As a community leader, you know that many of life’s best memories are made with others. As the saying goes, no one lays on their deathbed wishing they spent more of their time at work and less time with family. That’s one reason your community is so important.

Strong communities are able to support their members through both the good and bad times. Being part of a community is what life’s all about. And the stronger your group is, the longer it will endure, and the more memories you will make together. With this in mind, here are three ways you can strengthen yours. 

1. Improve Your Space

Physical places are still important, even in the digital age. In fact, you could argue that they’re more important now than ever before. Even though people can find others online, those groups don’t often don’t have a space of their own to facilitate in-person meetups. Thus those people, while connected, still remain in their homes — experiencing digital isolation. If your community doesn’t have a place of its own already, consider finding or creating one. 

If your community does already have an in-person space, consider improving it. A well-designed and maintained space encourages people to come together, interact, and spend time there more often. And while improving a space can be costly, it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Draw on the power of the people by asking your community members to come together and improve their shared environment. Volunteering and donating opportunities like this help foster a sense of pride and ownership in your shared space. 

When contemplating what kind of improvements to make, be sure to take demographics into account. If you have lots of elderly members, perhaps you could improve wheelchair accessibility in and out of buildings. Or, if you have lots of kids involved, upgrade your playground equipment for maximum enjoyment. When in doubt, ask people directly what they’d like via a meeting, vote, or poll. Encourage participation in decision-making to get your community members invested.

2. Facilitate Transparent Communication

In the theme of encouraging participation, be sure to continually facilitate a culture of transparent communication. At their core, strong communities are built on a foundation of trust. The more the people within every concentric circle of your social system trust each other, the stronger the whole group will be. So it’s essential to put effort into improving your community’s culture or mental space.

As with many aspects of community development, it starts with one, namely you. As a group leader, you must be honest and transparent about who you are and what your role is. If you’re a primary decision-maker, for example, then it falls on you to be honest about the choices you make. The same is true if you enter into conflict with another member, perhaps a disagreement about how money will be spent. Be open, honest, and forthcoming about information relevant to the community members whenever possible. 

One communication difficulty that befalls many groups, especially as they grow, is the presence of cliques. Cliques are tight-knit groups of certain members that tend to ostracize other members deemed unfit. While friendships within the larger group are healthy and natural, cliques ostracize others, creating an us-vs-them dynamic. This dynamic is incredibly toxic and must be addressed quickly, even preemptively if possible. Keep community values focused on kindness, inclusivity, and problem-solving to help prevent and dismantle these self-cannibalizing in-groups. 

3. Branch Out With Volunteering

Healthy communities are not insular. No matter what reason yours has for forming or what niche it occupies, recognize that it exists within a larger ecosystem. The entirety of civilization is a series of interdependent communities that interact with each other to varying degrees. Thus you cannot exist in a vacuum. To deny the presence of other communities in your local area, niche, or ideology is to weaken yourselves. 

Volunteering is one of the best ways to interact within your local ecosystem. Find volunteer opportunities other groups are hosting that your members can participate in. Keep in mind that the opportunities don’t necessarily have to reflect your community’s primary interest, although they can. Just because you’re part of a large book club doesn’t mean you can’t help without the local church’s bake sale, for example. 

Reciprocally, host your own volunteering opportunities for others to participate in. This could be something like cleaning up highway trash, painting a firehouse, or cooking at the soup kitchen. Just like it’s important to have strong ties within your community, participating and hosting these events creates ties between communities. Volunteer events expand awareness of what your group’s interests are and may even encourage new members to join. Think about areas of collaborative overlap between you and other groups to spark event ideas as well. 

Open Your Doors

Finally, keep your doors open. On the one hand, that means literally keeping your group open to new members joining. New members can inspire your group with new ideas, directions, and opportunities. They’re often one important part of the antidote for cultural stagnation.

On the other hand, personally keep your door open to other members of your group. As a leader, it can be tempting to put distance between yourself and regular members as the group continues to grow. However, it’s essential to maintain a healthy connection between the head and the body of your organization. The more you maintain this healthy connection, the stronger your community will be.