Compared to blogs, discussion groups are more egalitarian in structure, and do not have the strong central voice and linear narrative structure that characterizes a blog. Discussion forums usually are organized into broad categories and subject areas that contain a collection of specific topics and discussion threads.
Web site visitors play a more central role in discussion boards than in blogs. Typically most or all of the content (posts) originate with the visitors, who ask questions, raise issues and start discussion. The discussion board may have an active moderator who reviews messages before they are posted and approves/rejects members, but only rarely does the moderator also function as the “discussion host” and take an active lead in creating specific topics of discussion.
This stronger focus on user-generated content makes discussion groups a more active tool for building active participatory online communities than blogs, which are more focused on building readership. However, discussion groups require a far greater investment of resources, time and energy to create and to maintain; otherwise they quickly can become empty.
For fundraisers, both of these online “community spaces” can play an important role in helping to develop an online audience that is more involved, more sympathetic and more likely to respond to fundraising appeals. Giving your constituents a place where they can express their support, ask questions and offer their views on the issues that are important to them will draw them closer to your organization and give you a valuable asset to help you work toward your mission and mandate.
George Irish runs The Nonprofit Matrix, a Web services directory, and authors the online campaigning blog Shake the Pillars (www.shakethepillars.com). He also is campaigns director at HJC New Media, a Toronto-based nonprofit Internet and technology consultancy. He can be reached via www.nonprofitmatrix.com