I wanted everyone who joined my community to always stay there forever. I also wanted everyone to be friends with everyone else. I wanted everyone to participate in every event. I wanted everyone who visited to sign up, and I never wanted anyone to leave.
So, in other words, I set myself up for a lot of disappointment. The reality is that, in any community, people come and go. Some might make lots of friends, some might not make any at all. Some might participate in lots of events, or even help plan new things, while others might not show up to anything no matter what you do.
The first thing you have to accept is that you’re not in control of this. You can do a lot of things to influence the process, but it’s ultimately up to each person to decide what relationship they want to have with your community. And while some people may stay for many years, no one stays forever. (No one lives forever! Not even your community! Though you might want your community to outlive you, which is something you can plan for… but that’s a whole other bag of chips.)
Your community is a living and breathing meta-organism. It grows and shrinks. People come and go. To be an effective community organizer, you must detach from what might naturally feel like a very personal thing, and accept that things change over time.
Once I learned to accept and design for the inherently generational phenomenon of communities, things started getting a lot better. I let go of trying to hold onto people who were ready to move on, and I embraced supporting the development of new generations of people as they came in.
I started looking for ways to jumpstart the process, by focusing my energy on specific inflection points, like seasonal shifts when I knew lots of people would be changing jobs and locations and looking for new communities to join.
What resulted was a healthier cross-section of sub-cultures within our community, as people who met others who joined around the same time as them formed stronger bonds while also still cross-pollinating with the rest of the community.
Tips on supporting your community’s generational development
1. Acknowledge the value of long-time and founding members.
In my community, we called them “OG” members. While we didn’t award any formal status to OG members, we often found ways to increase their role in the community over time. While there were certainly some members who were around for years without participating much or elevating their status in any way (which I’ve come to accept is okay), many of the long-timers found ways to integrate our community more deeply into their lives (and vice versa).
Sometimes it was by running programs in the space, sometimes it was by volunteering to help pick up a couple of shifts at the front desk, sometimes it was showing up for our monthly Welcome Aboard Member Meetings, sometimes it was simply being someone that we told newcomers they should introduce themselves to.
We could also turn to them for advice on big decisions, and when we needed help raising money for a big move, they were there for us in a huge way.
Solicit their feedback. Listen when they have something to say. You don’t need to do the bidding of any one person in your space, but you can certainly keep your ear to the ground.
Are you losing someone who has been a steadfast supporter of yours for years? Listen for that. It might be a clue that you’re not on the right track and you need to make an adjustment pronto.
2. Craft special occasions to give people specific opportunities to join.
In my experience, there were natural recruiting opportunities after Labor Day and New Year’s Day. These are times when people are moving, when they’re changing jobs, or when their kids are going back to school. They’re times of transition, and thus times when people are looking for new communities to join.
Give them a reason to join your community, or at least to get to know your community, and to do so by a specific day! You can tailor the programming to specifically cater to these people, like a Meetup event for people who just moved to town, or a “back to school” goal-setting event for workers who are returning to a kids-aren’t-home work style again. You can also craft programming that just happens to line up with these times, like a membership recruiting drive or a special open house event.
You also don’t have to wait until Labor Day or New Year’s; you can craft generational shifts through other efforts, like local festivals or a special program you develop to attract a certain kind of person.
Whatever it is, it should give a person a sense that, while they may join your community anytime, this particular time is a really good one to join, so if they’re on the fence, they should get off the fence and get involved before they miss out on a good opportunity.
In my case, I had great success with this when recruiting new members to join my Cotivation group (a weekly goal-setting and shared accountability group we ran in my space for a few years). This group had a hard start date and a seasonal nature to it (I marketed it as a New Year’s resolution-keeping program), so it gave people an excuse to join my community and give it a try.
3. Celebrate successful “graduations” from your community.
When it’s time for someone to move on, don’t take it personally. Embrace it for what it is. If someone experienced great success as a result of being in your community, or even if they just had a really great time and are now making a big personal transition, celebrate it! There’s no reason why you can’t trumpet this as a successfully completed member experience that others can be inspired by.
Invite outgoing members to give you feedback, to write you reviews on Yelp and Google, and to join an alumni group (if you have one). Keep them on your invite list for special occasions and, if it feels right, invite them to become formal or informal advisors you can turn to for future decisions and fundraising efforts.
Done right, the departure of your member can more than make up for the loss of their revenue and positive influence on your community by attracting others who aspire to have a similar experience in your community.
These are just a few of the ways to design for the generational nature of your community; simply being aware of its existence and nature goes a long way on its own.
If you’d like to join for a conversation on this and similar topics, my collaborator Susan and I are hosting a discussion on revitalizing the culture in your coworking community on Tuesday, August 5. RSVP here!
We’re also recruiting a few more folks to become Cotivation organizers, timed to align with a post-Labor Day launch. So if you want more members in your space, and you want your space to have a better culture, consider joining us! Learn more about our Cotivation program here.
I also just released an eBook jam-packed with tips like this. Check it here.