Neighborhood associations play a vital role in representing the interests of residents and enhancing our local community. A well-organized association can have a significant impact on the quality of life in a neighborhood. This tool was designed to help residents focus their efforts and organize their neighborhoods for action. Increasing citizen participation benefits the whole community by creating a positive environment of shared responsibility and collaboration.
A Neighborhood Association is a group of residents, business representatives, and/or other interested citizens that devote their time and energy to improve and enhance a well-defined, geographic area where they and others live. Neighborhood associations offer an opportunity for government officials, developers or others to solicit input from the residents that live within a specific geographic area.
Most neighborhood associations are concerned with issues that affect the quality of life in the community. Building upon the assets of their neighborhood, residents can identify and prioritize important projects for the neighborhood to undertake. Neighborhoods can be proactive by preparing neighborhood plans, emergency preparedness plans, or undertaking specific projects such as starting community gardens, upgrading park equipment, or installing traffic calming devices on a residential street. A collective group of motivated residents is extremely effective.
A neighborhood association meeting, project, or social event is a place to meet neighbors, exchange ideas, prioritize projects, propose solutions, and implement plans for the neighborhood.
- Build a sense of community among neighbors;
- Address a particular issue of the neighborhood;
- Provide the neighborhood with an effective communication link with government officials regarding policy, planning, and projects;
- Empower residents to work together in improving their neighborhood
Organizing a neighborhood brings people together to form a collective, united voice. A well organized, diverse group of neighbors can be a powerful force in building a cohesive neighborhood where people want to become involved in neighborhood issues and neighbors’ lives.
- Builds stronger relationships and pride among neighbors
- Creates an organized and unified voice in city government
- Empowers residents to identify needs and initiate positive change
Organizing and managing a neighborhood association is a big job. While it may seem difficult at first, developing your association will be enormously exciting as people come together to address important issues and learn to work together as a group.
Remember: Getting your neighbors together doesn’t need to be hard. Keep in mind some important tips as you begin to organize:
- Building an organization is a process. It cannot be done overnight. Be patient. Identify your priorities and build them step-by-step.
- Set realistic goals. Start small and build upward. As your organizational capacity grows, your organization can expand what is possible from year to year.
- How you treat people is crucial to your success. By treating people with respect and integrity, people will be more likely to get involved in the organization.
- Communication is key. Open, transparent, and frequent communications to government officials, neighbors, businesses, and other stakeholders in your neighborhood is important. Face-to-face interactions to social media technology can help you get out the word.
- People join neighborhood groups for a variety of reasons. One of them is to get to know their neighbors and to feel a sense of community. So, as you build your organization, be sure to have fun.
Talk to your neighbors – Start with the neighbors you know and then approach the ones you don’t to determine if there is an interest to start a neighborhood association. Talk to existing neighborhood associations for ideas and support.
- Develop a core group – Find 5 or 10 neighbors who are interested in starting a neighborhood association and share the initial task of organizing as a team.
- Identify a general purpose – With the core group, write a general mission statement that explains why the group should exist and what it hopes to accomplish.
- Determine the boundary – Set a manageable boundary size that the core group can easily communicate with other neighbors. Remember the boundary represents the character of the neighborhood and can expand as membership grows. Be sure to check with the City of Winston-Salem’s Planning Department to determine if established boundaries exist.
- Develop a structure – Draft bylaws or guidelines that govern the group’s internal operations. Once membership has grown to 15 or more, host an election for officers and vote on approving the bylaws.
- Host organized meetings – Nobody likes to attend meetings that are a waste of their time. It’s important to be organized, productive, brief, conveniently located and friendly.
- Identify concerns and resources – List nuisances as well as positive characteristics found in the neighborhood. Also try to identify talents, expertise, skills and special interests members might possess.
- Set goals and objectives – Prioritize the needs of the neighborhood and the group. Create an action plan to help identify the potential course of action, needed resources and tentative timeline.
- Build support and image – Make contact with local business, schools, churches or organizations in the neighborhood. Celebrate successes, recognize volunteer efforts and include the neighborhood’s youth and elderly in activities.
- Register with the City – Neighborhood Services is here to assist neighborhood associations in their initial start-up meetings and to help establish effective communication with the City.
In general, neighbors will participate if the following are present:
- Issues of importance to discuss
- Organized and competent leadership
- Attainable and visible accomplishments
- Social and community events to volunteer
- Events to recognize participants
- Members are heard and are not overburdened
The initial meetings are very important and set the tone for future meetings. The way meetings are run will also affect membership and participation.
