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No Trick here – The Treat of Member Online Communities

One aspect of membership associations that I appreciate the most is the brain trust within the membership. In GPA, we have so much knowledge and so many different skills – the more I talk to members, the more I am impressed with our membership. Taking advantage of that brain trust is really a true member benefit. Here's how:


Set out with a Purpose
What are you trying to gain from connecting with others online? Support or knowledge share? Job opportunities? An increase in sales? Referrals? To really take advantage of ANY online communities, you have to know your ‘why'. And there may be several different communities and different ‘whys' for each. I reach out to my ASAE (association executives) community for ideas and connections to other resources. I reach out on GPA's GrantZone to share ideas and knowledge or to ask questions myself – even in ‘anonymous' mode sometimes.
Know where to find ‘Your People'
Once you know who and why you have to find them. There are several good places to look if you're not already there. LinkedIn groups can be invaluable communities. GPA's GrantZone is a great community to participate in (free for GPA members) and we have some great conversations and idea sharing. The same thing goes with Facebook groups in your community or interest areas. Look for other discussion board opportunities within groups. Sometimes these are on the member side of a group you belong to while others can be public.
Stick to the Effort
The only way you are going to benefit from an online community is to put in the time. You will need to identify what time you can give to your development and knowledge sharing. Right now that might be 1-2 hours a week, or maybe less. Maybe it's more. If you want it to be part of your regular routine, put it in your calendar for one day a week or each day when you have your morning coffee. If you need a regular reminder, sign up for the email updates on a daily or weekly basis. I set up daily alerts from each feed to provide a summary each day. If I get an opportunity to skim through it, I do, and I respond.
How Many are Too Many?
Keep track of how many online communities you are in. When you get a weekly or daily digest, are you reading it or are you deleting it? If you find yourself deleting it, you probably aren't finding value in it or need to rethink the time commitment. Only stay in those you find of value. For some, that may be 2-3, or it may be 6-7. Know the time you can commit and that will determine how many online communities you are a part of.
It's a Give and Take Relationship
For your participation in an online community to be of value to you, recognize you need to provide insights just as much as you ask for them. Strive to be a ‘superuser'. When you see an online post that you can contribute to, take the few moments to respond with your advice or experience. This puts you in the community as someone who gives, so when you ask for advice, others would be more apt to provide theirs. Also, being active builds your brand or your organization's communication, so be as active as you can. Consider having a ‘signature' for posts or link in your member profile that has your website and up to date information attached.
How do you participate in communities? What value do you find in participating?
Ericka Harney is a consultant to nonprofit organizations, GPA Approved Trainer, and an Organizational Leadership Doctoral Candidate at Eastern University.