Communities are difficult to build & difficult to maintain. With a solid foundation & the right people believing in the same vision, you have a higher chance of succeeding. In Chicago, the New Gotham Coffee Community is a strong network of individuals who wanted to create a community of coffee professionals. When a board was first established, I served as their Web & Social Director. Unless you have all the time & resources in the world, you will want a board. Talya Strader, the founder of New Gotham, wrote about her experience for the BGA blog.

I’m going to go into more detail on how you & others can start your own community. These are not in a particular order.

Find like-minded individuals with some time to spare

This is important. Five people is a good number to start with. The number of people involved will depend on the events you want to carry out & how large the existing community is. The time component is important, too. Everyone is busy. In the beginning, there will be more time investment required. But once you build the structure, everything else runs a little more smoother. I would say an average of 5-10 hours/month would be ideal: this involves any meetings, prep, event attendance, etc.


Create your board

This group of people needs to have a structure so everyone knows their responsibilities & not one person has too much on their plate. A good approach to this is to list out all imaginable responsibilities. Assign a time expectation for each one. And divide these into titles for people.

For example, a standard board:

  • President: Essentially a project manager. This person will move a meeting along & can act as an prospective interviewee when the press come asking about the organization.
  • Vice President: Creates the agenda for each meeting.
  • Secretary: Keeps notes on each meeting. Sends recap emails.
  • Treasurer: Keeps track of expenses for each event. Monitors sponsorship money.
  • Web: Keeps the website updated.
  • Communications: Connects with community members online. Live-records events.

As you can see from the above, some of these responsibilities can overlap. Some of these positions will be as much as you can make of them. We found at New Gotham that the more events we wanted to hold, the more of a need we had for a Social Chair (for social events) & Education Chair (for all education events).

What other responsibilities are there? Here are some to think about:

  • Email blasts – updates to the community about events
  • Volunteer management – Ideally, you have someone managing volunteers. Every person who volunteers says what they’re interested in (shot pulling, door, clean up), which helps you know who to turn to when you need them.
  • Venue management – Which spaces are ideal for which events? Casually chat with potential venues to gauge interest. Perhaps one small cafe is not suitable for a large TNT, but would be wonderful to host a speaker.
  • Sponsorship management
  • Graphic designer – If you can not find one to donate their time, perhaps take a look at Canva
  • Photographer
  • PR / Marketing- How do you want this event publicized?
  • Writer- who will recap the events on the blog?


Name your organization

Make it a simple, memorable name. Be sure to check that the accompanying domain name & social handles are available. Use this tool.


Write a mission statement

This is the time to outline your vision. Are you going to be connecting with the public? Is this for industry professionals? Are you limited to your city, region, or state?


Design a logo

Find a graphic designer who can create a logo for you. If you’ve never created a logo before or gone through the process, here is a good guide. Decide on a color or two to represent the organization. Make sure the logo can work well on both dark and light backgrounds. When you receive your logo, be sure you have a vector Illustrator file, .png, .jpg (optional), and a black & white version. While a logo is not necessary, it does become helpful to have a tying image that is used across all of your event flyers.


Create a website

You need a place for people to learn more about the organization & see upcoming event details. Register your domain & choose your hosting service (I use Examine the various ways you can create a website. Ideally, your web board member would be able to make informed decisions on this for you. But, if you are starting from scratch, you can research, Tumblr, Weebly, Squarespace. Be sure that the theme you choose allows for a blog. Once you have a domain name, set up an email address. Here’s a link to free WordPress themes.


Register your social handles

This is pretty straightforward. You will want to be on at least these three networks: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Make sure all of the handles are the same.


Decide on your events

In line with your mission statement – what kind of events do you want to put forth? Educational? Social? Competitions? Maybe all of them? Be sure to listen to your community’s needs and hear what they’re asking for. A good way to figure this out is to hold a social happy hour that will allow people to convey their desires for event types.


Register your organization as a non-profit

Non-profit status will allow you access to more sponsors. Larger businesses who have never heard of you are more willing to donate when they can write it off. This also conveys to your community that you are invested in this organization & it’s here to stay.

Let’s take one event as an example: the TNT. Whether this is a monthly occurrence or a points-based season, the format is the same. The more you plan these out, the better the events are. So if every event is the the same, craft out an event game plan – essentially a to-do list for each person. Convey to the venue what their responsibilities are & let them know what you would handle. Let’s walk through this event.

Before a TNT:

  • Secure venue
  • Secure sponsorships (more on this later)
  • Create a graphic or two: at least one for printable flyers & one that will work for social media
  • Map out everyone’s responsibilities: i.e. The President will be the emcee, the VP will find volunteers to check IDs at the door
  • Find the volunteers for every part of the event: door check, handing out flyers to cafes, shot pullers (multiple), dish washing, emcee, video/AV, etc.
  • Talk to local press (depending on how large you want this event)
  • Find an event photographer or a barista who also happens to be a great photographer
  • Figure out food and drink options: will there be alcohol? Is a food truck going to be nearby for food?
  • Schedule out tweets for reminders on the event & to thank sponsors.
  • Create an official hashtag. Let everyone know this hashtag exists & use it liberally. I created #chiTNT for Chicago & now there are so many happy faces that exist on the hashtag.
  • Create an event RSVP – understand alcohol laws in your city

During a TNT:

  • Who’s going to keep the evening moving along? Will there be breaks after a certain number of pours?
  • How are you going to thank the sponsors?
  • Who’s cleaning up? Is it the venue’s baristas or a volunteer crew?
  • Document everything & send out on social the best photos.

After a TNT:

  • Recap the event on your website. Why? So people inside & outside your community can look on your site and see that events are happening (and that people are attending them). You’re creating content that will be shared happily by everyone who was there.
  • Reach out to sponsors to say thank you.
  • Do a quick “post-mortem” & evaluate what went well/what didn’t.


How to find & maintain sponsorships

This is a crucial part of your operation, because you need cash flow. Sponsors provide cash flow & prizes. To obtain sponsors, you need to put on a marketing hat & try not to stay limited to your own industry. Which local stores have the same customer profile as yours? For coffee, this means related industries like beer, wine, selected food, restaurants, festivals, grocery stores … basically any place a barista would frequent or any item a barista would covet is game for a sponsorship.

Determine what you can offer the sponsor. If you are just starting out, you can offer items like: table placement at the event, a 2-min pitch, mentions online for social media, email blasts to x number of subscribers, logo placement on the event signage… get creative! Sponsors will not sign up if they don’t know what they are receiving in return. If this is a season of events, create tiers of sponsorship. Package A is limited to one sponsor & has these x benefits. Package B is limited to two sponsors & these y benefits. After each event or set of events, keep your sponsor updated! They also want to see your event be successful. Any event a sponsor supports will be an event they will share to their social channels. The more you communicate, the better the chances are for them to be a repeat sponsor.


Meet regularly as a board

This can mean monthly or bimonthly. You don’t have to meet in-person! Make sure the meeting runs effectively & everyone walks away with an actionable item. At the beginning, the board may be made of founding members. Perhaps later on, you’ll want to consider a democratic process where community members vote on the board.


Pay attention to your social networks

I’m not saying this only because I work in social media. I’m saying this because you can’t afford not to. All sorts of coffee people are talking online. Social is not only a way to reach your hyperlocal community, it is also a way to broadcast to everyone that you exist.


Other communities exist out there. Research them, see what they’re about & form your own! Here are some others to take a look at:


Questions? More elaboration needed? Send me a note. I’m happy to talk more about building up your local coffee community.