20 Best Community Engagement Platforms for Nonprofits and Associations in 2022

Website & Technology July 05, 2022

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

Membership organizations thrive on the power of community. When members feel like they’re a part of something special, they’re much more likely to not only stick around, but encourage their friends and family to join.


If you were a membership manager just a few decades ago, tasked with building a sense of community among your members, you would have focused on organizing in-person meetings and events. However, thanks to the rise in digital technology, the term “community” has now taken on a whole new meaning.


Today, communities are built and nurtured at least to some extent, if not entirely, in the online space. For members, this means they can stay active with your organization despite their busy schedules and interact with fellow members from the comfort of their own homes and on their own time. For your organization, it means you’re no longer bound by geographical limitations — as long as your mission is not location-specific, you could attract members from all over the country or even the world!


If you’re thinking of starting an online community (or providing more opportunities for your existing community to interact online), one of the most important things you’ll need to think about is choosing a platform. The right online community platform will make all the difference for your members’ level of engagement and their overall experience with your organization. 


In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing an online community platform and share 20 great options to consider. No matter what kind of membership organization you run or the size of your budget, there’s something for everyone! 

What Is an Online Community and Why Should I Build One?

An online community is a virtual space where members can engage with your organization and, more importantly, with each other. It’s a place for them to come together and discuss ideas, share resources, and offer peer-to-peer support. 


You, as the membership manager, can step in to share updates or start conversations, but most of the action typically comes from the members and their interactions with each other. This helps create a sense of community among members and allows them to build lasting, mutually fulfilling relationships. 


Starting an online community has a number of benefits for both you and your members. Here are just a few: 

Benefits for your members

Networking opportunities: 

Members get the chance to engage with each other and discuss their goals, challenges, and ideas. Anybody can post a question and ask for advice or support. They can even share job postings and other opportunities. 


A more personal membership experience: 

Rather than simply receiving the same standard benefits as everyone else, members can turn to the online community to fulfill their specific needs. For example, they can have their questions answered, get help making a decision about something, meet new like-minded people, or find new collaborators. The community allows them to get exactly what they need from their membership. 


Direct access to exclusive resources:

Online communities are typically exclusive to members (or members in a certain membership tier). This means that participants get access to resources and updates from your organization that aren’t available to anyone else. 


Support of a community:

Online communities are made up of people who share common interests, mindsets, and goals. When a member needs help with something, the opportunity to turn to people who understand their unique challenges and have experienced similar situations before is absolutely invaluable.


Read More: 9 Ways to Welcome New Members to Your Organization  

Benefits for your organization

Increased member engagement:

Unlike attending events, which requires members to carve out a few hours at a time, staying active in an online community is easy and convenient — they can pop in whenever they have a free minute to browse and contribute to discussions. Members who are active in the online space are much more likely to be engaged in other ways — they open your emails, attend events, volunteer, and even donate.  


Better member retention:

In turn, members who are engaged are much more likely to come back and renew their membership because they get their money’s worth in terms of value and have an overall positive experience. 


Opportunities to gather feedback:

When you’re looking to collect member feedback, turning to their online space is much faster and easier than sending out a formal survey. You can do it through questions and polls, or you can simply keep an eye out on their discussions and see whether they bring up anything worth noting. 


Improved fundraising: 

Online communities have some of the most active, passionate members — they’re the first to share information about your organization on social media and advocate on your behalf. They’re also the most supportive when it comes to fundraising, either through donating themselves or getting their networks to donate. Whenever you have an active fundraising campaign, leveraging your online community can make a great impact on your success. 


Read More: FTK® Nation online community saw 5.5x increased impact in fundraising

What Is an Online Community Platform?

In order to run an effective online community, you need a platform. This is the website or app where your members will engage with each other and your organization. At the very least, a community platform should include a news feed and a discussion forum, though most platforms also offer the ability for members to message each other, join video calls, answer polls, browse a member directory, and much more. 


As a membership manager, you should also have access to the backend, where you can customize your platform and analyze engagement data. 

What Makes the Best Community Platform?

