Community Canvas: How To Build Thriving Communities

A community canvas is a framework and tool for community managers to build thriving communities based on three key elements and sections: 

  • Identity 
  • Experience 
  • Structure

This is a tool and framework put together by Fabian Pfortmüller, Nico Luchsinger and Sascha Mombartz at



Community canvas explained

More and more successful companies are about creating thriving communities of people around their brands. That is why the figure of the community manager has become a critical role for any organization, digital and not.

What tools can the community manager leverage on to build thriving communities? One framework that might be very useful for that is the community canvas a framework which aim is to help you develop and run a new community.

But also to improve existing communities or understand your competitors’ communities and why they’re successful. Keep in mind that a framework is a tool and a set of processes.

It is one of the tools you can leverage on as a community manager or inspiring community manager which identifies what the right questions to ask to build up a thriving community are.

Indeed, what matters is to ask the right questions. Let’s start from the most basic, yet fundamental question.

What is a community?

A community is a group of people which has something in common, be it religion, values, norms or place.

As Fabian Pfortmüller, one of the authors of the community canvas pointed out, the traditional definition of a community might be outdated. He instead proposes a new definition:

A group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together.

It has three critical elements, as a group of people (human) that care about each other (relationships) and feel they belong together (shared identity).

Let’s give a glance at the tool you can use to build this kind of community.

The community canvas



A community canvas has three main sections:

  • Identity 
  • Experience 
  • Structure

In turn, those three sections are divided into 17 themes, each of which is intended at asking the proper question for each part, to be able to build a thriving community.


Who are we and what do we believe in?  

Clearly, any community starts from a shared belief, and according to the community canvas framework this has to be explicit, and it has to clarify:

  • who they are
  • why they exist
  • and what they stand for

The identify part is the core, the heart of the whole framework. Indeed, from this foundation, all the other building blocks can be built on. Within the community canvas the identity section is formed over a few critical themes:

  • purpose
  • identity
  • values
  • success definition
  • brand

Purpose and identity are the essential layers and elements. That’s because they answer two primary questions, why (purpose) and who (identity) we are.

Once you know why and who the community is comprised of that’s when the other key elements can be drawn. Thys, values, success definition and brand can be finally defined.

What kind of questions do you need to ask in this section?

  • Why does the community exist? (Purpose)
  • Who is the community for? (Member Identity)
  • What is important to us as a community? (Values)
  • How does the community define success? (Success Definition)
  • How does the community express itself? (Brand)


What happens in the community and how does it create value for the members?

Communities are also about shared experiences and rituals that add practical value to the members. Those shared experiences and rituals are critical to forming a shared sense of purpose.

Through shared experiences, meant to bring members together and create a bond among them; and rituals and traditions that allow them to have a common symbolic toolset.

Part of bringing a community together is achieved via a set of stories, thus a content strategy that is meant to strengthen the bond among the members.

As each member will have a different role within the community, it is critical to preserve and define each role, so that each member gains meaning through the community itself.

This section comprises:

  • selection
  • transition
  • shared experiences
  • rituals
  • content
  • rules
  • roles

What kind of questions do you need to ask in this section? 

  • How do people join the community? (Selection)
  • How do members leave the community? (Transition)
  • What experiences do members share? (Shared Experiences)
  • What rituals happen regularly? (Rituals)
  • What content creates value for members? (Content) 
  • What are the community’s rules? (Rules)
  • What roles can members play? (Roles)


What gives us stability in the long-term?

Let’s get to the more practical, and operational section, that about structure. A thriving community to be successful in the long-run has to be able to survive in challenging situations, when they come up. 

Therefore, as challenges and problems come up, it becomes critical to have set processes to manage critical situations. When those members survive to those situations the more robust they become in the long-run. 

Thus, the brand that the community carries also survives. In short, to make a community successful, you need to plan and set processes for when difficult situations come up. 

A community isn’t just made of abstract things but it’s made possible, and it survives, in the long run, thanks to processes, which comprise leadership, decision-making, but also incentives that make those communities financially viable.

In short, often the financial part of a community is underestimated, this doesn’t allow for a community to survive in the long-run.

The critical elements of any community’s structure are:

  • organization
  • governance
  • financing
  • channels and platforms
  • data management

What kind of questions do you need to ask?

  • Who runs the community? (Organization)
  • How are decisions made in the community? (Governance)
  • What is the community’s plan to be financially sustainable? (Financing)
  • What channels does the community use to communicate and gather? (Channels & Platforms)
  • How does the community manage the data of its members? (Data Management)

Key Highlights

  • The Community Canvas: The Community Canvas is a valuable framework and tool designed to guide community managers in building and managing successful communities. It offers a structured approach that emphasizes three essential elements: Identity, Experience, and Structure. By focusing on these key aspects, community managers can create a strong foundation for their communities and ensure long-term success.
  • Defining a Community: According to Fabian Pfortmüller, one of the authors of the Community Canvas, a community is not just a group of people with a common interest or place; it is much more than that. A community is a group of individuals who care about each other and feel a sense of belonging together. This definition emphasizes the importance of human connections and relationships within the community.
  • Identity: The first section of the Community Canvas, Identity, delves into the core values and beliefs that form the community’s foundation. This section aims to answer critical questions such as why the community exists, who the community serves, what values are important to the community, how success is defined, and how the community expresses itself through its brand.
  • Experience: The Experience section of the Community Canvas focuses on the shared experiences and rituals that bring community members together. It highlights the significance of content strategy in strengthening the bond among members and creating a sense of shared purpose. Additionally, this section addresses the roles and rules within the community, helping define each member’s role and contributions.
  • Structure: The Structure section of the Community Canvas deals with the practical and operational aspects of community management. A successful community needs to be equipped to face challenges and difficult situations. Therefore, it requires a robust organizational structure, well-defined governance, sustainable financing plans, effective communication channels, and data management practices.
  • Financial Viability: The Community Canvas recognizes the importance of financial sustainability for a community’s long-term survival. Many communities often overlook this aspect, leading to potential difficulties in maintaining their existence over time. By establishing clear financial plans and understanding the financial needs of the community, community managers can ensure the community’s resilience.
  • The Role of Community Managers: Community managers play a crucial role in implementing the Community Canvas and ensuring its success. They need to be adept at asking the right questions, understanding the community’s needs and goals, fostering strong relationships among members, and implementing effective strategies based on the insights gained from the Canvas.

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