Set up a regular meeting schedule, which could be monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. Arrange to meet at a convenient location like a park, library, school, church or restaurant. Arrange seating to allow open communication and allow time for refreshments and mingling. Also, try small icebreaker activities to encourage people to interact in a fun and comfortable way.
Running Effective Meetings:
- Keep the meetings organized, useful and focused by creating an agenda in advance
- Be positive, friendly and respect each other
- Encourage feedback and discussion
- Keep conversation on topic
- Set time limits on discussion and debates (5 or 10 minutes)
- Keep meeting minutes or notes
- End with a summary and plan of action
- Implement follow-up reminders for meetings and tasks
Establishing effective communication strategies and marketing materials are essential to any group. Groups should take advantage of all media types to make people aware of the group’s goals and events.
Effective forms of communication:
- Flyers – use large, bold, and legible fonts to be read from a distance of 10 feet; post in community centers, libraries, markets, schools, churches and other local businesses.
- Newspaper/Bulletins – local publications have announcement sections to advertise meetings and events.
- Newsletters/Websites – come up with creative and easy ways to reach current and potential members.
- Telephone/E-mail Tree – set up a contact database for faster networking and information sharing with members.
- Surveys – use a survey when you are just getting started and when new members attend; tailor the survey to find out what issues are important to neighbors and what events they would be willing to volunteer for; collect contact information for notices.
- Social Media – use social media to expand your following and keep neighbors and their families involved and engaged.
- Neighborhood Walk-Through – assign pairs and blocks to go door-to-door to introduce the association and up-coming events; ask them about their concerns and invite them to attend meetings.
- Block Representatives – volunteer a member or two from each street or block to serve as a liaison to other neighbors (they can develop into Neighborhood Watch Captains).
- Meet your public officials – contact your officials and form a positive ongoing relationship: keep copies of all transactions between the group, officials and staff; show your appreciation as well as dissatisfaction in a respectful manner.
- Become acquainted with structure, purpose and procedure of city government – understand how the city operates and discover the guidelines and regulations each department has to follow.
- Know your issues – determine which issues will be addressed by local government and which will need to be addressed by the association itself.
- Be open to suggestions and follow up – talk to informed people, take their suggestions seriously, follow up any discussion with a letter or email and check back with the appropriate staff or official.
Annual and special social events can aid in building neighborhood support. Select neighborhood projects that will demonstrate action and results that are visible in the neighborhood. Promote a range of short- and long-term activities that are balanced out around a calendar year.
- Neighborhood clean-up
- Community tree planting
- Back-to-school party and school supply drive
- Neighborhood Crime Watch Program
- National Night Out Celebration
- Neighborhood cook-out, picnic or potluck
- Holiday celebrations
- Yard cleaning or porch painting for elderly or disabled neighbor
- Guest speakers on special topics of interest to the neighborhood
- Address a particular concern
Many neighborhoods become organized when a particular concern emerges in which they can rally around. As an association, members can work together to resolve issues and use resources already available within their neighborhood.
Ethiopian Proverb: “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
- Empower residents
When neighborhoods organize, they acquire power by joining together to accomplish goals.
- Build community
Organizing to build community means improving your neighborhood’s ability to act and coordinate the diverse skills of its residents.
- Benefits to Organizing
Residents get to know each other better while working to improve their community.
- Building a sense of community among neighbors.
- Providing the neighborhood with a common voice and an effective means of communicating with local government officials and other instrumental groups.
- Empowering neighborhoods to have input in the decision making that affects their neighborhoods.
- Organizing and helping members work for preservation and improvements in their neighborhood.
- Planning and hosting social activities for the neighborhood.
- Role of the Citizen
Citizens have a very important role in the health and spirit of a community. Active involvement is crucial to improving the quality of life in your neighborhoods and the overall city. Each neighborhood is unique and different therefore roles are not always the same in every community.
- Role of Local Government
The preservation and maintenance of an area’s quality of life is a shared responsibility. Local government is responsible for ensuring that the common good is protected and public services are carried out in an efficient and effective manner. The focus of the Community Development Department is to support creative community-based strategies to strengthen neighborhoods and coordinate programs that accurately reflect and address local needs and conditions.
- How do people find out whether there is a neighborhood association in their area?
