Creating a Community Commitment Curve

I first heard about the term “Commitment Curve” in Ayelet Baron’s talk at the My Community Manager Unconference. She mentioned it briefly and spoke about its importance for community builders. She argued that we can apply the curve to all the work we do.

The Commitment Curve is most often used by change management professionals, she explained, as they help companies walk through changes with employees. Here’s what it looks like in their world:

Commitment Curve Change Management
Change Management Commitment Curve by Conner Partners

Then, last November, Douglas Atkin brought up the Commitment Curve again at CMX Summit and walked us through how it works at Airbnb. Ever since, the concept has come up with almost every community professional or client I have worked with.  It’s also become indispensable in my own work.

Do you need a Community Commitment Curve?

Yes. Every single community should have a clearly defined Commitment Curve, even if it’s something you define internally and adjust on a quarterly basis.

Why do you need a Community Commitment Curve?

A Commitment Curve creates a map of big and bigger asks of your community members. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more members invest in their community, the more they feel that they belong to it (it’s the second factor in building a sense of community). 

As you ask more and more of your members gradually, they will become more engaged and more loyal. They’ll move from awareness about your community to membership to building a sense of belonging to taking on leadership roles.

You must do this slowly, in steps. If you jump to the big ask, you’ll be ignored.

That’s why open rates on most marketing emails are so low. Mailchimp estimates that marketing emails have an open rate of less than 18% and a click through rate of less than 3%. Calls to action are all but ignored.

These days, most strangers won’t answer if you call them out of the blue (even some friends won’t answer random calls any more!). You’ve got to ask many small things before they are ready to invest their time and energy in joining and participating in a community.

Let’s give a real world example of how the commitment curve works:

Imagine, for a second, that you meet someone at a conference and they ask you to be their best friend. Probably not going to happen, right? Pretty creepy.

Imagine, instead, that that person shakes your hand, asks for your name, tells you their story, asks your story, and then gets your card. A day later, they email you and ask if you’d be willing to answer a question. So you do. Then they ask you if they can buy you coffee and get to know you better. You do. Then, at coffee, you both realize you have an undying passion for Magic: The Gathering. Immediately, they invite you to a Magic: The Gathering meetup. You go. After three months of Magic: The Gathering meetups and sharing personal stories, you start to consider this person one of your closest friends unconsciously.

That latter situation is what the Commitment Curve gets at. Relationships – and communities – are built in human time, like it or not. The Commitment Curve is a way of organizing all the small asks that build lasting relationships: newsletter sign-ups, group participation, moderator status, signing up as an ambassador.

How Do You Create a Community Commitment Curve?

Community Commitment Curve

You need a roadmap for your community members to follow, and you need to begin with the end in mind, as Dr. Stephen R. Covey says.

Step 1

The first step is to drive awareness of the community’s existence. This may be an automated email that goes out to the userbase. It may be consuming forum posts that are public. It may be reading the community manifesto (that’s why it’s important even in private communities to have some public-facing materials if you’d like to grow substantially).

Step 2

The second step is to convince people to become members of the community and begin to participate. This may be creating a log-in, sending a short application, indicating interest on a landing page.

Step 3

The third step is to play with the four factors of a sense of belonging and include actions to drive belonging as members work their way up the Community Commitment Curve. Find ways that you can:

  1. Instill membership through member actions (fill out their profile, claim a badge, write their membership on their LinkedIn profile)
  2. Be influenced by and influence other members (be interviewed for/write a blog post, comment on other members’ contributions, participate in a shared project)
  3. Get their needs met (receiving a reward for their help, getting introductions to more influential members)
  4. Participate in shared experiences (solving problems together, planning meetups together)

Step 4

The fourth step is to turn members into leaders, either locally or in their topic areas. The goal here is to begin to offboard growth and engagement to the community itself. This is the only way to scale your community effectively.

You can create different Commitment Curves for different member personas as well if you’re starting with a huge community base. But if you are starting from scratch, keep it simple

Douglas Atkin shares a sample Commitment Curve on his site, The Glue Project. This provides a wonderful template for you. Notice that the early stages are more about consumption and the later steps are more about collaboration, creation, and contribution.

Image © Douglas Atkin

Keep in mind: this is not your marketing funnel. It can, however, be informed by your marketing funnel. If, for instance, the top of your marketing funnel is social media or a blog, consider how you can funnel the community commitments back through those top-of-funnel activities, like sharing something on social media or being interviewed for a blog post.


The Community Commitment Curve is a framework every single community builder can use in their work. It’s one of those concepts that transcends industry, and there are very few concepts like this in community.

If you want to get started, Mozilla’s Sean Bolton created a template you can copy for yourself.

7 thoughts on “Creating a Community Commitment Curve

  1. How do you build an online community in order to get revenue in the form of donations?

    The obvious answer here is: you don’t. Your motivations are in the wrong place if you even have to ask this question. But in the case that this is something that you’re asking hypothetically, I’ll answer (I have faith in humanity sometimes). You fir…

  2. […] What could you say? Some ideas for starters: A larger story about why this campaign needs to exist, your beliefs about what is happening and why the pain exists, your vision for why success of the campaign will positively impact supporters’ lives, or how people can join and deepen their involvement over a commitment curve. […]

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