Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I’m deep in my second wave of research, talking to incredible community builders and working on the next version of the Community Canvas. And as I’m talking to these people, I keep thinking how many of them are so much more than just community builders. Yes, they build communities, but they also run a whole organization around it, often with a strong social impact focus. And often I feel like they don’t get full credit for the beauty and complexity of their work.

So maybe community builder isn’t always the right term. What if we started calling them “community entrepreneurs”?

Who am I talking about?

They are entrepreneurial individuals who are ultimately driven to create some type of positive change. And they have chosen to use the construct of community to solve for that impact. They are both social entrepreneurs and community builders.

They are community “entrepreneurs”, because:

  • Many have started communities from scratch. It’s quite a different thing to start a community versus to manage an existing community. It needs the same vision and convincing sales process with early members that entrepreneurs need with their first customers.
  • Many of the community entrepreneur I meet take significant risks. They don’t have organizations to back them up. They often pay for things themselves in the beginning. They invest their time, resources, money, personal energy,  personal relationships – without any clear short-term return in sight.
  • While building the community, community entrepreneurs simultaneously have to manage organizational questions. Many struggle with sustainability and resilience. They have to figure out complex issues such as financing and business model, governance structures, leadership incentives, conflict management etc.

Critics might argue that this applies to any community builder. But I think it’s quite a difference if you build community as your job, or manage a community that someone else has built. That is equally beautiful and important work, but it has a different scope.

Why a new title matters

I think we should consider a new label for people building complex community organizations, one that comes with pride and a bit of prestige. Because many of the community builders I come across don’t feel they are taken seriously by wider society, despite the fact that they run amazing organizations. They feel like an anomaly among their peers of social entrepreneurs and I personally sense and have experienced in my work at Sandbox a disadvantage when trying to access capital, hire talent and get access to external resources, because you “just” run a community. It sounds and smells too much like an unpaid, part-time volunteer side gig. If believe in the tremendous positive impact of communities, it’s time to appreciate the people who build them.

What do you think about that? Would love to hear your perspective!