How Community Builders Can Make Joining Communities Easier
Note: This post originally appeared in the Gather Community Consulting Newsletter. Get future newsletters by subscribing at the form below this post."
Imagine you’ve just moved across the country. You know no one except your partner and dog, who moved with you. You want to get involved in local community efforts, make new friends, find a job, and continue your hobbies. Where do you begin?
The process of finding “home” is a combination of serendipity, chemistry, and awkward attempts. It is emotional, not rational. And it is hard work.
It’s no wonder then, in an age where we expect things to be easy and frictionless, disengagement and disconnection from our local communities is the norm, not the exception.
In an age where we expect things to be easy and frictionless, disengagement and disconnection are the norm.
Community builders are in a prime position to address this problem.
The process of joining most communities (whether local or online) is quite frustrating. There must be a balance between too easy and too hard to join -- people want to be somewhere they belong, not just the first place that will take them. The problem persists because most communities don’t do a good job of welcoming newcomers, even if they think they do.
Getting involved in community efforts should be made easier by the internet and the work of dedicated people like me and you. Instead, it’s more overwhelming than ever.
There’s no one way to discover and join communities. People may go to Facebook Groups, Nextdoor, local branches of international groups, events, or introduce themselves to neighbors. Luck can land them in the right place, but not always. Given that a 2018 Cigna study estimated 27% of Americans feel that they have no one in their life who understands them, we might extrapolate that "landing in the right place" by chance might happen for only a small portion of us, at least in the US.
You gain so much empathy from experiencing community transitions firsthand. That's what I'm experiencing right now, with my move from Seattle to Milwaukee. In trying to join new communities, it becomes clear: Most of your members are looking for a place where they can not only find answers but also feel like someone notices them and cares that they’re there.
People want a few easy ways to show up and the assurance that it won’t be awkward. You can’t always promise the latter, but you can promise to create a space for where it’s totally OK for someone to feel awkward.
People want a few easy ways to show up and the assurance that it won't be awkward.
Here are a few principles I’ve gleaned from my work and my many attempts to join communities as I move around the country:
Welcome people. They notice. I joined a gym in Milwaukee last week and two of the trainers called me immediately. Another texted. Clingy to some, but much better than a blasé attitude.
If someone reaches out and wants to help, let them. You might not have a formal role for them. It doesn’t matter. Find something for them to do. Do not say no.
Have a newsletter. People feel overwhelmed and want to take their time learning about your community before diving in. Newsletters help with this.
Create a new members guide. So many communities include event calendars for existing members, member directories, and histories of the organization. If someone is a new member, this alone feels insular and intimidating. You need to answer the questions: “How will I be received as a new member of this community? Will anyone notice me or will they all be ‘cliqued up’ already?”
Related to the above: When someone RSVPs to an event for the first time, reach out personally to let them know you’ll be there to welcome them.
Your friendly neighborhood community builder ⭐
Carrie Melissa Jones
Founder, Gather Community Consulting
What's Been and What's Coming
In my last newsletter, I gave encouragement to pause and celebrate. You can read that newsletter here.
I am in the midst of a dozen orientation sessions for teaching and choosing my thesis advisor and classes at UW-M. When things calm down, I'm so excited to share with you some of the insights from my first few weeks in grad school.