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American Muslim

Building Stronger Communities

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"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."- Albert Schweitzer


Golden Rules for Building a solid organization and community

I do not believe it is possible to create community. Rather, community is something that happens. It happens only in an environment of freedom and openness [..] honesty and tolerance. Community happens when people care about one another and when they are willing to take responsibility for themselves as well as for each other.( From University of Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl's 1998 inaugural address.)

Community is built indirectly. You cannot force it into existence. It only emerges when the right elements are in place. Put those elements in place, and community may emerge. If you are missing those elements, community will elude you.

Community: the self identified members.

You need interaction to build an organization and a community. A group that continues to interact may, over time, form relationships and bonds of trust that lead to exchanges of support. That support brings value back to its members, and to you,  This ongoing giving and receiving of support is the support  that turns a group of people who share an affinity into a strong community to which its members feel they belong.

Any organization's growth depends on openness, freedom, honesty, integrity,  trust, persistance and reliability. This is why business relationships are so important. If you don't treat your customers and business partners right, you are going to be out of business. An organization depends on these elements even more, because what is being traded is much more personal and much more intangible. Community emerges within this context of exchange. It emerges in an atmosphere of trust.

You cannot build community directly. You can, however, encourage the environment in which community happens.

1) Plan it first

You need a detailed vision of what you are building, what do you expect from it, and what its members can expect from joining it. Your plan should include your focus, the style of the community you want to build, and the rules or terms of service under which you will be building the organization and community. It is important that you have a clear vision before you begin building your organization and community. Write out your vision, share it with others.

2) Grow incrementally

Imagine you are out on the town and you want some good conversation. Across the street you see a café. It has a flashy front and looks lovely, but inside you find it deserted. You probably walk on by. Down the road you come across a happening place. It looks like a dive, but the people inside are having a great time. That's the place you are going to want to be. A happening place is better than a pretty front.

You want to safeguard your vision. The way to do that is to start with a core group of people who understand and share your vision. Invite them to have some discussions. This will do two things: 1)  allow you to establish a tone and style. 2) give you a chance to test things out and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Build it in stages. Let people get used to the idea and get a sense of the vision, then add more.

3) Use it

As your organization grows more experienced , you will find rough spots in your initial vision and rules. Your early members will let you know as they chafe against them. You must react to that, and where warranted, adjust things. Show that you take their feedback seriously. Your community will help guide the direction of your organization just as you helped guide the development of the community with your vision. Together you will build something better. This will help strengthen your ties to the community.

4) Celebrate it

If you have followed the previous rules, you should see your organization and community beginning to form. As you become involved with the group and respond to their suggestions and complaints, you are forming bonds of trust. The members of the group will begin to trust each other.

They will come to the group for help with problems, and others will gladly provide that support. Now is the time to celebrate it.

 Consider throwing a party; a first annual picnic. If your group is getting huge consider making it a convention. 

5) Record its history

Recording the history of your group gives it context and memory. Some of your core members will have stepped out, others will have stepped up to a leading role, and new members will have joined. For a community to survive these changes, it must have memory. A history helps new people understand the group. It gives them some context for their belonging. Therefore, offer profiles of members. Get your members' perspectives on events and include them as well. Make a brief history available for new members to read. Consider hiring or appointing a group historian. Take pivotal messages and give them a special place on your site where new members can find them.

6) Do it professionally

As the community manager, you may have been the driving force in starting your small community. As the community grows, it will exceed your ability to care for it. To maintain the integrity of the community and to keep things going at a good pace, you need to consider  other members of the organization willing to take on this role. Shared leadership can help keep organization's enthusiasm high and keep everyone involved and focused. Be a liaison between the members and the Boardmembers. Formalizing the roles for some accountability.

Draw up guidelines of what you expect from everyone and create a handbook for your members. Just as the rules needed to be clear for your users, they also need to be clear for the members. The more effort you put into training , the more you can be assured your vision will remain intact and the organization will continue to thrive.

7) Keep the trust.

Trust underlies all the golden rules given here. You need to establish it in the beginning and you need to safeguard and keep it throughout the life of your community. All communities are based on trust because the underlying support economy is based on trust. If the community members? trust in on another is broken, the support economy will fail, and your community will slip away fast. To nurture a community you must protect the safety of its members.

As stated earlier, you establish your community by being open and honest with them about your vision and the terms of your relationship. Trust is also maintained by giving back to the community. If the community's trust in you is broken, then you may see the community you built galvanize against you. If you mess up, fess up. The community will hound you until you do. This is probably the biggest risk of building a community: that it might some day turn against you. If you come clean and find ways to make amends, you will restore their trust

Why should this feel important and involve me ?

Looking beyond the present and its known capacities requires new mind-sets, new eyes and ears... yours. For too long the individual has been allowed to feel separated, apart from the whole. In a world where the individual now has access to information and the ability to apply it immediately it is even more important, even imperative, that you would be involved.  Individuals can craft or forge a stronger sense of civil society, community and ONEness, eliminating the barriers often associated with groups and organizations. Ask yourself this, "If I'm not going to be involved in the planning of my own future, then how will I know it is what I want it to be?" 

There is a need for accountability and responsibility with regard to the whole population of Muslims, Muslim Leaders and organizations.

Those at the front of the movement will have the most profound influence. Information flow in the past has mainly come from a top - down perspective. Now, the individual influence on change is precipitating a major shift in this pattern, literally turning it upside down. Many are realizing just how powerful grass-roots organizations can be as the trend continues toward massive economic, political and social change - benefiting the many instead of the few.


“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

Bridging the gap between communities