If you’ve ever been to a sub-par networking event, you’ll know that community building efforts are only as strong as the people participating and the resources available to ensure a solid connection.
Building a community is an essential part of any well-functioning team or brand. A supportive community offers value and is key to cultivating employee engagement. So, when a business is fostering new connections and building a community that provides real impact, what are the benefits? What is the shared power in building a community together?
Civic Dinners is a platform that gives groups the opportunity to host events around a certain topic, and provides them with the resources to do so with ease. Whether an individual is interested in discussing the future of the climate crisis or a company is eager to spark open conversations on neutral ground, Civic Dinners is creating communities rooted in relationships. Founder Jenn Graham’s unique vision has allowed for more than 1,300 dinners to take place.
Why Is Building Community Important?
Before we dive into our tips for community building, let’s first investigate why it’s so important. A third of adults over the age of 45 feel lonely, and loneliness can have a negative impact on brain and heart health over time. This is where the power of community comes in.
Communities are all about connection. If you think about the feeling you had the last time you hung out with your close friends or did an activity you really enjoy, that’s the feeling of community. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these things haven’t been possible, so forging communities virtually has been a welcome option to help combat loneliness and give people a feeling of belonging and togetherness in our changing world.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, communities give people a sense of belonging, cultivate support during tough times, and give members purpose, as everyone has a distinctive role to play. This purpose ultimately gives people’s lives meaning and builds social capital.
What Does It Mean to Build Community?
Community building can happen in many forms, but the process always consists of a number of efforts taking place to enhance the quality of connections between members who have shared interests.
Just as it takes effort to maintain a personal relationship or friendship, communities take work too. While putting a bunch of people with the same interests in a room could yield immediately impactful and enlightening results, a certain level of maintenance is needed to ensure the group’s sustainability.
Examples of Communities
Communities come in all forms. From a social impact network to a weekly study group, each community holds unique potential and value for its members.
You might be familiar with the concept of special interest housing in colleges, for example. These dormitories or houses are meant to foster connections between students based on a shared interest, such as sustainability, social justice, or a foreign language.
Communities don’t look any one way, which is one of the reasons they can be so magical. A group of people who routinely attends the same dog park or playground is just as much a community as a workplace softball league. Attending a yoga studio on a particular schedule might give members a sense of community, support, and value, just like a virtual book club would. The opportunities are endless, and it’s often up to the members themselves to determine the strength or weakness of the community as a whole
5 Strategies to Build Community
Whether you’re a business leader looking to strengthen your team, your neighborhood’s designated potluck coordinator, or you’re looking to form the foundation for a new network, these strategies are crucial for effective community building.
1. Embrace Change
An ebb and flow of participation, focus, and introduction of new challenges are natural for any community. How leadership handles this is another story. As a leader, embracing change and new opportunities is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the group. People who go through changes together will trust each other more when they come out the other side, and new, valuable relationships can form as a result.
Whether you’re leading a small group at a company retreat or introducing a group of college students to the concept of communal living, it’s important to ensure that the team knows change is a natural part of human interaction and to give them the space to voice their comments.
2. Promote Kindness
Encouraging conversation around a topic is one thing, but giving your participants the space to congratulate and complement one another is crucial for members to gain camaraderie. Facilitate an anonymous comment box, shout-outs, or notes of appreciation for your group to support one another. Try designating a focus group to handle internal relationships and create resources that reinforce a sense of trust among members.
3. Allow Breakouts
Whether your community is virtual or in person, there are always opportunities to engage in new ways and foster new connections by breaking out into small groups. At Civic Dinners, the events are kept fairly small, but larger groups could use the Zoom breakout feature. In-person, randomly assigned groups provided with discussion questions can lead to unexpected new connections.
4. Companies, Expand Your Communities
Building a community that values employees is absolutely imperative, but bringing your customers into the fold is just as important. Consumers are expecting more and more from the brands they support, including a sense of community. One study showed that 85% of marketing practitioners believe that having an online branded community will increase trust and improve the customer journey. In short, we want more from the brand we’re supporting, and simply purchasing products isn’t enough to keep us engaged.
