This page is part of Benton Foundation's online archive. We've kept some old stuff around for historical purposes.

Nonprofits Building Online Community
Strategic Communications ... ... in the digital age 

Think it Through

Put it to Work

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Benton Foundation 2001

Community Building Resources

Table of Contents:
Learn from others in the field Research online communities Begin planning an online community Articulate the purpose for an online community Improve upon moderating/facilitating skills Choose the tools for your online community Promote an online community Clearinghouses for building online communities Additional learning opportunities

1) Learn from Others in the Field
Many nonprofits have published their lessons learned in building online communities. Read through these to find the nonprofit experiences that best reflects your organization's mission and community building goals:

Online Discussions: Benton's Lessons Learned
The Benton Foundation published its own online community lessons after adding an interactive feature to their Web site. This is a helpful reference when navigating through some tough online community choices.

Case Study: Building an Online Community -- Lessons from the "Global Knowledge for Development"
The World Bank published this case study based on the online discussion that proceeded and paralleled their 1997 conference.

"Amy Jo Kim: Common Purpose, Uncommon Woman"
Published in The Online Community Report (, this interview features Amy Jo Kim and her views about developing successful online communities.

Hosting Online Political Discussion
Steve Clift, moderator of "Democracies Online Newswire," explains the changes he made to his discussion list about politics and the online environment.

Making Online Forums Work for Community Networks
This succinct article, published by the Association for Community Networks, explains the needs for having a clear purpose, experienced hosts, interested participants and good software.

Electronic Collaboration: A Practical Guide for Educators
Published by Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, this PDF document was created for educators to inform them about the benefits and challenges of building a collaborative virtual space.

Internet Discussion Groups for Volunteers
Developed by the Virtual Volunteering Project, this resource lists the keys to success for a electronic list for volunteers.

Community-Building on the Web
While not a specific nonprofit case study, this book lists nine important principles for online communities. Written by noted online community expert Amy Jo Kim, the lessons provided can be easily adapted to the nonprofit environment. Ordering information and excerpts from the book can be found on the following Web site: Participate in Other Nonprofit Online Communities:
The best way to learn about online communities is to observe one in action. As a participant, you can learn how others handle growth, provide technical assistance, develop guidelines and moderate discussions.'s Resources for Nonprofits Online Discussions

Charity Village's E-mail Discussion Lists

Jayne Cravens Online Discussions

Nuts and Bolts Discussion Groups's Online Discussions
(You can search under Politics, Education, Activists, Arts and Health) Return to Top

2) Research Online Communities
These resources can help educate you about the broader possibilities and challenges for online communities.

Why should you care about online communities?
Published by Charity Village, this section of "Community Connections: Using Technology to Further Your Mission" identifies the benefits of nonprofit online communities.

Will Community Work for You?
In addition to providing 10 online community case studies, this CNET article can help an organization determine if an online community will further the organization's goals.

Fast Company: Are You on Craig's List?
Craig Newmark, the founder of the successful online community "Craig's List," shares his views on what it takes to develop a flourishing online community.

"Building Online Communities"
This edited transcript from a Washington DC-based Netpreneurs event summarizes the comments from the region's leading thinkers, including Mario Marino, founder of the Morino Institute. Return to Top

3) Begin Planning an Online Community
Although there are no perfect methods to build an online community, there are general principles and considerations to follow when planning an online community. Seven Steps to Building Electronic Communities
These seven steps help nonprofit users sketch a plan for an online community and address issues such as selecting a networking platform, marketing to users, and providing technical support.

"Suler's Top 10 Issues in Understanding Online Groups and Communities."
Scroll down this page to find this clinical psychologist's excellent insights about the psychological challenges/factors involved in online communication. Return to Top

4) Articulate the Purpose for an Online Community
Every professional online community should articulate the purpose for their community to better guide online interactions.

PURPOSE: The Heart of Your Community
This excerpt, from Amy Jo Kim's book "Community Building on the Web," explains how to define an online community's purpose and vision.

Defining the Purpose of Your Community
Created by Nancy White of Full Circle Associates, this article guides users through the process of developing a clear purpose for an online community. Return to Top

5) Improve Upon Moderating/Facilitation Skills
Use these resources to educate your online community's moderator or to strengthen your own facilitation skills.

The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online Written by community guru Howard Rhinegold, this simple check list informs new and experienced moderators about the "how tos" of moderating online discussions.

Facilitating and Hosting a Virtual Community
This detailed article, written by Nancy White, explains skills that every online facilitator should have in order to grow an online community.

The WELL Hosts manual (Section 2) - "Hosting A Conference"
Although specific to the WELL's policies, this resource provides a great overview for defining moderators responsibilities and behavior. Return to Top

6) Choose the Tools for an Online Community
Many nonprofits can become bogged down in choosing a forum software. These resources will help clear that fog so to make informed choices when selecting online community software. Conferencing Software for the Web
Updated often, this comprehensive resource provides software reviews of online community software for commercial systems, freeware, and proprietary systems.

30 Features To Consider When Choosing Forum Software
This Online Community Report resource details 30 features that an organizer needs to consider when selecting online community software.

Free Electronic Mailing and Discussion List Hosting Resources
Published by OMB Watch's NPTalk, this site categorizes online community software based on services provided (such as software hosting, directory announcements, fees for advanced features, etc.) Return to Top

7) Promote an Online Community
Once you have developed your online community goals and structures, begin develop the promotional strategy for the online community. Outreach Via the Internet for Not-for-Profit or Public Sector Organizations
Jayne Cravens of Coyote Communications explains how to use the Internet for promotion.

Advertise Successfully AND Ethically on the Internet! (Communicate, Don't Inundate!)
Another Coyote Communications resource, this article informs nonprofits how to market on the Internet by avoiding sending unsolicited emails.

Email-based Public Relations, or Mailing Lists for Web Sites
If using an email mailing list to promote an online community, refer to this resource for learning how to maintain that promotional list. Return to Top

8) Clearinghouses for building online communities
These clearinghouses collect a wealth of information pertaining to online communities.

The Online Community Portal
This portal contains perhaps more information than an online community building novice can bear, but is still worth perusing, especially if you have time to kill.

Online Community Resources
Maintained by Nancy White of Full Circle Associates, this portal includes a wide variety of resources to help nonprofits think about online communities, including moderation skills, online community software, and articles and events. Return to Top

9) Additional learning opportunities
A number of online seminars are available for discussing online community. These multimedia Web sites tend to require high speed access to the Internet and significant storage space on your computer.

Amy Jo Kim's Online Community Seminar
This seminar provides a preliminary multi-media lesson about online communities.

Action Strategies for Online Marketing and Community Building
This $249 online seminar, hosted by the Nonprofit Learning, is designed to help nonprofits utilize online communities.'s Online Seminars
Although this seminar is aimed to help for-profit companies think about ways to use online communities, many lessons can be used by nonprofits.

Online Facilitation Course
Offered by Full Circle Associates, seminars throughout the year provide hands-on skills for facilitating online discussions. The cost is $695 for one course but nonprofit staff receive a 10% discount. Return to Top

Return to Building Online Communities: Transforming Assumptions Into Success.

Please let us know what you thought of this article. Email Last updated: 8 June 2001 mff