Much ink has been spilled about why technology makes it easier than ever to start a business. But connecting with consumers and brand advocates directly, in active online communities, is the real secret sauce, especially for B2C startups with an online presence.

On the flipside, social enterprise and non-profits have been particularly hip to this trend. And certain non-profits’ knack for touching the consumer directly and involving them in the social story behind the cause has, in turn, inspired for-profit founder.

I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs the following question:

What nonprofit or social enterprise is doing a great job creating online community that B2B or B2C businesses can emulate? What makes them special and effective?

Here are 9 nonprofits and social enterprises getting it right, and what we can learn from them:

1. Pencils of Promise

Jessica Brondo 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineThey are a non-profit building schools in the developing world, but they are doing an incredible job of creating a movement, especially among young people in the U.S., to embrace their message and work towards their goals.

- Jessica Brondo, The Edge in College Prep

2. DonorsChoose.org

Abby Ross 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineDonorsChoose.org has done a great job of creating an online community around transparency and sharing. The key for a social enterprise creating a great online community comes down to effective storytelling and transparency. Give your supporters direct insight into your cause, solution, and cases.

- Abby Ross, Blueye Creative

3. CharityChannel

Andrew Schrage 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineThe nonprofit that’s been most successful in creating an online community is called CharityChannel. It has been in existence for approximately 20 years, serving nonprofit employees worldwide. It provides a wealth of high-quality articles and resources related to non-profits, and members can literally build their own network through this website. A membership costs $37 per year, but it’s worth it.

- Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

4. charity: water

Jeff Slobotski 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineThe way that charity: water shares the impact of its work via photography, video, print and more is nothing short of amazing. It’s truly hard not to want to get involved after you’ve seen the work that the team at charity: water produces.
Donors feel a part of a broader community affecting change half a world away, while realizing they’re part of a tight-knit community here in the United States.

- Jeff Slobotski, Silicon Prairie News

5. TOMS Shoes

benjamin leis 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineNot only does TOMS Shoes create a great online community but they strengthen it by creating offline, real-world communities. Through their popular “A Day Without Shoes” events and college campus program, TOMS fans come together for a common cause, creating powerful bonds that last.

- Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees

6. FITE celebrates its donors

Rachel Rodgers 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineFITE creates community by incorporating social media into the donation process. FITE makes it easy for donors to tweet about their contribution and FITE will retweet these tweets, further promoting the good work of the donor. As a B2B or B2C business, why not spend time promoting the good work of your clients on social media? Everyone needs publicity and wants their work to be recognized.

- Rachel Rodgers, Rachel Rodgers Law Office

7. UN Foundation’s Global Good Challenge

Derek Shanahan 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineThe United Nations Foundation’s Global Good Challenge is a worldwide campaign to encourage global citizens to donate their voice to specific causes like child marriage. They rallied prize donation partners like Lady Gaga and MTV, used a gamified platform to encourage engagement, and focused on Facebook (where the people are). The result is thousands of do-gooders spreading their message for them.

- Derek Shanahan, Foodtree

8. Project 7

Lisa Nicole Bell 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineProject 7 has done an outstanding job of creating an attractive brand, an engaged community, and an effective distribution system. They reply to tweets and make social media a priority in a variety of ways. Many lessons can be learned from this social brand.

- Lisa Nicole Bell, Inspired Life Media Group

9. The Red Cross

Robert J. Moore 220x220 9 nonprofits and social enterprises creating incredible communities onlineThe Red Cross has a fantastic system where every time you give blood, you earn points. The more you donate, the more points you accumulate. You can share your point totals on various social media channels, which is a great way to build a sense of community and a competitive edge that makes you want to buy the product (or, in this case, donate more).

- Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images