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Building a Community on Empathy - Episode 58
Episode 5815th September 2021 • Social Lights • Kate vanderVoort
00:00:00 00:42:14

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In this episode of the Social Lights Podcast, podcast host and Social Mediology founder Kate vanderVoort chats with Jenn Donovan, marketing thought leader, change-maker coach and mentor for small businesses, a keynote speaker and a podcaster. She is the founder of an extremely successful community Facebook group Buy from a Bush Business, which currently has about 330,000 members. She's also co-founder of social enterprise Spend With Us -- Australia's answer to Amazon, for rural and regional small businesses.

About Jenn

Jenn started her career in law, for 18 years, but later found her passion in social media and marketing. She is teaching small business owners how to make marketing a priority (and why they should) and how to grow more people to know about how amazing your products or services are.

Jenn has ten chooks, three children, two peacocks, two Guinea fowl, one husband, one dog, one cat, and several pet lambs.


“Empathy is essential to any community. The community has to be a safe space” (19:21)

Jenn created the community out of the need to help people in rural Australia affected by drought. She knew that people no longer just wanted to donate because they didn't know where their money was going, so she created a space where people could actually buy something from the person so the money goes directly into their bank account, to directly put food on the table or help feed the animals -- and help actual people who live in rural Australia who were really struggling.

We talked about creating rules within the community as it has to be a safe space because these people are going through a lot (drought, bush fires, COVID, floods, mouse plague). These people are very vulnerable and they've got to have a safe place to be able to post and tell their stories and get some income.


“I've got to stick to my business model because that's how it started -- being very focused on what I wanted the group to look like and not swaying from that.” (26:43)

Jenn talked about the challenges that come in creating a community and the strategies she has used in maintaining the community. It’s important to know what your goal is for the community and to start making decisions toward that goal. The main question always boils down to, “Will it help the community?”

She advised to be laser focused on what you wanted the group to achieve, but also making it a very safe space so that people felt safe and encouraged.  Jenn realized that if she starts swaying from the business model, she is going to lose the people who are relying on the community because they're going to lose trust in her because she has changed what it looks like.


“Community is the golden nugget of business” (34:08)

Jenn opened up about the gifts of running a community and watching it grow. She said that community has taught her so much about business, about life, about trust and about collaborations. Having a community who trusts you, who are willing to sit with you, buy from you over and over again and refer to you, that's the golden nugget of business.

Whether you have 10 customers or 100 customers making them feel like they belong to a community as humans is key.


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You can connect with us on Facebook at @SocialLightsPodcast and find future episodes at

Thanks for your time and stay inspired,

Kate vanderVoort