From Facebook groups to Slack workspaces to specialized software, there are countless options for setting up your online community platform. When looking for an community tool that will work best for you and your members, look for the following features:


  • Easy-to-read news feed: your online community platform should function like a social media site, with updates from your organization and your members appearing in chronological order. 

  • Discussion forums: this is where members can communicate about specific topics and support each other. 

  • Groups: even though your community is already made up of like-minded people, they would appreciate the ability to connect in even smaller groups to discuss specific topics and interests.

  • Resource gallery: this is where you can provide your members with helpful content like publications, articles, videos, webinars, etc. 

  • Email notifications: send automatic alerts when there are new relevant posts or updates to a conversation members are a part of. 

  • Weekly digests: send a weekly activity summary, so members who didn’t get a chance to log into the online community can still stay up to date. 

  • Event calendars: let your members know about upcoming events.

  • Gamification: encourage participation by awarding points and maintaining a leaderboard, complete with badges and awards for the most engaged members. 

  • Mobile app: when your online community is accessible through a mobile app, it’s even easier for members to participate and stay up to date. 

  • Single Sign-On: if your online community platform integrates with your AMS (association management software), you can let your members access it with the same login information that they use for their member profiles or member-only areas of your website. 

  • Analytics: use data to understand how members are engaging with your organization and each other, and identity areas for improvement. 


Read More: 50 Ways to Increase Membership for Associations or Nonprofits

10 Steps to Choosing and Implementing Online Community Software

Take the following steps to make sure that you not only choose the best tool for your organization and members, but also implement it in a way that gets the online community off to a great start. 


1. Select your team, including a project manager who’ll be responsible for seeing the process through to completion and managing the online community when it’s up and running.

2. Identify your needs — which features and functionalities would you like your online community platform to have? You can even survey your members and ask them what they’d find useful. 

3. Let your board know that you’re looking to start an online community and get their approval.

4. Research different platforms, how much they cost, and which option offers the best value for your organization. Some companies offer a nonprofit discount, so be sure to inquire about that. 

5. Once you have a shortlist of tools, ask to see demos or start a free trial. It’s important to see the platform in action before making a final decision. 

6. Make your final selection and get approval from your stakeholders. 

7. Set up your new platform, configure it to your needs, and personalize it with your organization’s branding. 

8. Choose your moderators — they will help facilitate discussions and make sure that everyone follows the online community rules. 

9. Send out an email to your members to invite them to join the platform and participate in the online community. 

10. Post consistently and continue encouraging your members to do the same. They may need a few reminders at first, but once they see the value in the online community, it will become their go-to space for connecting with your organization and with each other. 


Read More: Member Journey 101: How to Improve Your Member Experience (+ Free Template)

What’s the Best Community Platform If I Already Use WordPress?

If you used (or are planning to use) WordPress to build your site, one option is to use either plugins or themes to create your online community platform. 


WordPress themes are like templates for your site — you can look for ones that resemble social media networks and include things like forums, news feeds, and Q&A platforms.


Alternatively, you can use separate WordPress plugins. There are plugins for features like member login, member directory, member-only access, blogging, user chat, member forums, and much more. 


One thing to keep in mind is that WordPress themes and plugins are rarely designed for membership organizations specifically, so you may find that their functionality is a bit limited. If you have the budget for it, designated member-based community software may be a much better fit — we’ll cover a few great options in just a moment. 

20 Best Community Engagement Platforms for Nonprofits and Associations

11 Online Community Platform Tools 

1. CommUnity

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Community

 

CommUnity by Personify is made specifically for membership organizations and nonprofits. It allows you to create a secure and feature-rich online space for your members and provide them with the ultimate member-only experience. Standout features include email alerts, onboarding tours, group-specific collaboration, gamification, and much more. 

2. Breezio

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Breezio

 

Breezio is an online community platform designed for associations with a focus on building collaborative communities and supporting content contribution. Standout features include live chat and video conferencing between members, content co-creation, and virtual event capabilities. 

3. Hivebrite

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Hivebrite

 

Hivebrite serves alumni groups, professional associations, and nonprofits. Their nonprofit features help bring together members, donors, and volunteers, making it easy to engage with them, fundraise, and turn constituents into advocates.

