The world needs less gatherings, summits, conferences, events, meet-ups…

And more ongoing commitment to nurture groups.

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Image via HPC Conferences.

There are sooo many gatherings in this world. Many of them are well organized, many of them create value by bringing people together that wouldn’t have met otherwise, many of them leave people inspired. And many organizations — especially in the social impact space — see these gatherings as a core part of their theory of change: if I want to change ecosystem x or bring industry y forward to the next level, I need to bring together all players from that system in one place and have them “meet”.

And I think that theory is true. But it’s incomplete, it’s too short-sighted and often a waste of energy and resources. In fact, I think there are too many gatherings in this world.

What we need, instead, are for all the players in an ecosystem to have ongoing conversations, to build relationships, to get to know each other on a deeper, personal level, to build trust, to learn from each other, to start collaborating, and to start collective action. What we need is an ongoing commitment to nurture a group with a shared identity, to help them grow both individually as well as collectively, and step by step feel strong enough to stand on their own feet.

And no matter how well gatherings are organized, they can’t do that, not even if they are regularly recurring. But communities can.

I have written before about the difference between events and community, and how to turn a series of events into a community. Below are a few more thoughts on why I think investing into a community is a better investment for any organization than organizing more gatherings.

The case against gatherings

  • Events are expensive, especially if you do them well and if want to provide a unique experience.
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Big highs and lows in terms of energy / excitement / engagement with gatherings
  • That still applies if you do your gathering on a recurring basis, for example every year. You simply repeat the same pattern every year: excitement and potential, slow decline of energy into nothingness, excitement and potential, slow decline of energy into nothingness, etc.

The case to invest into communities instead

  • Communities can fulfill a deeper human need that most gatherings can not. They allow people to build deep, ongoing relationships, which leads to trust. And once you have trust within a group, so much more of the group’s collective potential can be fulfilled, in the form of 1:1 support, deep learning, vulnerability, collaboration, cooperation, etc.
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More steady flow of energy / excitement / engagement in community.
  • Successful communities don’t have to be run by “the organizer”, but can be co-created and co-run with the community itself. This has many resulting effects, including that communities are cheaper to run than gatherings and that communities — especially after a certain maturity time — are less dependent on top-down investment and hand holding. This makes them more stable, more sustainable, more independent.

Downsides of investing into communities

Investing into communities instead of gatherings, however, has downsides as well, especially for the organization that is initiating the community:

  • A community takes much longer to build. It won’t provide short-term results as clear and visible as a big gathering does. Investing into a community requires patience and longer-term budget commitment that is hard to find within many organizations.

Would love to hear what you think about this distinction!

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Looking for more community building resources?

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Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about.

Fabian Pfortmüller

Written by

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together.is www.together.is

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about.

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