Volunteer-based Online Community – What Makes It Successful?

In recent times, a volunteer-based online community is proliferating globally across various interest areas. Covid has triggered a paradigm shift towards social interaction and collaboration via online communities. People are willing to contribute to such communities for their learning. Successful communities can convert these members into volunteers across different roles.

We hosted a panel discussion, called “Building Volunteer Programs For Your Community”, where we wanted to tap deeper around the creation of volunteer programs and the benefits of the same for online communities. The discussion encompassed everything around:

  • What roles do volunteers play in a community?
  • How to have a successful volunteer-led community?
  • What are the strategies to build a volunteer program?

And much more… So let’s get reading!

But before we move forward, if you are into community building and looking to build a volunteer program, then check out LikeMinds right now! Our platform offers great inbuilt features that will make it super easy for you to scale your community.

Introducing Our Panelists

We had three distinguished community members joining us on the panel, who have been building communities for a while now.

  • Suhas Motwani: Founder of TheProductFolks, India’s largest volunteer-driven product community.
  • Gautham Sivaramakrishnan: Director at Headstart Network Foundation, India’s largest volunteer-driven network for startups.
  • Raj Nayan Datta: Co-founder of A Junior VC, a community that connects the vibrant Indian startup ecosystem.

What Makes A Volunteer-based Online Community Successful?

Gautham told us, “Volunteers are the heart and soul of a volunteer-based online community. There’s nothing else! It’s not the program, it’s not the frills and stuff that come, it is the volunteers that make or break a community. Hence, everything from selection, curation, management, the growth that you create, goes around the success or the failure of a community. So, that is a starting point for anyone to even look at.”

He further adds that a starting point for volunteers to come in is for the founding team to decide the following –

  • Have you set up a very large, audacious mission that unites all the volunteers together?
  • Is there something really strong enough, exciting enough, purposeful enough for the volunteers to feel that it is worth their time?

So, these are the things that Headstart Network Foundation primarily focuses on in volunteer-driven communities:

  • The first priority of every volunteer is his personal life.
  • Priority two is his professional life.
  • And the third priority is his volunteer work.

If we ever see our volunteers getting that mixed up, we as founding team members, are doing a hopeless job there. And if the volunteer is not getting his life together, where will he have the space to take up volunteering. You need to have your act together to give back to the community.

For example, when you fly, you are inside a plane, what does the cabin crew tell you? They tell you to first give the oxygen mask to yourself and then to the kid, or the senior citizen next to you. And volunteering is all about that. Ensure that your personal and professional life is together.

As a core team, ensure that your volunteers are sorted. Their personal and professional growth is balanced. So, it is not just about your mission or the cause that you are working towards, but it is also about the growth of each volunteer that is actively contributing to the community.

Also, Check-Out:

What Is The Role Of Volunteers In A Volunteer-based Online Community?

Suhas says, “For any community, don’t expect results in the first 6 or 8 months. For a volunteer-driven community, I think it’s mostly about a young set of volunteers with some guidance from the top. The same goes for the senior folks volunteering with us. But as long as your volunteers are growing, they are trying to help a lot more people. If you can help them with that, then I think the community becomes strong.”

And for TheProductFolks, it’s been a very interesting experience when new volunteers get onboarded. One thing that Suhas shares with them is that life happens. Many times you might be very excited in the beginning but it might not work out.

Three months later, you’ll be like, “Hey, this probably isn’t the thing for me. And that’s completely fine.” But at least you be sure to make friends, whether it’s 3 months, 6 months or 12 months. Communities are one of the best ways you can make friends. Some of Suhas’s closest friends today are people who started off building this community together with him two years ago. And it goes beyond just building a community.

He further adds, “Think about it, you are working with these people ‘x’ number of hours a week, building this together, and then that bond keeps growing. So, like Gautham already mentioned, the order of priority between personal and professional life might differ from person to person, but if those two things go great, then the volunteering automatically happens.”

Some Unique Initiatives Taken By The Volunteers And They Have Led For It

Raj says, “Touching upon Nipun’s question, some of the things that our volunteers have done – the one-word answer to that is everything. Whatever goes around in our community, the entire AJVC, the product list, all the newsletters, podcasts, startup stats, marketing advertising and communication, startup chronicles, all of these are now, to a large extent, run by the volunteers themselves.”

AJVC, as a team, is also a set of volunteers. Because to a large extent, there is no monetary gain per se or monetary incentive involved. That being said, a few of the projects were conceptualized and then the volunteers were allowed to run with them. The best example of that is ‘Startup Chronicles’.

Essentially what they did was ask the volunteers to come up with exciting things that happened in a particular week. For example, exciting fundraisers, mergers and acquisitions in the startup domain. Collate that into a 5-6 minute video, record it, release it, and see how it goes. And the volunteers are essentially killing it!

Also, Check-Out:

What’s The Process Of Starting A New Initiative In A Volunteer-based Online Community?

Raj tells us, “So we as a team, are very open-minded to ideas. We don’t have a fear of failure because since there are no monetary incentives or any kind of money involved anywhere in the entire process, we are not answerable to anyone except our fellow co-founders or team members. That allows us to experiment a lot.”

AJVC receives a lot of inbound requests from many folks who want to try out a new product line. For example, when they started AMAs, one of the volunteers came in and said “Hey, you know you have podcasts. Why don’t you start with AMAs, which is a text-based format? Many people may not be willing to come to a video platform.”

Similarly, for startup chronicles, they read a lot about what’s happening. “Is there a 5 minute YouTube video that can essentially go viral? Sure, why not. Try it out!”

Whoever pitches us the idea, they have to have a solid understanding of what they are doing. It can’t be a half-baked idea out of thin air. Come up with a plan, come up with a thought process, come up with the steps – how do you want it to execute, and essentially own it up. You have full liberty, think about it as your baby. And that’s what people have done.

He didn’t believe his eyes the first time a volunteer came up with a plan. It was so detailed, so thorough, he had no other option than to just let that person know, “Hey, you know what. Seems like you know this thing much better than I do, just go ahead and do it. Whatever you want to do, we want to be your volunteer.” So, that’s the level of detail that people come up with.

On that note, we run a community called ‘CommunityHood’, which is an independent community with 450+ community members already a part of it! If you want to learn from the experience of leading community builders themselves or feel you can help other community builders in upskilling themselves, then join ‘CommunityHood’ now.

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