Community Building and how not to make people feel like cheap labour

Earlier this week I spoke to Lizzie who runs the communications for the Shine 2010 unconference.

We spoke about a lot of things connected to the event. I took part last year and didn’t feel a huge amount of community engagement. It’s funny to think that I feel more positive community cohesion in the Local Government scene than in the Social Enterprise scene, even though I’m a prime suspect for engagement, having started a social enterprise with huge potential in my two years in Nigeria and inherently thinking of business in terms of social impact, without the need for fundraising by donations.

Yesterday Lizzie told me about a volunteer scheme which had been put in place in response to my remarks, where half a day of volunteering would enable you to have free entry to the rest of the day’s events.

SHINE is a big event with absolutely loads going on and it takes a lot of people to keep things running smoothly. We think there’s no-one better to help us do that than volunteers who’d love to come to the event. If you’d like to become a SHINE volunteer, help out for a day and then enjoy the rest of the unconference at your leisure, take a look at the kinds of things we’ll need your help with, and enter your details below if you’d like to volunteer during 13th-15th May, in central London. more details here

Thinking along the lines of what we’ve learned about community building, which essentially is aimed at forming a strong group of followers who have such a strong belief in what you do that they use their voice, connections, time, etc to help you further your goals, I’ve been left feeling that this approach lacks in appeal.

It doesn’t even make me feel that I want to take it up, as much as I really want to go and want to get in free (and considering how much I would potentially have to contribute, I think I should.) Consider that these are people who want to come to your event – most of them self-starters, with a fairly high opinion of themselves, and obviouslyfairly interesting views of the world, since they are interested in social enterprise: These are people you want to listen to.

Joining the event under this scheme instantly downgrades them to a lower level of attendee, which doesn’t invite a positive networking experience. I would have volunteered to facilitate conversations, or lead a group of conversation facilitators, but not to join a group girls who “think on their feet” (what a demeaning expression) and point your way if you’re lost.

So today’s community builder lesson is: don’t make your (potential) brand advocates feel like cheap labour. If you have simple signposter jobs – consider paying people to do those. You can’t pay for your ambassadors They are some of the most important assets you have, involve them, listen to them, give them schwag if you can.

Watch this space for a great WorkSnug Ambassador programme we are just about to release


2 responses to “Community Building and how not to make people feel like cheap labour

  1. Hi Anke,

    it’s good to hear your feedback and your thoughts on how we could manage volunteering for SHINE against ticket price. We’ve thought long and hard about how we do this, and have talked to lots of people about it in the three years we’ve been producing SHINE.

    Our first principle is to keep the SHINE ticket price as low as possible. And we’ve consulted social entrepreneurs quite extensively about what this price should be. This year, with broad agreement, we’ve set it at 50 quid and social entrepreneurs of all kinds are signing up for this, and seemingly happy to pay for the value they get for SHINE. It takes a lot of work, a whole year of dedication, and the generosity of our sponsors to be able to keep the ticket price this low. We know that there are lots of social entreprenurs who can add huge value to this kind of cocreated unconference event, and we want to enable as many people as possible to take part.

    On volunteering, we offer this option for people who absolutely can’t afford the ticket price and absolutely want to come to SHINE. This way, it means that we can run SHINE cost effectively, by harnessing the contribution of people who are prepared to give their time in exchange for entry to the event.

    We would love to be able to hire a team of facilitators at SHINE – however, if we were to do this, we’d have to up our ticket price. Please give us your feedback as to whether you´d prefer us to raise a ticket price, or to run the event with the contribution of volunteers who are happy to give us their time. It’s questions like these that we have to juggle all the time – we don’t think there’s an easy answer, and just to let you know that currently, SHINE is run as a not-for-profit venture with lots of blood, sweat and tears! We’d love to see you there either way.

  2. Dear Jess,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t mean to minimise the great work you’re doing on the SHINE conferences. I also don’t want to tell you how to do things. This was purely me musing on something that was announced following a chat I had with Lizzie and how I didn’t feel that it had gone the right way, considering that we had talked about inviting people to facilitate conversation around the identity of Social Enterprise in the UK. Aren’t we’re still struggling with that?

    I simply didn’t think I’d get invited to be an usher instead.

    However, since we are already talking events and money, I do have a history of having very strong views on how events are run, and, having grown tired of offering opinion on other people’s conferences, actually ran a successful, well organised, *free* localgovcamp event for 150 people two months ago, funnily enough at Kings Place, which was inspired by SHINE 09. (A report is here ) Considering how much funding is available in the social enterprise area, there is no reason to argue over money.

    Mostly my argument was not about money. It was about how we treat our supporters and people who are nice enough to want to contribute. how we make them feel special (or not). That doesn’t involve money, most of the time.

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