Non-profit attendees at NetSquared's third annual conference learned Web 2.0 best practices for building an online community and getting the community to work for them.   Day one of the NetSquared Conference at the Cisco headquart

ers in San Jose, CA featured introductions to the top 21 mashup projects aimed at social change and showcased useful advice and pointers from experts in the field.    One session, “How to Use Your Community” featured social Web tool specialists, Vinnie Lauria of free forum hosting site and Kristine Molnar of wiki hosting site    Though only an hour, the presentation focused on existing free social tools, including wikis, blogs, forums, widgets and more, that can better connect NPOs and NGOs with their community members (donors and project participants). Not only do NPOs and NGOs need to increase donations and build their community, but it's equally as important to establish a relationship with those who donate and participate in projects. Fortunately, the social networking world has made connecting and relationship building faster, easier and cheaper.   Wikis, for one, are a simple way to instantly collaborate with other activists or community participants. Since they are a Web page with easy edit features, any community member can add valuable information to the page serving to educate others on a topic. And, no technical skills are needed.   Other versatile social media tools, such as blogs and forums, if used in the right way, can get a community excited about an NPO's mission and their recent activities. What's more, they give users a reason to return to the site and inspire active participation.    Ever-popular widgets are an inexpensive way to spread a company brand and promote program involvement. Essentially, it's free advertising.    Whatever the marketing and community growth strategy, social change organizations serve to benefit from implementing social web tools. In addition to growing members, social web engagement can result in support for existing programs and initiate the start of new programs. Seeking feedback from members will not only help an organization know what issues are important to their members, but will also encourage board approval for new projects that members support. And, staying in touch also makes your agenda less about money and more about relationship and communication. According to Lauria and Molnar, social web tools make it possible to move beyond the thank you letter.   By Kathleen Clark   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at