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A ring with unspeakable evil power enters the hopeful and happy Shire, and the mission is set: this small hobbit named Frodo is to begin a journey to take evil head on in an attempt to destroy it altogether.
It may not be quite as dramatic, but isn't this the path of the nonprofit? Something has gone awry and entered the world, be it illness, war, slavery, disabilities, or natural disasters, and your nonprofit has brazenly stepped forward to face the problem head on, with the hopes of a brighter, healthier, and more peaceful future.
But Gandalf, the wise wizard who acts as Frodo's guide, knows that Frodo can't destroy the ring on his own. He assembles a mighty fellowship comprised of nine members with vast backgrounds and fighting skill, with the hopes of aiding Frodo in accomplishing his mission.
In the same way, your nonprofit cannot complete your mission alone; you must cultivate a fellowship of supporters to make the journey with you.
So with that in mind, let's explore how you can build this kind of meaningful relationship with your supporters by taking a few hints from the best friends ever, Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
As their friendship blossoms on their quest to save the world, we'll be able to explore the steps your nonprofit can take to build strong relationships while accomplishing your mission.
One of the best ways to begin building community is by first understanding what your community is all about. Watch how this basic principle of listening sets up the whole journey of friendship for Frodo and Sam.
Sam wasn't close to Frodo before hearing about the ring. He was simply Frodo's gardener. But when he listened closely to what was going on in Frodo's life, he suddenly was drawn into a relationship with him.
By listening to your community, you are opening a door to beginning a relationship, because now you know not only what members of your community like, but how they think.
You can learn more about your supporters by tracking specific keywords, search terms, and content via social media channels. You can:
When you listen first, you know better what your next steps should be to develop that relationship.
Tip: Don't be afraid to ask your supporters questions about why they support your cause and their preferred types of content to share! Sending quick polls can give you the feedback you need to start focusing on developing certain areas within your nonprofit.
One of the greatest challenges in creating community is figuring out what level of commitment community members have with your nonprofit and how to try and increase that commitment. Watch as Sam is tested in his commitment to the journey.
Sam was committed to the journey, but at some point he fell behind and felt like he couldn't move forward. He felt he was leaving safety and was in over his head.
But Sam wasn't left out to dry. Frodo invited him to take the next step and walked alongside him. I like that Frodo didn't say it was going to be safe, but honestly said it was going to be dangerous, and invited him to step into that space with him.
In the same way, your nonprofit should walk alongside your supporters, inviting them to take the next step forward, despite possible challenges, for the good of the cause.
Here's the catch: although Sam tells Frodo where he feels he can no longer move forward, supporters are not the same way. They don't always communicate their situation to you, so you have to measure their steps for them in order to know what step to invite them into next.
By creating a commitment ladder, which is a tool that outlines different actions that reflect the level of commitment of supporters, you'll be able to sort through your supporters and suggest what their next step can be. Here's an example of a commitment ladder an organization could create:
As you can see, there are different levels of commitment that are specific to the type of audience you're speaking with, so be sure to adjust your ladder appropriately.
By defining what your goal is for each kind of supporter, you can better support them on their journey to the top of the ladder, and together be able to create the maximum impact for your cause.
Relationships with your supporters aren't just sustained by throwing information at them, but rather by using multiple mediums to build trust and a bond. Watch as trust and the bond between Frodo and Sam work together.
Sam refuses to let Frodo go on the journey alone, and then, Frodo saves Sam, which shows their relationship is a two-way street. Applying this to cultivating community with your supporters: Not only are you aiding them on their journey to make an impact, they are aiding you as well. You both need each other to accomplish the mission.
So to create this back and forth in your relationship, use these four tools to increase communication:
1. Email. In today's culture, you need to make emails compelling, brief, and personal. You should send series of welcome emails, follow up with supporters on every part of the ladder inviting them to a next step, and offer exclusive information about your cause to donors, which shows you're building trust.
2. Social Media. Keeping a conversation going with supporters is essential to building community. Talk with and retweet your supporters on social media, invite them to become ambassadors for you on social media, and ask compelling questions that increase engagement.
3. Website Design. Make sure your website contains all necessary content with an appealing design and convenient access by making donation buttons easily visible, providing exclusive content for people that connect with you on social media, and after a donor supports you, having a page that thanks them and provides a next step.
4. Donors. Remember how Frodo saves Sam? Your donors save you, so be sure to pay them special attention with offers to be involved in quarterly calls and give feedback, providing sneak peeks of upcoming announcements and content and notifying them of the impact of their donation.
At the end of the day, cultivating relationships is about showing your supporters you care about what they think, feel, and believe. By doing so, they feel like they can continue to support your cause on greater level. And, at the end of your journey, you can look back on all the impact you have made because of the community that was built, celebrate all that you accomplished, and create a next step together to go on to even greater things.
As Sam said, "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."
Image 1: Michael Quinn / CC0
Image 2: CauseVox
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.