How to Decide the Best Community Contribution

How to Decide on the Best Community ContributionLast week, I wrote about deadbeats in the community. I even swore. In English. It was great.

I didn’t really mean it.

Well, I did mean some of it, like the part where I say screw the deadbeats who use ‘community’ as their reason why I should contribute my time and effort into helping them build their business. And I did mean to start a discussion about what community should really be all about.

You see, no one is discussing what community means. We all have our opinions, certainly, and the amazing number of comments on the ‘Screw Community‘ post clearly conveyed that.

But what was interesting is that people were thanking me for bringing up something that up to now, has only been suffered in silence. Communities on the internet are relatively new and evolving every day. It seems we should be talking about them and shaping them.

We’re not. We’re becoming bitter about them. It’s time for that to stop, and it’s time to start looking at which communities are worth the time and effort. We all need to be making wiser decisions about our contributions to the communities we should be building.

Just What Is a Community, Anyways?

A community, in its most basic definition, is a group of people who:

  • Live in a particular area
  • Have common ownership
  • Have common interests
  • Have an agreement of goals
  • Interact with each other

We already know that community isn’t an obligation. You don’t have to be part of one. You don’t automatically become a member. You have choice, and there are a wide range of communities you can choose to be part of.

Community is a good thing. By joining together as one, people can make great stuff happen, both for themselves and for others. Everyone gets more of what they want, faster than they could have on their own, and usually with much greater impact and better results.

What’s In It For You?

Before you decide to support any person, cause or community, though, you really need to do your homework. It’s tempting to accept an offer of contributing to a shiny new business or a developing community ready to take on the world, especially when you imagine the potential returns.

And, it can create some stress, too. You might toss the decision around for a few days, thinking about the time you’d have to spend but worrying that if you say no, you might miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could decide quickly whether you should or shouldn’t say yes? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could see the future?

Well, yes. Yes, it would.

Since we can assume that no one reading this blog has that crystal-ball gazing talent, though, we have to rely on other ways to make decisions. And that means weighing the pros versus the cons objectively. That’s the only way you can make an informed decision on whether supporting a community cause is the right one for you.

The Kind of Communities I Support

I support plenty of people and communities. I do my part. I give my time or money freely where I think it will be best spent. But of course, I can’t contribute to everything, nor do I want to. There is only so much of me and mine to go around. The same goes for you.

So how do I choose which communities to support, and which people to help out? I have a checklist. And I’ll tell you about that checklist and what’s on it in a moment. But above all, even before going through this checklist, I ask myself some very simple questions:

  • Do I know who he or she is?
  • Does the individual have a track record or history as reference?
  • Do other people know this person?
  • Do I trust the person asking me for help?

If I answer any of these questions with “no”, then that’s it. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. The buck stops here.

Trust has to be one of the largest determining factors in any contribution I make. Every single person or charity or community or cause that I’ve ever given to has been one that had already gained my trust. Without trust, I have nothing at all to fall back on, and there’s simply no guarantees I’m not being taken for a ride.

James’ Magical Contribution Checklist

If there is indeed an established measure of trust between myself and the cause in question, then there’s good reason to move forward to deciding whether the cause is one I’d like to contribute to. So, I measure the decision against my answers to the following:

  • Do I believe in this cause? Does it match my personal values?
  • Is the individual a friend of mine or a member of family?
  • Has the person demonstrated willingness to contribute in equal or greater measure?
  • Is there any potential return or gain for my business or me?
  • Will I gain exposure or promotion with my target market?
  • Will this person, business or community improve my life or help me in some way?
  • Is there any immediate or short-term benefit for my contribution?
  • Has this person, business or community helped me or improved my life already?
  • Will my contribution help one person, a few people or many people?
  • Does the individual or group truly need my contribution to survive or achieve their goal?
  • Is this person, business or community one that will help me back when I need it?
  • How much time/effort/money will I have to contribute, for how long, and can I afford it?
  • What will I have to sacrifice in order to contribute to this cause?
  • Do I like this person, business or community?

Let’s take this in context, shall we?

Once Upon a Time…

Nick Cernis decides to open a blog called Put Things Off. Joy for Nick. I have no idea who he is, what his blog is about, and couldn’t care less. I go about my day.

Then Michael Martine, a friend of mine, tells me I should go read Nick’s blog. I know Michael, we have similar interests, and I trust his judgment. And he’s telling me to read Nick. Off I go.

Nick’s post is good. I appreciate his writing. I enjoy his humor. His ideas get me thinking. I like the questions he raises – and they’re ones that I’ve idly thought about myself. Plus, I just got to read a free blog post on a subject I’m already interested in. I leave a comment to show Nick I like his work, and then I go about my day.

Two days later, Nick shows up at my blog. He leaves a comment – witty, insightful… he’s obviously read my post. And his comment encourages a few other comments. A discussion ensues, and I am happy.

This continues several times until Nick and I recognize each other easily. We know each other’s blog. We like each other. We’ve commented back and forth. We hang around with the same people, too. We’re buddies!

And Nick emails me with a request. (Or maybe I emailed Nick. Whatever.) I am happy to comply, and because I like Nick, I even go the extra mile. Nick is happy, I feel good, life is grand.

Three months later, I email Nick with a request. (Or maybe he emailed me. Whatever.) He returns the kindness I paid him some time back, I am thrilled, he feels great, life is wonderful.

And these days? Nick doesn’t even have to ask. Neither do I. We contribute to each other’s ventures in whatever ways we can. We are part of a community.

Community is Your Friends

A community isn’t a group of people you don’t know. A community is a group of people who are your friends, who support you and who believe in you and who are there if you need them. They give when they can and they help you when you’re down.

That’s community.

These people are the ones that don’t ask you to put on a face. You can come to them in hard times and admit you’re stuck. They won’t laugh. They’ll help. They can come to you, too, and you’re there for them as well. And if neither of you can help each other, then you each work hard to find someone who can.

That’s community.

These are the people who are more than happy to give you a leg up and help you reach your goals because they think you’re pretty great and that you deserve that leg up. They’re happy to see you win, to get ahead, to have a better life. They’ll do what they can to help you make it happen.

That’s community.

These are the people who have the right to ask you to guest post or write some copy or contribute an ebook or get help with some design. These people are business savvy, sure, and they’ll use that savvy, of course.

And if they didn’t sincerely like you, and they didn’t sincerely want to give back, they wouldn’t ask.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.