The best free resources for online community builders

The best free resources for online community builders

ResourcesStarting outEngagementGrowthInclusion

There’s a zillion million resources out there for communities. Quite honestly, it’s overwhelming. And it’s hard to tell what’s free, what’s paid, and what’s worth it for YOU.

So before we dive into the resources, let’s get specific on what this list is and whom it’s for.

What is this list of “best free resources”?

All these resources are:

  • Free
  • Tactical (they’re not just about getting educated, but are structured so you can immediately apply your learnings)
  • For community builders working with a tech platform (i.e. not in-person community organizers, activists, etc.)

It includes things like templates, frameworks, and tips you can apply. If you’re in more of a “learning” mode right now, maybe come back to this list when you’re in your flow state.

I am NOT including lists of lists of lists (you know, like 400 best resources for community builders or whatever) because those are overwhelming. But here you go if you want one.

Who is an “online community builder”?

You do not have to have an official community builder title to be a community builder! As long as you are a) connecting people on the internet, b) interested in facilitating belonging, and c) see humans as whole people and not products to be extracted from, this is for you.

Some examples of whom this will be most useful for:

  • Anyone starting a community from scratch
  • Community stewards who are looking to connect people within their teams
  • Creators who want to make their social media connective instead of audience-directive
  • Anyone interested in creating connection, belonging, and inclusion
  • Professional community managers for brands and organizations

Humans are natural community builders, but a little help can go a long way.

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10 best free resources for online community builders

I marked all worksheets/workbooks with this emoji 📝. If you see a 📝 next to any of the titles, it means that these resources are best used when you have time to actually fill them out and answer the questions they’re asking.

Under the titles: I’ve noted what they’re “best for”. My categories are: launch, engagement, quality, and growth. Obviously there’s hella more categories you can come up with, but “launch” covers anything that helps you get started and validate your community; “engagement” covers things like events and other strategies to make sure your existing members are Doing Stuff; “quality” refers to anything more vibe-y like culture building; and “growth” covers... growth.

Happy free resource scavenging!

  1. The Community Canvas 📝 Best for: launch, engagement, quality This is the ultimate free resource for online community building. It exists in 13 languages with 3 sections, 17 themes, and a bunch of worksheets you can do on your own. I would use this once you’re ready to go and when you know what you want to do — since is soooo much in here, it can be a little overwhelming to navigate. (They make it as easy as possible though, and I’d start with their Minimum Viable Community worksheet.) I haven’t gone through it fully on my own, but I wanted to include this first on the list since if there is ONE framework that will answer your questions, it’s probably this one. It’s important to start with theory and then transition to practice, so if you haven’t thought through the hard questions on building your community, save this Community Canvas for when you’re ready. 👉🏾 Fill it out here.
  2. Orbit: The Community Discovery Framework 📝
  3. Best for: launch I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted posts from Orbit’s blog. Probably the one I talk about most often is “your density is your destiny”, which basically means “stop having 100203942 channels when you’re just starting your community because it’s confusing AF.” I found this Community Discovery Framework by Rosie Sherry to be incredibly helpful in figuring out what activities you have to do when you’re thinking of launching a community. The questions on here are incredibly helpful especially for newer community builders like me!


    👉🏾 Read it here.

