, our colleagues at work, the sectors we work within.

Over the last year, we shifted our work across the non-profit sector to a virtual world, working with hundreds of individuals through facilitated discussions and training. What was unexpected – which we realized in front of us on our computers – is how you can truly find community in the unlikeliest of places.

In some ways, it was a happy accident that warmed our hearts as we brought groups of people together that may never have a need to connect otherwise, into a discussion that aligned interests, challenges, and roles across organizations, sectors, and jurisdictions.

An Example of Intentional Community Development: “Coffee House Chats”

Let me share the story of the ‘magic’ we saw take place on our screens throughout 2020.

As we were all ‘forced’ to move our work virtually, our team was nervous about how it would be received. Nonetheless, we quickly pivoted and began to bring our work online, first with our training services and then with our consulting services.

One fear we had was that once we moved online, participants would miss out on the informal part of our training and facilitations. Connections are often made in the time before and after sessions, or during the breaks. So, we decided to introduce something we like to call “coffee house chats” between sessions, with the intent of gathering everyone together without a set agenda and offering an opportunity for people to ask questions while we facilitated the discussion.

Well, after our first coffee house chat we knew there was something really special there. We watched as participants shared openly, were vulnerable, asked questions, shared ideas, and built on each other’s experiences. We saw relationships forming, and common understandings and frustrations shared, and solutions being contemplated right in front of our eyes. And guess what? We, as facilitators, became observers in something truly special – community!

The Surprising Benefits of Online Community Building

Although initially challenging and uncomfortable, these kind of intentional community-building activities can help you and your non-profit achieve important outcomes:

  • Level the playing field across remote teams
  • Close geographical gaps
  • Connect like-minded people, who experience similar challenges.
  • Enable shared experiences
  • Learn from each other
  • Form unlikely professional networks

When we saw our clients experiencing these outcomes, it pushed us to look for more ways to develop community amongst non-profit leaders. More heart-warming, powerful, and magical moments just like these. This, I realize, might sound exaggerated – but for us – it’s what keeps us doing what we do – supporting people like you!

Opportunities for you to Build Community Connections Right Now

Although this emphasis on community-building might seem new for us, it has always been at the core of our work.  Over the last six months, we have dug in deep and made it our mission to find ways to foster community for those we serve. Our aim is to facilitate opportunities for community development and capacity building – designed specifically on your needs for your whole management team or as leaders of an organization.

How can we help you find and build your community of peers?

Join The Pier

Launching this month – this is the newest way to engage with Laridae. It is something born out of the powerful moments we have had with our clients over 2020. It is a community of practice for individuals and staff groups to join an ever-growing network of others in the non-profit sector. It’s a place to share, learn, and connect with professionals that will help drive answers and move your organization.

Zoom meeting with coffee

Enroll in Training

We have been talking about our Management Training Program and Leadership Development Program quite a bit – but you know what? It’s because we are EXCITED about them.

They don’t only provide practical, tangible strategies you can apply right away; they also bring individuals and teams closer together, building common practices, and aligning the way teams work towards common results.

Investing in your team development will not only enhance individual practice, but will engage in intentional discussion, reflection, and community building.

Start a Project

Pulling a group together to accomplish an out-of-the-normal project encourages cohesion, collaboration, and alignment. Whether it be a strategic plan, a refreshed brand, or stakeholder engagement – this will not only accomplish a goal or check something off a list, but it will give a group of people a focused initiative to come together.

Get in touch now to book a free, 30-minute consultation call. We can help you think clarify your goals – and your route to achieving them.