We, interests.me's two founders, Helen and Paul, were running voluntary groups in their different communities in Surrey and Kent, and we were finding communications the hardest part of the job. The problem was it was difficult to communicate with a broad local audience who were using many different channels to find out about what's going on locally. To reach everyone would take lots of time.
We scratched our heads wondering what tools existed to help voluntary groups with their communications.
As software developers, we wanted to find out what other local voluntary groups really needed. In focus groups, they told us that they wanted to improve their communications with existing members (using email) and also with the community at large (often using social media). They wanted it to be so simple that any volunteer could use it.
We decided to use our technical skills to create a tool that didn't yet exist - something that would help voluntary groups to communicate in a multi-channel world, ideally both online and offline, and in less than 1 hour a week.
So we started by building an email newsletter tool specially designed for the local voluntary sector - without advanced features, but really easy to use. We made it modular from day one, so that content could be re-used in other ways - posted onto social media, published online, and used in print newsletters.
Once we had over a hundred groups using our tool in a town (Woking), we knew it was time to aggregate the content published by these groups, and create a community-wide website, calendar and weekly email. This pulled together all the community content in one place, and also made it easy for each group to share another group’s events or news, on social media or in their emails.
It helped local organisations to avoid their events clashing with other local groups, and helped communities to feel more ‘joined-up’. It gave residents one place to go to find out what’s going on in their community.
Finally, we knew there was more community content ‘out there’ and we found ways of making our community calendar more complete by linking to information on Eventbrite, Meetup, and on Facebook pages. Our community calendars could finally be the go-to place for all community events.
After being approached by partners, we decided we’d make our event information available in a feed to other distribution partners, to give the groups who publish with us even more publicity.