  4. Carrie Melissa Jones: Ultimate Quick Start Guide to Meaningful Engagement Best for: engagement The #1 question I hear from other community builders and stewards is, “how do I increase community engagement?” The way this question is asked has often irked me, and I struggled with understanding why. Especially because I, too, want to increase community engagement! Carrie put my thoughts into words. We don’t want to build irrelevant incentives and addictive rewards; we want meaningful engagement. We don’t want hacks; we seek depth. Carrie defines meaningful engagement as “anything that connects people to the 2 P’s: Purpose or People.” She lays out a 5-step framework I’ve taken with me when thinking of what experiment(s) to launch next to meaningfully engage the Soapbox community. 👉🏾 Get the framework here.
  5. Lenny’s Newsletter: A Founder’s Guide to Community Best for: launch, growth David Spinks of CMX writes this guest post for Lenny Rachitsky’s newsletter on business/startup growth. If you’re a startup founder considering BuiLdiNG a CoMMuNiTy, stop and read this first. We can’t have good communities without great critical thinking, and this should be one of the tools in your toolkit. The article starts by defining community, which is important before moving forward with launching anything. If you’ve already read David Spinks’ The Business of Belonging which I referenced in our 2022 reading list recs, you can skip this post. If you’ve been wanting to read it but haven’t got the time or aren’t a book person, this free article is a pretty good summary of the SPACES model, which describe the 6 business objectives a community an drive (Support, Product, Acquisition, Contribution, Engagement, Success). Good luck, fellow founders — don’t forget me when you’re rich! And if you’re already rich, click here. 👉🏾 Read the article here.
  6. The Community Tool Box: Building Inclusive Communities Best for: quality The whole point of your community is to create inclusive networks among your current and potential members, right? (If not, I’m real curious to know what you’re doing and why.) The University of Kansas’s Center for Community Health and Development runs this Community Tool Box. It’s about “real” community building and it’s NOT focused on the online world. It’s critical that us creators adapt principles from the non-online world, because that’s the primary sphere in which us humans operate and meet each other! (Well, at least it was before COVID... you get the point.) We don’t build communities in silos, whether that’s online or offline. If we hope to be effective connectors, equipping our members with tools for success, it’s on us to lead with compassion and empathy. Inclusion is a huge part of it, and the good news is you can build strategies for inclusion. You don’t just have to hope for the best. The whole Tool Box is worth exploring, but the chapter on Building Inclusive Communities is a valuable primer if you don’t already have a diverse personal network. Also, this Tool Box is available in multiple languages AND the Inclusion page comes with a checklist, case studies, and tools. Whooo! 👉🏾 Get the Tool Box here.
  7. Asana: How to continue building inclusive communities when you’re remote Best for: quality This blog post by the Asana team is more focused on internal communities of employees, but I found it to be a helpful guide to think about in-person vs. remote culture. It covers building trust, setting up check-ins, building for people disproportionately affected by remote culture, helping people find communities, and practicing inclusion for the long haul. 👉🏾 Check it out!
  8. Threado: Community OS 📝📝📝♾️ Best for: launch, engagement Threado’s Community OS is a Notion Dashboard that covers HELLLAAA stuff from getting clear on your mission, creating a valuable first experience, encouraging participation, and improving your community. It’s a full operating system that you can duplicate — FOR FREE — and use as your own guide. They also have their own resource list if you’re hungry for more after reading this article. This Community OS helped me build my own 8-week workbook for my clients, because I saw how valuable it was for me to work through a structure like this. 👉🏾 Duplicate it here!
  9. Get Together: Creating and testing shared activities; designing badges 📝 Best for: engagement, quality This one’s actually 3 resources in one:
    • 👉🏼 Testing stuff in your community
    • 👉🏽 Creating shared activities
    • 👉🏾Designing badges
    • Alt: list of shared activities from the link above
      Alt: list of shared activities from the link above

      I’ve included these 3 together because each one is a low-lift worksheet. If you’re ever feeling stuck and need a nudge on what to do next, you can use these frameworks. I especially love the shared activities one because it’s literally a list of 13 types of things you can host. I’ve considered printing it out and using it as a dartboard.

  10. Danielle Maveal: Connection and Belonging at Online Events Best for: engagement, quality I love that Danielle calls this “Making Magic”. When an event truly creates connection and belonging, I’ve felt it. There’s a sparkling feeling in my heart and it is magic. Even if you do all the right things, magic is something you can’t replicate. However, the more magical activities you bet on, the closer you’ll get to creating alchemy each time. This post really feels like a magician’s hat, but not in a gimmicky way. More like a Mary Poppins-y way. It’s full of kickoff tips, icebreakers, and fun ideas, like making each participant a customizable video background to make it easier to connect with others! I loooove having these event spells at my disposal. It’s made my life so much easier and so much more magical. Wahoo! 👉🏾 Get your spells here.
  11. In Before the Lock: Community Launch Guide
  12. Best for: launch

    If you’re a larger business thinking about launching a community, here is a vvvvvvvvveery tactical (and long) guide with a 20-week timeline broken down by workstreams. 👉🏾 Here’s the Google doc.

Share your favorite resources with me — I’m on Twitter at @niviachanta! Tag me if you share this to your audience too; I’d love to lurk on the comments and see what’s sticking.

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