Hug Your Local Community
There are many reasons why people get involved in community-building activities, from politics to religion, personal gain to professional development. The reasons may be different, but the methods to sustain a successful community are fairly consistent — at least in my experience.
In my almost-30-year year career in technology, I’ve supported or helped create a number of community-building efforts, almost entirely around technology and entrepreneurship. These included launching and running user groups, hosting networking events, throwing breakfast meetings as well as lunch-and-learns, attending plenty of dinner gatherings, and organizing technology events in donated spaces or in expensive hotel and conference centers. The largest event I personally organized and ran had just over 2,000 attendees, and a 501c3 non-profit I co-founded had around 10,000 members before we merged with another non-profit and I stepped down from the board.
What I learned through these experiences is that starting (and maintaining) a community is hard. Not many of us are out there with feet on the pavement, making connections from the ground up as we did with my previous non-profit. Building community takes commitment and consistency — and you need to be present throughout the process. You can’t just blow into town, spend a bunch of money, and expect things to work out. It just doesn’t work like that. People want authenticity. They’ll eat your free jumbo shrimp and take your free t-shirts, but they won’t stay to buy from your sponsors, nor respect your message if they view you as just another out-of-town vendor trying to buy a customer list by sponsoring yet another event.
I’ll say it again — starting a community is hard. You need to be authentic. You need to be consistent. You need to be have a message and be passionate about what you’re doing. And you need to be there, week after week, month after month, year after year. That’s how you build the trust. Showing up is 95% of it.
I’m proud of what we were able to build with my previous non-profit, and I am proud of my participation in the SharePoint and Office 365 user groups in both the Seattle area (Puget Sound SharePoint User Group) and my current Salt Lake City region (Utah SharePoint User Group). While running my own small, independent consulting business and working with my clients leaves less time for some of these community activities, I am looking forward to the next couple years, and plan to continue giving back to the community.