4. Thrive

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Thrive

 

Thrive by Higher Logic is an all-in-one community platform designed to help associations create an exceptional member experience. Standout features include discussion and Q&A platforms, a resource library, a mobile app, and more.

5. Mobilize

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Mobilize

 

Mobilize offers an easy-to-use platform for managing your online community. Features include segmented communication tools, networking tools, event management tools, and in-depth analytics. Their Strategic Services team will even help you come up with a strategy to drive engagement and grow your online community. 

6. Tradewing

  • Pricing available upon request

  • Demo available upon request


Tradewing

 

Tradewing is a community management and video platform designed for associations. It focuses on bringing your members together through discussions, instant messaging, video calls, resource sharing, and virtual events. 

7. PeerBoard

  • Free lite plan; paid plans start at $29/month

  • Nonprofit discount available upon request


PeerBoard

 

PeerBoard is marketed to small businesses and content creators, but its features make it an excellent choice for membership organizations, as well. It includes sub-groups for specific topics, long-form content creation for members, moderation tools, and much more. You can set it up as a standalone website, subdomain of your existing website, or even use it as a plugin for your WordPress site. 

8. Mighty Networks

  • Plans start at $33/month (billed annually)

  • Free trial and demo available


Mighty Networks

 

Mighty Networks is marketed to course creators, but it works perfectly well for any membership-based organization or business. It features a news feed that’s personalized for each member, matching tools that help members connect with each other, video and live streaming tools, and much more. 

9. Circle

  • Plans start at $39/month

  • Free 14-day trial; demo available upon request


Circle

 

Circle is another platform designed for content creators and brands. However, it offers everything your organization needs to grow and nurture a thriving community of members. Standout features include weekly digests, group chat rooms, live streaming tools, member directory, and more. 

10. Disciple

  • Plans start at $46/month (billed annually)

  • Free 7-day trial; demo available upon request


Disciple

 

Disciple is a community platform that helps businesses and organizations engage members and generate revenue. It features unlimited groups, messaging tools, event calendar, live streaming tools, and more. It also has an optional mobile app with push notifications. 

11. Website Toolbox

  • Plans start at $35/month (billed annually)

  • Free 14-day trial


Website Toolbox

 

Website Toolbox is primarily a forum tool, but it has lots of other features that would make it a great addition to any membership website. These include social sharing, content reputation scoring system, instant messaging, chat rooms, and more.

6 Online Forum Tools 

If you don’t have the budget for an all-in-one community building platform, but still would like to give your members the chance to engage with each other, one option is to add a forum tool to your existing member-only website. These are typically very affordable and easy to integrate with your existing setup. 


Here are a few great options: 

1. Muut

  • Pricing starts at $16/month (billed annually)

  • Free 14-day trial

2. MyBB

  • Free and open source

3. phpBB

  • Free and open source

4. FluxBB

  • Free and open source

5. PlushForums

  • Pricing starts at $49/month

  • Free 14-day trial

6. Discourse

  • Open-source; free if you can install and self-host

  • Hosting starts at $100/month with 50% for nonprofits

3 Other Tools for Online Community Building

If you’re looking for an even simpler solution, consider taking your online community outside your website with one of these popular platforms:

1. Slack

  • Free lite plan; paid plans start at $6.67/month

  • Nonprofit discount available 


Slack is marketed as a productivity tool for workplaces, but it’s also a perfect space for members to chat and engage with each other. You can create chat rooms, called channels, based on different topics. Members can exchange files, message each other privately, and maintain a member profile. 

2. Facebook Groups

  • Free


If you’ve been on Facebook, you’ve likely already been a part of a few groups. Creating a group for your members is a great way to give them a space they’re already familiar with and have experience using. Facebook groups allow members to share rich content like photos and videos, comment on posts, share polls, chat through instant messages, and much more. 

3. LinkedIn Groups

  • Free


LinkedIn Groups are similar to Facebook groups, but they’re geared at professionals, so it’s the perfect choice for professional and trade associations. 

Start Your Online Community Today

Regardless of which platform you choose to host your online community, starting one is an amazing way to engage your members and improve their experience. Start building it today and see for yourself! 



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