Do not hesitate to give us a call at 336-734-1201 to confirm the neighborhood association which covers your area. If there isn’t an active association near your location, we will assist you in organizing your own neighborhood association.
- How do I start a neighborhood association?
You must first believe that your community can benefit from having an association. This can be determined by identifying an activity, issue or project that neighborhood residents would like to address or work on. Second, you need 2-4 additional residents who share your interests and are willing to build support for the association amongst others in the neighborhood; this group is also responsible for planning the first meeting. Set a realistic goal for attendance. The more residents recruited, the easier delegation of work becomes.
- How do we determine our neighborhood boundaries?
Keep it simple. Draw your neighborhood boundaries reflecting the natural (e.g. lake) or manmade boundaries (e.g. major transportation corridor). Many times, these particular boundaries form a coherent neighborhood area. A rule of thumb is to keep it simple and start with a relatively small (but not too small) area to build the sense of community amongst neighbors. Avoid overlapping boundaries with another recognized neighborhood association.
- What if the boundaries of my neighborhood association overlap the boundaries of another?
We discourage overlap because it causes confusion for the public inquiring about the association for their area. We encourage communication between associations to come up with mutually agreed upon boundaries.
- Does the City of Winston-Salem have requirements on the formal structure or operations of neighborhood associations?
- What are some key organizational questions?
- What is the difference between a neighborhood association and homeowner association?
Neighborhood associations are generally a group of residents and other stakeholders that volunteer to improve and enhance the well-defined, geographic are where they live or work. The neighborhood association meeting is time to exchange ideas, decide on projects and priorities, proposed solutions, and make plans affecting the neighborhood. Homeowners associations are groups of homeowners who live in an area built by the same developer, usually referred to as a subdivision; formed for the purpose of improving or maintaining the quality of the area. Homeowners associations usually have a formally elected body and are governed by deed restrictions – a set of rules that the buyer agreed to when they purchased the home. These rules or covenants often govern construction regulations, membership/dues requirements, as well as a wide variety of other issues.
- What are the benefits of an organization having a tax-exempt status?
Many organizations see the financial benefits of tax-exempt status. In addition to qualifying for public and private grant money, most nonprofit groups seek the status to obtain exemptions from federal and state income taxes, and therefore can devote a larger proportion of their resources to achieving their particular goals. The status can also be beneficial to those groups who’d like special rates for services such as postage. Also, donors prefer to give contributions to these groups because they can deduct their gifts on their own taxes. On the other hand, the IRS restricts lobbying activity, political activity is prohibited, and the organization’s activities must be limited to the charitable purpose. Each individual group must weigh the pros and cons of the status carefully in light of their organizational goals and values.
- How does my organization become tax exempt?
Once you file your articles of incorporation, your organization becomes a nonprofit. To receive tax-exemption status, your organization must meet three key components under 501(c) (3) of the IRS regulations: be organized as a corporation, trust, or unincorporated association (articles serves this purpose); be operated with stipulations (such as agreeing to refrain from participation in political campaigns); and have an exempt purpose: charitable, educational, religious, or scientific. Contact the IRS for more details and instructions. The City of Winston-Salem does not assist organizations is preparing/filing the proper paperwork.
This is an example of an exceptionally well-organized and active neighborhood association. This example is provided to give you an idea of what a neighborhood association can do, not what it must do. Adapt this information to serve your needs.
The Robinhood Trails Neighborhood Association (78 homes) sponsors several events each year to promote fellowship, enable neighbors to get to know each other better and to just have fun. Food for these events is contributed by the neighbors, pot-luck style. All outdoor events include children. A Neighborhood Watch update is given at each of these functions.
Their events include:
- February Wine and Cheese Party (grown-ups only)
- End of May Picnic
- National Night Out (the 1st Tuesday in August)
- Fall Wiener Roast (Usually in October)
- Christmas Party (early December)
- At other times of the year as needed.
Dues: The association requests a nominal annual dues of $10 per household. The dues are optional, but they encourage neighbors to participate. They cover the cost of paper products and drinks for social events; pay for printing the neighborhood directory, notices and newsletters; and cover expenses for committees, such as flower bed expenses that are not covered by the city.
Directory: The association compiles and distributes a Neighborhood Directory that includes name, address, children’s names, phone numbers (home, cell, office) and e-mail addresses.
