Each Wednesday at 10am EST, we host a Weekly Communication Support Check-In to share best practices and discuss with each other how we are communicating differently (or the same) during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some notes from this week’s meet-up that may help you navigate what’s most important to communicate now.

This is “go” time for being in community.

That might sound weird given the social-distancing and deep isolation that we are all experiencing. But like any time of crisis, this COVID-19 moment is stripping away veneers and showing us what is most important in our lives and work – and who is along with us to keep it afloat and keep hope for a better future alive.

In today’s Weekly Communication Support meet up, I spent a little more time in “webinar” mode to share key practices for building and activating community that I think are perfect for this moment in time. This week’s theme connects directly back to my roots as a community organizer, so I wanted to share some evergreen wisdom related to that grassroots work – and methods and tools from Public Image Works that help make practices a little easier to stick to. This topic is more advanced, but I felt it was critical to share now because it’s a pivotal time to do more community building. If we are all going to have a chance at building a better world to come, we are going to need to do it in community.

Now is a good time to be clear about what “community” means to you and your organization. It’s a broad, feel-good word that gets used in a lot of different ways, especially in non-profit and activist circles. People use it to mean constituents; they use it to mean people in a specific place; and people use it to mean the general public when they don’t have a specific idea of audience. But what does it really mean in your unique circumstance?

I recommend taking time to WRITE OUT a description of who is in your Community. I find it helpful to think of the idea as being “in community with…” instead of just thinking of an amorphous group of people. When you are in community with others, the dynamic is different. It’s about being able to rely on each other. It’s about what you expect from everyone in that community and what your promises are to support that community. It’s an eco-system, not a defined element.

Now is also a good time to build and/or clean up your lists so you can easily communicate and activate people in your community.

UGH, I KNOW! That just tapped into everyone’s universal anxiety over list management. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you what you think I’m going to say…


First and foremost, you need to acknowledge and accept the freedom that comes from this truth: Trying to “clean up” your whole entire database, one-record-at-a-time is an exercise in futility and not likely to happen. And even if it did, it’s not going to solve all of the communications challenges that you think it will. So, stop worrying about that or thinking “If I could just carve out a whole week to go through our lists and get them all organized, everything will be better.”

What you CAN do are 3 very practical practices:

1. Make sure your list/database/CRM is set up to receive information that connects to building and activating community.

Lists come in many forms. Some people have CRMs (Constituent Management Systems) that are a one-stop-shop for lists, e-mailing, engagement-tracking, etc. Some people use databases that interact with other tools for e-mail, engagement, ticket sales, etc. And some people use spreadsheets, their Outlook or a good old-fashioned Rolodex. (OK, nobody’s still using a Rolodex, but it’s fun to remember…)

You are likely using all of the above. Even if you have a great system that it tightly monitored, lists are dynamic by nature and include information in lots of different forms. That’s an OK starting point. If you really want to build and activate community, you can build on these over time and bring it all together.

But what’s more important right now is the actual information you have. I find that most people we work with have solid lists with names, e-mails, maybe addresses and most likely some engagement-tracking such as donation levels. What’s almost always missing, though, is information that tells more about how the person is “in community with” the organization and/or people in the organization. And what is rarely documented are the unique needs and motivations of each individual – what they care about; what they are moved to act upon; what is their “superpower” expertise that makes them a valuable part of any community.

At this point, you may be saying “how on earth can we capture that kind of information for the thousands of people in our database?” You can’t. Remember the free pass above? Don’t let that stop you from starting NOW to document (not capture) genuine and meaningful information moving forward.

During our meeting, I shared another tool from our Public Image Works method. Connection Circles help you understand how people are connected to your organization. Are they do-or-die Deeply Engaged? Or are they connected through a specific interest in your programming? Not everyone can be fully and deeply engaged, but with a little attention and intention, you can actively move people closer to that activated center. But you have to know where they are as a baseline first. Here’s a visualization of Connection Circles. We recommend that you include this kind of information in your database fields.

To help you understand these circles more deeply in your “Community” here is another tool you can use to describe the characteristics of the different Connection Circles. When you add new people to your lists, you can consider these characteristics and link them accordingly.

Other information you may want to add to your database fields relates to individual qualities like what people care the most about, what their expertise might be and what envisioned opportunities you have for being in community with them.

2. Make a commitment to taking the time to fully complete data information for ALL NEW CONTACTS moving forward.

Data entry is tedious, for sure. But it sure is easier in smaller chunks – namely one-chunk. Remember how you felt before the Free Pass? “Ugh, if I could just clean up our entire database, but it’s just TOO much to do!!!!” That’s right. It IS too much to do. So, do it one at a time and you won’t be in that situation in the future. For every new contact you get (be honest, is it really more than one new person a day?).

And if you have batches of information (from a survey or an online sign up form), then think about getting that complete data before you create forms to get those batches. Any list or database can accept imported data in a .CSV format. So, take a little time to design forms so they will match up with your database for easy importing.


Most CRMs have a way to automatically add people to your database when you communicate with them via e-mail. You add a special e-mail that is connected to your database and/or even specific segments within your database. See below about sprucing up those records later.

Create a system for regular “bit by bit” clean up and STICK TO IT.

So, you got a free pass to get out of cleaning up your database in one shot. But you still need to keep it clean over time. Create your own manageable system for sprucing up new records that might get automatically added and to chip away at your overall database over time . . . as in, forever.

