What the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Taught Us About Building Virtual Communities

Since recently passing the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, many of us are feeling a combination of grief and hope. We are grieving the half a million friends, family members, and community leaders lost to COVID-19. We are grieving the ability to gather in person with loved ones; and, we are longing for the ability to convene in community. We know that human connection is crucial to our health, and right now, Americans are feeling more isolated than ever. 


In spite of the challenges of social isolation and grief, there are reasons to be hopeful about what we have accomplished together, and what is to come. At Impactive, we have seen the power of remote community building as an antidote to isolation. While we cannot wait to gather in person for organizing meetings, teach-ins, and text banks, some of the learnings from the past year have shown us the power and strength in community - even when we are gathering virtually.


Cultivating Virtual Communities

We’re inspired by the creative ways organizations, unions, and campaigns have organized throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. From using creative digital tactics, to incorporating music and creativity, to building relationships across lines of difference, here are some of our learnings. 

Start with existing relationships, and amplify leaders

While we have seen virtual communities grow and thrive without having ever met in person (hello, the staff at Impactive who have not all met in person yet!), we found that the easiest way to get a virtual community off the ground was to begin with an existing relationship. 

  • Organizations like the New Jersey Organizing Project, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and Michigan People’s Campaign all grew digital organizing communities leveraging the in-person volunteer networks they had before COVID-19. The most effective way to start from there, and grow, is to engage in relational organizing. 
  • Community Change Action (CCA) affiliates encouraged volunteers to reach out to their personal friends and family, inviting them to weekly volunteer training sessions on Zoom. 
  • At the end of each week, the staff sent out a message on Impactive celebrating the leaders who had reached the most family and friends. They even provided prizes to the strongest relationship builders, such as a Masterclass subscription, and opportunities to get CCA swag. 

Be creative with digital tools

Joining a Zoom meeting for every volunteering or organizing opportunity gets exhausting. Here are some of the creative tools our partners experimented with during the past year: 

  • Using the “Teams” feature on Impactive. This allowed volunteers to develop relationships with their personal contacts, and other volunteers, and even compete with other teams to be top of the Leaderboard. 
  • Try other video meeting tools outside of Zoom. We like Icebreaker, whose mission is to help people in your group get to know one another with guided conversation games.
  • Create a virtual home for written conversation. This might be Slack, a group conversation platform that allows people to have conversations in different themed channels, GroupMe, or Signal. Inviting leaders into a group chat or channel where they get insight from your organizers and staff on organizing strategy is a great way to build community, and be transparent about organizing tactics and goals.
  • Amplify the volunteer leaders in your network, and encourage them to meet 1:1 with other prospect volunteers over a phone call or video chat to introduce them to your organization

Bring in joy, music and appreciation

Zoom fatigue is too real. Here are some of the ways our partners have succeeded in breaking up the monotony and challenge of being on video calls all day long: 

  • For virtual text banks, create a corresponding playlist (perhaps with songs that you gathered from attendees in their RSVP form), and play for everyone as they send texts. You could even emulate the When We All Vote team’s #CouchParty design, where they invited DJs like DJ D-Nice to play music throughout the two hour-long text bank parties over Zoom and Youtube. 
  • Begin with an icebreaker question - some of our favorite ones as a team have been: “What was your favorite childhood toy?”, “What was the first concert you ever attended?” or, my recent favorite “What is your favorite part of springtime?”. It is a time investment, but the relationships amongst folks on your organizing call will benefit from knowing more about each other.
  • Incorporate a culture of shout outs - at the end of every text bank or organizing call, ask attendees to shoutout other folks there for a good deed or supportive gesture.
  • Ask attendees to use a pen and paper while in the training - we have seen a lot of success with “relational organizing bingo” or “relationship mapping” exercises, where volunteers can write out all of their connections in front of them.

The future of virtual community building

Community building is challenging, even when it’s possible to gather in person. Getting volunteers and leaders to show up is a hurdle in and of itself. But building community is one of the most powerful ways we can combat loneliness and social isolation, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We are grateful for all of the organizing relationships that have grown and developed over the last year. 

To learn more about how Impactive’s partners have cultivated community, check out our case studies here:

To learn more about building community virtually, reach out to our team at sales@impactive.io.

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