Beautification: This committee plans two yearly flower gardens with flowers provided by the city and secures neighborhood help for planting. Neighbors sign up to take a week weeding and grooming the beds during the growing season.
Block Captains: Block Captains serve a number of functions in the neighborhood. They are the first line of security in the Neighborhood Watch system. Block captains also distribute notices and newsletters.
Neighborhood Watch: Neighborhood Watch is a Community/Police partnership against crime. Neighbors phone the Neighborhood Watch president about unusual activity, strangers in the area, vandalism and related concerns. The president phones the Block Captains about the incident, and the network of Block Captains informs neighbors of security concerns and criminal activity.
Newsletter Editor: The association publishes newsletters and notices 6 times a year. The focus is on neighborhood events and concerns. It is a good way to keep in touch, and to get to know neighbors. Neighbors are encouraged to contact the editor to submit items for publication.
Social Chair: The social chair coordinates social events with the hosts of each event. The social chair is responsible for purchasing paper products and beverages for neighborhood parties.
Sunshine Chair: The Sunshine chair sends appropriate sentiments to neighbors on such occasions as extended illness, bereavement, and births.
Zoning Committee: This committee researches rezoning petitions in the area, mounts statements in support or in opposition for public hearings before the Planning Board and City Council and tracks ownership of vacant land.
- Set up an association email account – Gmail IT’S FREE!
- Establish a calendar of events – Google Calendar IT’S FREE!
- Create a website – yola.com or wix.com IT’S FREE!
- Send out newsletters (monthly, quarterly, etc.) – MailChimp or SendGrid IT’S FREE!
- Create a neighborhood social network – NextDoor IT’S FREE!
- Create a neighborhood Facebook page – Facebook IT’S FREE!
- Find “neutral ground” for your neighborhood meetings, such as a neighborhood library or school.
- Patronize area businesses.
- Develop a relationship with schools in your neighborhood by assisting with school field days, planting days, etc.
- Establish a street captain for every street in your neighborhood.
- Host annual events (fund raisers, picnics, trash clean up, yard sales, etc.).
- For neighborhoods surrounding a college or university, establish a relationship with the school too help with off campus related issues (student rentals, parking, noise, parties, trash, crime, etc.).
- Establish a “welcome wagon” to welcome new residents to the neighborhood. Get them involved early on. Be sure to provide them with information about the neighborhood, contact information, important city information and a sanitation schedule.
- Form an elder care team to assist the elderly in your neighborhood (check in on them, assist with tasks, transportation, roll out carts, take mail and newspaper to the door, etc.).
- Consider becoming an historic neighborhood if your neighborhood is eligible and the membership endorses the effort.
- For older neighborhoods without covenants, establish “neighborhood standards” that you expect residents to follow.
- The president is the leader and manager of the association.
- The president is the spokesperson for the association and is looked at to oversee the association’s goals and priorities.
- The president must be familiar with the governing documents of the association and is considered an authority on issues and procedures that are pertinent to the association.
- The president is expected to see that the bylaws and covenants of the association are enforced.
- The president is expected to run association meetings, be courteous and keep meetings on track.
- The vice president is likely to fill in when the president is absent. It is important that the vice president is familiar with the association’s objectives, bylaws and other governing documents.
- The vice president assists the president in performing the tasks necessary to run the association.
- The vice president is often a liaison between the various committees and the association board.
- If an association has multiple vice president positions, it is important that the bylaws specify who is in charge in the absence of the president.
- The treasurer is the chief financial officer of the association and must understand their fiduciary duty to the association.
- The treasurer collects dues, writes checks and manages the association accounts.
- The treasurer is responsible for making financial reports at association meetings, reconciling the accounts and preparing the financial statements and association books for fiscal year auditing.
- The secretary is the association record keeper.
- The secretary is responsible for general correspondence, sending out meeting notices and preparing agendas for the president.
- The secretary should have at every meeting a minute book, the association bylaws, rules, member list, agenda, ballots and any other supplies that may be needed to run the meeting.
- The secretary is responsible for recording and distributing meeting minutes.
- The secretary is responsible for notifying officers and committee members of their election or appointment.
- The secretary furnishes the committees with the necessary information to perform their duties.
- The parliamentarian is an expert in interpreting and applying the “Robert’s Rules of Order” for meetings.
- The parliamentarian's main function is to give advice on parliamentary procedure to the president, officers, committees, and members of a group – to maintain order.