Young member perspectives: Benefits of an online community


Engaging younger members is a key priority for many membership organisations. Members are increasingly expressing the need for an interactive online experience, and the ability to connect with each other online.

However, with social media being a natural part of life for many members you might ask if there is any point in creating a private online community instead of using existing platforms.

We asked four young members of the Rank Foundation’s online community RankNet about how they have been using the platform, its benefits, and how they think this would have differed if the Rank Foundation had used social media instead.

The purpose of RankNet is to be a unique space for people connected to The Rank Foundation to connect, network, access opportunities and learn from each other.

Jenny, Charlotte, Alex, and James have all completed a year-long Time2Shine internship with The Rank Foundation in 2017. They were given access to RankNet at the start of the internship to connect with other interns and the wider charity community.

Rank interns and role descriptions

Here’s what they think about their experience using RankNet.

What benefits have RankNet given you?

All four agree that it makes life easier having everything related to The Rank Foundation in one place.

Jenny: “It’s a place with all information together. For the annual conference you were able to look up details and apply to seminars. You can look up and apply for bursaries and find contact details for someone in Rank even if only knowing their first name or surname.”

Charlotte adds “I’ve used it to look up news with Rank. It’s easier to check there than to look through newsletters so I head over there first.”

Alex says “It’s a great platform to connect with other interns, it’s been very easy to get in touch with others. I really like the blog aspect of it and seeing updates of how people are getting on. I think it’s a really good idea.”

James found it especially useful as a complement to The Rank Foundation’s conferences. “You meet new contacts and might just remember their first name or the name of their organisation. On RankNet you can quickly see where everyone is based, and not bother with a thousand business cards!”

Charlotte also comments on that the platform is easy to use. “The application process for the bursary was easy to follow. Applications to training sessions, for example on bid writing, were easy too”.

How have you used RankNet during your internship?

Charlotte: “At the very start, I was using it to find someone who did a similar internship. Then I’ve mainly read the blogs, and been looking what’s going on. I haven’t contributed so much myself but enjoy reading and I’ve made a couple of comments.”

Alex, Jenny, and James also used RankNet to find and connect with other people within The Rank Foundation.

James says “I’ve mainly used it to check on other interns, and other organisations and managers. It is the one place find out what all these great charities are doing across the country.”

Jenny and Charlotte both applied for, and were awarded, bursaries via the platform. Jenny also applied for The Rank Memorial Award and as one of the winners she will be travelling to India early 2018 to enrich her knowledge about how to put an end to human trafficking. She will share her learnings and experience with the Rank community by posting blogs and updates on RankNet.

RankNet online community platform
The RankNet homepage. 

How do you think your experience would differ if The Rank Foundation had used Facebook instead?

James says “The thing about Facebook is that there’s a lot of noise. It would be easy for charity related stuff to get drowned out, but here it’s all in one place with no distractions.”

Charlotte is of a slightly different opinion. “In general I think RankNet has been really good, especially with easy access to applications. More people would probably have interacted on Facebook but that’s not down to RankNet as such, more to that social media is a big part of our lives already”

Jenny summarises “It is a professional platform rather than social media. Not everyone has a Facebook account or some like to keep their account very private so I think having the individual platform works well.”

Alex agrees: “Facebook is good but I don’t think it’s very professional. It’s more for your personal fun things rather than your work commitments. It can also be easily hacked, that’s always a risk. Someone hacks your Facebook account and they see your work details.”

Jenny continues “Even if Rank had used LinkedIn over Facebook there are so many more avenues within RankNet. For example, you can have smaller groups for specific members within it and apply for bursaries all on the same platform.”

Do you think you will keep engaging with RankNet when your internship is over?

James: “Oh definitely. The main thing I want is to keep in touch with Rank. Maybe I’ll mentor a future intern, and I will certainly try to keep in contact with the other interns. RankNet is the best place to do it and it might be a good place to look for future job opportunities and other opportunities too, like events and opportunities for funding.”

Charlotte: “Yes definitely, I will be pestering Rank for a long time! I’ll be using it to keep up to date with news, opportunities, and what people are posting.”

Alex: “Absolutely, just to see how things are getting on with Rank Foundation. They’ve said before that even when we leave we’re still part of the organisation and the community. It’s always good to have that connection.”

Jenny: “Yes, I’ll be posting updates from India, and a summary when returning. I will use it to stay connected with everyone and for any future opportunities. Rank is a great organisation that I hope to stay in touch with and RankNet is the perfect way to do it.”

To sum up – it seems like a private online community makes sense from a young member perspective. Especially for organisations that have a broad offering to their members, including for example networking, events, peer-to-peer learning, and applications for various opportunities.

A big thanks from our team to Jenny, Charlotte, Alex, and James for participating. We wish you all the best for your next steps within the charity sector.

VeryConnect provides the software behind RankNet. If you want to learn how we can give your members an engaging online experience as well just get in touch with our team.

By Anna Bjorkman, Marketing Manager at VeryConnect

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