I remember my first week at the United Nations.
We didn’t have the budget (or time) to hire translators to convert a campaign into multiple languages. I made a suggestion, let’s ask our members if they can help. It was not well received.
It was too risky. A member might make a mistake. Far better to have no translation at all.
In their minds, it was better to deny millions of people access to a campaign to help refugees than risk an easily fixable error.
That logic still doesn’t make sense to me.
How many people would have jumped at the chance to do their bit to help the United Nations?
I wonder if by genuinely helping us they would have felt a stronger sense of ownership over the work we were doing and connection to one another? That stronger sense of connection would have led to even more donations and advocacy when we really needed it?
Reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, I’m struck by the incredible power of regularly asking for help. Help finding locations for a gig. Helping finding a place to stay for the night. Help finding equipment they need at the last minute. Help supporting a fan in difficult times. All of this helps to build a powerful sense of community.
And this links back to the very nature of why communities existed in the first place; indirect reciprocity.
Every member in the community shares in the power of giving and receiving, but without keeping count.
We help when we can and we ask for help when we need it. The community is a way of identifying who can and can’t be trusted to reciprocate your reciprocity when required.
The reason few organisations see success on the Amanda Palmer scale is they only ask for three types of help; buy, donate, or share (content). The first two are financial, the latter is selfish. When we restrict avenues of help to those three, we rob our members the chance to feel better connected to us by letting them genuinely help us.
The week after my translation idea was shot down, 24,000 people signed up to translate Facebook into 100+ languages. Wikipedia had a slightly smaller number translating articles for them. Many blogs survive by guest contributions riddled with grammatically errors. Reddit receives help from people creating and running subreddits (as does StackExhange). Most successful communities have volunteers too.
There are an infinite number of ways a member, fan, or customer can help you that don’t involve a financial exchange. They can give you ideas, help other members solve problems (that you highlight), take responsibility for tackling problems, help employees visiting the neighbourhood, answer product questions from other customers. Every one of these will help your members feel better connected to you and another.
Bob Kraut recommends having a regularly place on the community listing exactly what help is needed at any given time.
If you your or your members are struggling with a problem, ask for help. It’s probably what Amanda Palmer would do.