Here’s what I do:

  • I do #1 & #2 above

  • We use Insightly for our CRM, so some records get added automatically when I e-mail using that cc code that makes that happen. I run a “added in the last 7-days” filter once a week and clean up just those records – making sure to fill out all of the information from my own knowledge and perspective.

  • Once a month, I make sure that we have updated the records on everyone who is on our “Now 25” list (see below).

  • If I am actively engaged with someone and taking notes on conversations I’ve had with them, I use that opportunity when I am in their data record to see if there is basic data information that I could clean up at that time – but only if it takes less than a couple minutes to do.

NOTE: Managing the interaction between a database and e-mail handling system such as MailChimp/Constant Contact is a whole other topic. Maybe we’ll cover that in a future post!

Until then, if you have a database that is separate from your e-mail handling system, make sure you document a clear protocol for how they interact and how you maintain them. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just get it on paper and follow it.

3. Deepen Meaningful Engagement through Action!

In a previous weekly support meeting, I discussed how we define “Social Impact” over here: It’s about inviting others to do something together that benefits society – based on your ideas & ideals.

The key phrase there is DO SOMETHING. The sure-fired way to deepen a relationship with anyone is to do something of common purpose together. That’s always at the core of community engagement and now is a perfect time to tap into that for meaningful connections that will have long-lasting impact.

It’s also a good way to build community and expand your reach. Before COVID-19, maybe you were doing that organically through your programming. That’s still a great way to build community. But now, when your programming may be on hold or taking a different form, it’s more important than ever to also put some intentional energy into pro-active outreach.

That can be a daunting task, especially now. We’ve all had the experience of brainstorming all of the people we “should” contact about something. It’s often a list that grows uncontrollably and rarely becomes a list of people who you actively contact – and if you do, the goals of that outreach can often be unclear or unconnected to specific “in community with” needs of your organization.

To make community building more achievable, we created “The Now 25” system as part of our Public Image Works method – and we rely on it every month at Social Impact to pro-actively engage and activate people in our community for all sorts of different goals. Here’s how it works:

  • Remember the Connection Circles? There are 5 rings of connections.

  • Now, envision an overlay on those concentric circles of 5 pie slices. Those 5 pie slices represent information from your Action Plan and Audience Mapping + Inspired New Ideas:
    • Urgent Immediate Needs
    • Long Term Goal
    • Your Issue/Field
    • Audiences you identify as priority right now
    • Inspired New Idea that you are working on right now

  • When you look through this lens, you can create a list of just 25 people for direct outreach, engagement and activation. That’s a lot more manageable than an unending list of people you need to contact. And you’ve done the work to connect people to the best kind of information that they are likely to engage with. It’s not one-size-fits-all outreach. It’s specific people for specific types of information and opportunities to engage.

During our call this week, I shared our Now 25 Worksheet tool to help manage this practice. We use this at Social Impact. We set the “Now 25” on a monthly basis. We move the information from this worksheet into our CRM/database as we go along and then we create a new Now 25 the next month. You don’t have to keep contacting people you already contacted because the goal is to ACTIVATE them to do something together – which moves them to deeper engagement.

Another bonus of this system: You can share the activity of outreach & engagement with others on your team and in your organization. Including the right person for the right engagement can make it more meaningful. Including your Board members all the way to your newest intern can help everyone understand their role in building and activating community.


Now is a great time to get clear about what you mean by “community.” Thinking about it as “in community with” can help. 

There are ways to build or clean up your lists that will help you build and activate community more easily. It’s about starting now and moving forward, not about going back and cleaning it all up.

Deepen meaningful engagement through ACTION! Doing aligned stuff is the most direct way all of us feel connected to others in community.


Join the Weekly Communication Support Zoom on Weds @10am EST


10:26:01 From Meredith Burns : Vendini (CRM)
10:27:12 From Yessenia García-Lebrón : Does anyone use ACC? We do and it’s not great. We would love to know other, better CRM’s. I know Salesforce is free for nonprofits but it is a beast to learn…
10:31:13 From gracereff : Ennis, will you have this connection circles graphic available later?
10:37:07 From Yessenia García-Lebrón to Social Impact Studios (Privately) : are there questions to ask to get those answers into our database
10:43:19 From Meredith Burns : I used salesforce before Vendini and it was a nightmare. It wasted an incredible amount of time and I felt like it was taking a tank to a knife fight. Vendini does not have all of the capabilities but frankly we have not missed them. Vendini is super user friendly and their customer service is great.
10:43:28 From Meredith Burns : yes rolodex! that still applies
10:46:51 From Social Impact Studios : https://bit.ly/PIW_ActionPlanClarity 
10:47:03 From Social Impact Studios : https://bit.ly/PIWPromoPlanTool 
10:47:12 From Social Impact Studios : https://bit.ly/PIW_Now25
10:47:27 From Meredith Burns : yes
10:47:38 From Yessenia García-Lebrón : yes
10:54:11 From Sanaz : I love the way your brain thinks, Ennis!! Great tools to not only do the practical work but also to achieve your mission!
10:59:40 From Carline : yes.. absolutely! great point
11:00:10 From Sanaz : Thank you Ennis! I have to get to my next zoom!
11:00:56 From gracereff : Thank you!!
11:01:00 From Meredith Burns : Thanks!