Why Everyone Can’t Be in Your Nonprofit’s Community
If everyone is in your community, doors wide open, you just have a crowd with no shared idea, diluted passion and a cacophony of voices. The most vibrant communities make clear what they are about and ask community members to subscribe to those ideas. Not everyone is invited or even allowed in.
In the book, “The Business of Belonging,” author David Spinks wrote, “Communities are groups of people with a common interest, a common belief, a common set of values … which means there will be people who share that commonality, and people who don’t.”
He continued, “Don’t feel guilty when excluding people, because it’s the exclusion that makes members feel safe, knowing that the people in the room are those they can trust, and whose values they align with.”
An example involves the Virginia Council of CEOs, a group Katrina was part of and led at one point. To enter the group, you had to produce $1 million in revenue and have at least 10 employees. Everyone in the group had at least that baseline, and so we likely had some challenges in common.
It was important to have a good understanding of who was in the room and their problems, but it was also important to know who wasn’t there. There was no one there who would not understand when Katrina said something like:
- “I had to fire someone today, and I feel like hell.”
- “Payroll was tough this time.”
- “Sometimes I just want to run away.”
There was no danger anything would be said that others wouldn’t have the experience to understand and empathize with. That made Katrina feel safe and understood.
Psychologists say that trust is the opposite of fear. In a fear-less situation your trust is high. You are confident. You feel good. You are comfortable. You want more of that experience. When you’re in a group of individuals you identify with, you think, “People like us do things like this.” (Thanks Seth Godin!) There are a lot of people who don’t do “things like this.” If they are in your group, you can’t build group trust. You can’t make assumptions about their beliefs and attitudes, and you don’t feel comfortable. The social norms are unclear, uncomfortable. Your engagement declines.
If there are people in your community who don’t share your values, you don’t feel safe. You don’t stay.
Excluding people feels bad when you work in social good. Exclusion doesn’t feel like who we are. But this is not about social good, this is about the operating system of the typical human. Evolutionary psychology makes this true; we are evolved to trust our in-group to stay safe and survive. If we can’t feel that trust, gained through shared ideas, we are uncomfortable and feel unsafe, a vestigial survival response.
If this still feels weird, you only have to look at bad actors (terrorists, gangsters, drug gangs, etc.) to see the power of it. They only include people deeply committed to their ideas; they strictly exclude — sometimes by killing them — those they want to exclude. In these cases, when you’re in, you’re in — sometimes for life. It’s an extreme example, but directionally illuminating.
We’ve written many times on in-group/out-group phenomenon. One of the things about identifying strongly with the in-group (the included) is that you will ridicule and degrade the out-group (the excluded). This is what social media companies have found is most effective to keep you plugged in, by emphasizing your in-group, and fostering your natural tendency to degrade the out-group. Turns out this generates a lot of emotional energy — the thing that keeps you on the site. Without the “exclusion and out-group degrading” part, this wouldn’t work.
How do we in social good make use of this human pattern of behavior?
- Decide who is in your community and how you will include them.
- Decide who is not in your community and how you will exclude them, without being a huge jerk.
- Decide how the community will behave; what are the rules of the road?
- Nurture the community with time, tools and budget. Acquisition is easier with a clear-cut community with standards, also, retention even easier.
- Reap the rewards of community members’ satisfaction: trust, revenue and buy-in to all community activities.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.