What Success Looks Like: Crafting an Engaging Online Community

National, independent charity, NHS Charities Together, cares for the NHS by providing the extra support needed to care for staff and patients and improve health in the community. Working with over 230 NHS charities across the UK, representing hospitals, ambulance trusts, mental health trusts, and community health services - NHS Charities Together ensures that money raised reaches the people that need support the most. 

The organisation also helps strengthen the NHS charity sector, providing support for member charities through nationwide fundraising, networking opportunities, and training, as well as showcasing the role of the NHS charity sector nationally. Collectively, these charities give more than £1 million every single day to the NHS so that people can stay well for longer and get better faster, helping to take pressure off an overstretched health service.

doctor viewing NHSCT member update on a laptop
50% Member Engagement
100% Membership Visits

Although these charities span across health causes and sizes, the people who support them share common goals and challenges when it comes to fundraising, grant-making, communications and getting the community involved with their local NHS Trusts.

Operating with a corporate membership structure, individual charities are members of NHS Charities Together, with staff supported through training, guidance, sharing best practices, access to resources, and peer support.

Medical professional reviewing best practices on mobile app
Discussion between two colleagues in a medical setting
The Project

NHS Charities Together knew that they needed to enhance their member value proposition and better serve their audience. As the pandemic further intensified challenges, it became clearer that an online community was a top priority. We worked to deliver a nuanced online community utilising Discourse Forums, the leading open source online community platform. Discourse features for design application, establishing permissions by confirmed email domain, bespoke reports, and general ease of use were essential to meeting client needs. 
Nurse using phone to access vital data while on home visits

Our executives recognised that the benefits delivered to our members could be improved and modernised. I was tasked with ensuring enhancement there, and while part of that was acquiring new technology, we also wanted to skill up. We had the budget to increase our staff talents, both through training and hiring, so we built a team with an expectation of technology adoption. With the team in place, we looked at the best benefit-to-cost ratio. With Cantarus’ help, we identified adopting a full-featured online community platform as uniquely powerful and affordable.

Jake Tomlin Digital Community Officer

a medical professional taking a remote video call appointment on laptop

We were tasked with building an online community for NHS Charities Together where people could easily access knowledge, thought leadership, and engage and interact under one roof. We worked closely with the charity to find a concept that would address all their needs.

I loved joining NHS Charities Together and launching Member Connect! We had a great team doing such impactful work, and I was confident the community project would be a success. While online communities can look engaging and appear to offer strong social/emotional components, the proof of the pudding is in the data. We had the right tools and strategies to focus on specific areas.

Nancy Kinder Member Community Manager

The Strategy

Using the Discourse Forums platform, we designed and built an online community filled with engaging content and conversations. Once the community launched, the strategy execution accelerated.

Online community engagement often starts with the content – people come for the content and stay for the conversations. These valuable conversations can evolve to form meaningful long-term relationships. All the engagement activity from the online community is recorded, and a metrics-focused strategy will ensure that any data targets are hit.

The first data challenge was to identify the people that NHS Charities Together supports directly. As an organisation with a corporate membership structure, any NHS Charites Together member charity employee is eligible for services. Previously, capturing this information was a manual process with mixed results. Discourse’s ability to confirm email addresses and batch users based on email domain syntax simplified this vital data-gathering task.
Two medical professionals reviewing important best practice information on tablet

Community launch and sign-up promotion yielded tons of contact records of eligible staff previously unknown to NHS Charities Together, while confirming they are legitimate staff of individual member companies. Another important goal was to see how individual member companies were engaging with NHS Charities Together.

The data has helped inform the work across teams including marketing and events, and trends were impressive – there was an uptick in utilisation and the percentage of members served had increased steadily over time.

a display of the content categories inside the community
The NHSCT website displayed on a tablet

Because we were using the community as a central member benefit, non-utilisation identified member companies where more direct intervention was required. We asked Cantarus to create some custom reporting, and this allowed us to target our outreach and understand our successes and gaps, both in terms of engagement and content strategy.

Jake Tomlin Digital Community Officer

The Results

NHS Charities Together are delighted with the payoff from the community investment. Highlights so far include:

  • 100% Membership Visit: Within 12 months, the community had reached 100% of audience. In other words, at least one person from all member charities has visited the online community at least once! At least one person from 75% of all member charities comes back every month, and NHS Charities Together can see who isn’t returning and check in with them on any additional needs.
  • Over 50% of Members Post: Of the members visitors, over 50% have engaged and contributed to the community (not just liked or read a post, but contributed with a reply or started a topic!).
  • Nearly 100% posts are organic from Members: Apart from NHS Charities Together News and Resources, nearly 100% of posts and replies to posts made each month are organic from members asking for, or providing peer support.
Member Feedback

The charity is now focusing on and highlighting quality peer support to help enable peer support and spotlight key contributors in their monthly community highlights.

Member feedback so far has also been overwhelmingly positive.

I enjoy supporting others and have also found this forum helpful and an open/welcoming place to sense check stuff.”

“It’s really helpful to pick other people’s brains, and I’m always happy to help/comment if I think it will be helpful. Thank you everyone.

“I really enjoy contributing and this is a valuable source of information and support!”

The online community has paid so many dividends for us in terms of member value and actionable data. Our people across NHS Charities Together staff teams are seeing the benefit of this approach. With the peer support provided in Member Connect, it is really helping us make a positive impact for our charity members and by extension, the NHS itself. The online community has been a game-changer in terms of the support it enables and the relationships that have been built.

Nancy Kinder Member Community Manager

Headshot of Cantarus' Head of Product Delivery, Becky

Want to know more?

Our Head of Product Delivery, Rebecca Doran, would love to chat with you about your online community needs.
Get In Touch