How to renew interest in a neighborhood association

Visitor Question: Our neighborhood used to have a very active neighborhood association, and I think we need to have one again. The incorporation papers are still valid, but for about eight years there have not been any meetings or officers that I know of.

I think this is happening because people don't see any great big problems they need to solve. Our property values are going up, which makes me happy of course, but at the same time it means that our real estate taxes are increasing at a rapid clip and that younger people cannot afford to buy in our neighborhood. Our own grown children could not even think about buying a house here because of the prices. I guess this is a happy problem to have, but it does have some down sides.

What are the steps to making the neighborhood association active again? Or do you think we should start over with a fresh name?

Editors Reply: Providing the old neighborhood association did not fizzle out because of a big controversy or an adverse legal finding, we think you should simply pick up the old name and restart. You can always change the name of your group later if you find the previous name to be a liability.

We have helped at least two neighborhood associations regenerate themselves in the last five years. We think the most helpful step is simply to find a meeting place and call a meeting. Print up flyers and put one on every door, if that is appropriate in your location. You might find an appropriate social media account somewhere, but don’t count on that unless your neighborhood is both quite young and quite homogeneous. It’s better to be a little old-fashioned here and try to be as inclusive as possible in your invitation.

State that the purpose of the meeting is to explore rejuvenating the neighborhood association, and give its name. If there are any negative voices about that previous name and experience, those people may well attend the meeting. Be prepared for that, but don’t let them dominate.

What we did when a previous officer began to assert loudly that no one wanted to take any leadership role, and therefore we should not go ahead with reconstituting the neighborhood association, we simply asked if there were any people who might be willing to be an officer or committee chair. We had quite a sufficient number of people, mostly younger folks who had not been leaders previously, volunteer to do some of the work.

Ask what issues would be of interest to people who seem open to being involved in the renewed organization. Listen respectfully to any nay-sayers who object to these particular topics, but don’t let them dominate. Keep asking what other ideas people have. If others share your perception that housing affordability is an issue, it is likely that someone else will say that, without your having to be the one to do so. If possible, let someone else raise the issue so that you will not be accused of having an agenda in calling the meeting.

While at least a handful of the people are still feeling optimistic and energized, wrap up the meeting by asking when they would like to meet again. Ask if there is a better time or place, and if there is any particular speaker or topic that would cause them to attend again. See if you can find some volunteers to help you pass out the flyers for the next time. See that some photos are taken, and ask those who are interested to post about the next meeting on their personal social media accounts.

For the next two or three meetings especially, really try to have a speaker from the city government, chamber of commerce, local school, or some other important player in your community. Based on our experiences, we would try to avoid electing any officers until about the third meeting. Even then, you might say that you are electing officers for six months only, hoping to inspire people to take a chance on being an officer in the reinvigorated organization without losing too much face if it flops.

Needless to say, some modest refreshments help with attracting people. Even if you only have soda, soda and beer, or some cookies or munchies, these help people break the ice. If you see that some of the latest newcomers don’t know many people, you may want to allow more social time and then recruit a few people to play host or hostess to make sure everyone either knows someone already or meets someone to talk with.

While you are recruiting a guest speaker or two, ask those persons for ideas on interesting programs, new developments in your area, increasingly problematic aspects of the neighborhood, or other ideas they may have for you. Even if they turn down your speaking request, or are not able to fit the meeting into their calendar, you can gain some valuable insight this way.

If you are not comfortable with leading this renewal yourself for a meeting or two, or with a little informal public speaking, you will want to talk with friends and neighbors to identify someone who can start things off before you are out there putting invitations on doors. In that event, ask that person what would make them comfortable, because you don’t want a temporary spokesperson who backs down at the first sign of questioning, opposition, or apathy.

Otherwise, you will want to follow the suggestions on this website for starting a neighborhood association or simply good governance of neighborhood associations. We also would refer you to the yellow box on the sitemap page of this website, where you can find lists of pages pertaining to different types of neighborhoods.

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