Businesses can build a community by getting involved in the local area or going virtual, too. Try hosting an Instagram Live or webinar with a value add for your customers or social media followers. For example, during the pandemic, activewear brands have hosted online fitness classes or socially distanced groups outdoors, and restaurants have held virtual cooking demonstrations. These activities are great ways to keep consumers engaged, even after the pandemic ends.
5. Ask for Feedback
What is your network looking to gain from being in your community? Does member participation feel forced? Do community members feel that there’s equity, trust, and support in the group? At the core of any effective community is communication. Make sure you leave your door open so that community members feel like they have the space to give constructive criticism for the overall benefit of the group.
Civic Dinners: Intimate Conversations & Changemaking
By the end of 2021, Civic Dinners hopes to have brought a million people to one of their tables around the globe. From New Zealand to New York, Civic Dinners hosts tables and guides conversations that break barriers, encourage creativity, and spark change in the world.
Civic Dinners is a public benefit corporation that hopes to create a more inclusive, just, and sustainable planet, where conversations inspire everyday people to build solutions together. In cultivating citizens across sectors, Civic Dinners develops a new network of problem-solving individuals who support one another in the search for belonging, knowledge, equity, and inclusion.
Jenn Graham, Founder & CEO of Civic Dinners
Jenn Graham founded Civic Dinners in 2016 and has been named a “World-Changing Woman” by Conscious Company Media. Civic Dinners was born from Jenn’s first company, Aha! Strategy, a design and strategy collaborative that specializes in innovative projects.
As a business owner passionate about community building, Jenn is an organizer for TEDxAtlanta. She is also a Civic Innovation Fellow and Startup Runway winner. With a 15-year track record in combining her business and design-thinking background with her personal passion for community engagement, her goal has always been to help communities build empathy and raise awareness, understanding, and collective action around critical issues as they attempt to live more sustainably.
“We are up against this tribal instinct of right or wrong. There is no middle ground. Or you think one way or the other. The way to really slice through that is to tell stories that touch people at an emotional level and really capture people’s hearts, and then change their minds.”
How to Find Your Community
- Look Everywhere: What do you do in your daily life that’s unique? Maybe you’re a bike commuter. Learn your city’s organizations are leading the charge for safer streets and attend a happy hour! Maybe you have a favorite brewery in your neighborhood—check to see if they host any networking or trivia events you can participate in!
- Start with Volunteering: Volunteering can be a wonderful way to meet new people while making an immediate impact in your local community. Try joining a tree planting event or participating in a local race setup. No matter your interests, nonprofits are always looking to engage volunteers.
- Start a Book Club: Book clubs can be a great way to reconnect with old friends, bring new context to the workplace, or explore new relationships. Try starting a book club with a theme in mind, such as books on social entrepreneurship or modern fiction. Best of all, they can be virtual, so the opportunities are endless.
- Join a Civic Dinners Conversation: Anyone can join a conversation at Civic Dinners, and it’s as simple as choosing the discussion you’re most interested in. From parenting during a pandemic to bridging the racial divide, at Civic Dinners you’ll find rich, timely conversations taking place.
Closing: Community Building Efforts in Everyday Life
Humans are social creatures. We all yearn for the opportunity to engage with others and work through our identity. By being a part of multiple communities, we can all cultivate empathy and work towards collective solutions to global issues.
Whether you simply stop to chat with the other dog parents during your next trip to the park or join a Civic Dinner conversation, let community building be an ongoing, exciting part of your journey.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Jenn on Facebook, LinkedIn
- Civic Dinners on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
- Civic Dinners Virtual Happy Hours
- Jasmine Crowe of Goodr
- Techstars Social Impact Team
- Center for Civic Innovation Fellowship
- For the Love of Cities by Peter Kageyama
- The Emotional Infrastructure of Places by Peter Kageyama
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.