Nonprofit organizations are built on community, and the industry is no stranger to the importance of building sustainably. While community looks similar across all industries, building community in the nonprofit space is different.
This month we explored the journey of Serena Snoad, a community professional at the forefront of nonprofit community building. Serena is the Online Community Manager at Alzheimer's Society, UK, a nonprofit that campaigns for change, funds research to find a cure, and supports people living with dementia. Serena is also a longtime CMX’er and CMX Connect Host helping build the CMX Connect London chapter.
During our virtual conversation, Serena shared her insights on the values that keep her motivated, how to thrive as a community professional, and the growing pains that she has experienced while becoming a community leader.
What are your top 3 personal life values and why?
Where does your community journey begin? How did you find the community industry?
By accident, like so many other community professionals! Back in 2008, I was working in communications for a non-profit and at that time organizations were just starting to use social media as a brand. We set up accounts on social media, figuring we needed to be in those places having conversations about health concerns. That's how our community began! Shortly after, I started to find other people talking about building online communities on Twitter. I started to connect with people in all sorts of industries - from tech and education, to finance and gaming. It’s been so interesting and rewarding.
What are some obstacles you've experienced as a community professional in the Non-Profit industry?
Starting back in 2008, I was one of a few early voices for community building in the UK’s non-profit sector. At the time it felt like a never-ending struggle to be recognised and to prove that community could be valuable to the organisation. I remember one executive questioning why we were even bothering, but just three years later I had built a community bringing together thousands of patients, supporters, and storytellers.
Now, it’s a challenge that so many people want to know more about how to build, grow and manage communities. Every few weeks, someone who is new to community building gets in touch for advice! I think that the non-profit industry really needs to develop and retain experience in community building. My long term goal is to lift up other community managers, and build a network of experienced and established community professionals who help each other to succeed and build their own teams.
At this point in your community career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
By creating a community strategy and finding ways to gather and report on our impact, I’ve been able to secure funding and get buy-in to build and expand our community team as well as programs.
Non-profit organisations have to make difficult decisions about how to prioritise resources. It was important that I made a strong case with evidence to demonstrate that an online community was an effective way of reaching people, could keep people safe, and could meet their specific needs as a service.
By getting buy-in and funding, we’ve been able to grow the team and grow the work we do, which has given us the ability to support people affected by dementia in the best possible way.
That means the world to me.
Have you ever felt discouraged as a community professional? If yes, how did you persevere?
Oh yes, even now I can feel like I’m a lone voice. Even now, it feels like the profession is dominated by thought leadership and discussions from people in tech companies and other for-profit industries. I’ve found myself ‘translating’ the discussions in my head so they apply to a non-profit or health perspective, or to a European context. It can also feel disheartening to hear so few non-profit and health voices in the community space. This can feel exhausting.
I persevere because I have to. I know WHY I am doing the work, I roll up my sleeves and keep going, repeating what works well, and changing what doesn’t...
What are 3 valuable experiences you’ve had as a CMX Connect Host?
I’m so pleased that CMX Connect London has organised events to celebrate Community Manager Advancement Day (CMAD). In 2020, the theme of CMAD was self-care. This is an important topic in the light of the challenges that community professionals can face where we feel the struggle to balance the needs of the community and our organisation, and battle the pressure of being ‘always on’.
At CMX Connect London we ran a day of self care themed events in partnership with the UK’s National Health Service in January 2020. As part of those events, we used a workshop format to co-design a ‘self care toolkit’ for community professionals. The event went so well and we were thrilled with the resource that the CMX Connect London community produced. The toolkit was later published by CMX to benefit community managers across the world.
In 2021, the theme for CMAD was resilience. CMX Connect London delivered a masterclass on building resilience with a panel of community builders from the UK’s health industry, sharing insights and facilitating group discussions. We created a collaborative document to gather advice from across the CMX London community.
It’s also been a pleasure to build the CMX Connect community in London. We’ve been able to connect London members and to raise the profile of the profession. Many CMX London folks have gone on to master new skills, and some have found new jobs!
What advice would you give to someone who is new to community building
Seek expert advice! Go to the people who have a track record in building communities. That might not always be the loudest voices on social media, but people who have done the work!
Serena’s community journey may have started in 2008, but it is far from over! She is actively supporting community members and pursuing a purpose-driven career that is having a real impact on the lives of community professionals.