7 ways to actively manage expectations in a community

In my last post I shared 8 reasons why I believe managing expectations in a community is so crucial for its long-term health and success. Now I want to focus on the how: what are tangible ways to manage expectations actively in a community?

1 — Inform people before they sign up

This is straightforward, yet surprisingly few communities actually do it. Some communities describe the benefits of joining, but what about the flip side, the expectations of commitment and duties that come with membership? This needs to be a prominent part of any community’s website.

2 — When joining, members actively and explicitly consent with values, guidelines, commitments

If you’re hoping for your community members to adhere to some higher principles or if you’re asking for a specific commitment, I think it is not enough to simply talk about these values. It is crucial to ask prospective members to explicitly confirm that they have seen the guidelines and that they agree with them. Usually, the application or sign-up process is a good moment to do so.

For example, in the Community Builders group we have created, we ask everyone as part of the signup process, if they have seen our Community 1-pager, and if they agree with it. We don’t let anyone join, unless they have done so.

The two questions we ask as part of our signup process. The second question asks explicitly about agreement with our guidelines & principles.

I have experienced even stronger examples: last year I applied to join a gathering of community builders by the team at How We Gather. The organizers described different values and guidelines that they were hoping to manifest in their gathering, informed by the “Circle of Trust Touchstones” at the Center for Courage and Renewal. And as part of the application process they asked me to confirm my agreement and commitment to every single one of them separately. That left a powerful impression on me, I surely felt they were taking these values seriously. I knew how I was expected to show up.

Screenshots both via work done by How We Gather

3 — Have people recommit every year

Somehow we come to assume that members in our communities, once they have committed, will always stay committed. But that’s far from reality. People’s lives change, their interests change, their availability changes. And they might simply forget what the community stands for.

That is why members should question their commitment on a regular basis (maybe every year or two), look at the values (maybe they were updated in the meantime?) and then actively recommit themselves or maybe find a different role within the community. As all other rituals and guidelines, this needs to be introduced at the beginning of the member journey.

4 — Summarize the community DNA and make it super present

I know many communities that have beautiful manifestos and great principles, but they are part of long strategy documents or hidden in obscure parts of their website.

To help communities summarize what they stand for on 1 simple page, we have created the Minimum Viable Community framework. We also made it a Google Doc on purpose, so that the community can easily share it and link to it from anywhere.

Minimum Viable Community framework

Here are ideas how to make your community DNA nicely visible:

  • Display it / share it prominently on your public website.
  • Link to it prominently at different places within your social network, ideally have it pinned to the top of the main group.
  • Include the DNA doc every time you introduce new people to the group.
  • Reference it every time you have major discussions about the future of the group.
  • Link to it in all your newsletters, documents, descriptions.

I saw a nice example in the CMX Hub Facebook group: this is always pinned to the top and looks beautiful, too.

Pinned on top of CMX Hub Facebook group

5 — Celebrate strong examples of desired behaviors

Policing the violation of norms in communities can be messy and energy consuming. Nobody really wants to do it (even though it’s crucial for the long-term health of the group). An easier approach is to show gratitude for examples of good behavior. How can you create recurring rituals to celebrate and uplift that behavior?

6 — Job descriptions for volunteers

Managing expectations is a crucial part of working with volunteer leadership. Most communities rely on volunteers to thrive and are grateful for the volunteers’ generosity in time and energy. However, there is a dark side to working with volunteers: because they are doing it for free, they can be unreliable, unresponsive, their availability and engagement heavily shifting.

The way to manage that is to create job descriptions for each volunteer role and have new volunteers explicitly agree / edit them before they get started (and recommit to them regularly, see point 3 above). That way there are no confusions around what is expected from the volunteer, but also what she/he can expect in return.

7 — Train volunteer leaders in the community’s values, not just processes

When working with volunteer supporters within your community, it can be easy to just focus on tasks and processes. But I see a missed opportunity there to make them ambassadors of the community’s values as well. This requires taking time to walk them through each value and explain why they matter and how we encourage them to be practiced in real life.

As always, I’d be very grateful for your thoughts and feedback — how do you manage expectations in your community?

This is part 2 of a series about managing expectations in a community. Here is part 1: “8 reasons why managing a community’s expectations is crucial

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