Communities – Charity vs. Brand, What’s The Difference?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 @ 03:05 PM

Community Management as a discipline continues to gain pace and if there’s one thing most CMs agree on it is that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to management style, types of community or community goals. I had an email at the weekend from someone with questions relating to online communities for charities and what might be the best approach for creating them.

They were intrigued to find out whether there was any difference between those communities for charities and those for brands and whether the types of interaction were consistent. This started the cogs turning as I attempted to provide a response based on my experience and views. After much deliberating it seemed to boil down to two things; what the charity wanted to achieve and the nature of the conversations / interactions they were hoping to generate. Things like donations, decisions to take action or any other activities will likely come off the back of those conversations / interactions. A branded community may be more willing to provide a space for general chit-chat if there’s still an opportunity to drop a brand message in every now and again, I’m not sure whether that’s the case for charities given the nature of the subject at the core of the community offering. Users may be more use to brands throwing things their way but from a charity, would that really be what you are expecting?

I may be completely wrong on this one but for me there would seem to be a big difference between the approach for a charity compared with that of a brand. A brand will likely be able to get away with more of the “cheap” marketing tactics as people almost expect it while a charity has to work hard on two levels; 1) bringing people in to a community in the first place (what’s the driver to get someone talking) and 2) what do they offer to keep people there. I know there are a lot of successful charitable communities across the web but for one starting off I think they are going to need to look at it from a brand perspective rather than from the perspective of a charity. What’s the end goal? What’s the USP and what can we offer users? What resources are we going to put behind this activity? How do we promote this community and where? How long are we prepared to operate it for and what are the measure of success?

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this and whether the nature of conversations related to charities makes the act of establishing and managing a community a tougher proposition than for a brand.

2 Responses to “Communities – Charity vs. Brand, What’s The Difference?”

  1. Jasper Blake says:

    For charities it is all about storytelling. Charities invariably have great stories to tell, whether they be from their volunteers, staff, recipients of the cause, or donors. These are often people who support a charity because they are personally affected by the problem the charity is set up to tackle, and finding others like them is the key to developing a community – they are the ones who have a vested interest in seeing the charity succeed.

    Resources are always a problem for charities so they need try to find ways to empower their supporters (volunteers, staff, donors, board) to tell their own stories themselves, and in a setting where it is going to encourage their friends or others to get involved.

    Facebook really comes into its own in this respect. Get a volunteer to tell the story of how they made a difference by volunteering, say on the charity's Facebook page, and not only will it encourage all the other Page supporters, but all the volunteers' Facebook friends will see it as well. Again, it is the personal connections that will have the greatest influence in terms of persuading someone to get involved.

    The charity's stories become their brand – and especially their success stories – ie. real problems of real people being solved. The measure of success, in terms of the charitiy's community, is whether the friends of the person telling the story start to volunteer, donate, or tell their stories as well. Sites like have done well out of incorporating Facebook's social networking capabilities with back end CRM and analytical tools.

    Not that Facebook is necessarily their best or only choice of course, but it is often the first place the smaller charities will turn to as a ready-to-go platform for spreading their message – and it can work well for charities if they use it properly.

    If a charity can tell its stories using video so much the better. Video via YouTube should always be in the content mix for charities, though often the social networking capabilities of YouTube are under utilized. is a good blog for charities to subscribe to in terms of learning about social tools for social change.

    • Philip Wride says:

      Great thoughts and comments Jasper. Definitely agree that charities should try and leverage any existing relationships or connections via volunteers and staff and look to encourage the sharing of stories that are relevant.

      You make a great point about using Youtube as well, we know that video can be a powerful tool. It could be that there's a monthly video that highlights the latest activity that the charity has undertaken or one of the volunteers giving a monologue about what they've been involved in.

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