So, you want to start a Neighbourhood Association?

A Summary from your Happy City Team

Happy City is pleased to present a synopsis of the presentation made by Elizabeth-Anne Malischewski at the Neighbourhood Summit from September 2018. The full web version is presented below.

Neighbourhood associations (NAs) are the building blocks of community. They bring neighbours together, foster trust, and allow residents to tackle civic issues important to them. They allow for easier communication with elected officials, and the power of numbers gives the requests of NAs more weight in municipal decision making. Sounds great, but how do you even begin?

To start strong, pick an issue important to most in the neighbourhood, and work to find a solution. Organizing around a single issue helps keep the focus on the group, and prevents you from spinning your wheels, attempting to tackle everything at once. Determining the boundaries of your neighbourhood and who your NA members are is next. Knowing who you speak for, and who you can rely on to accomplish tasks is crucial for any budding organization.

Finally, get the word out! Advertising your intent to start a NA with flyers, posters, social media, etc. will attract a critical mass of people to your first meeting, so you can dig into the issues with as many voices as possible.

Once you’re ready to host your first meeting, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Book a suitable venue (in our neighbourhood, preferably) that’s accessible to all members. Make sure you know what you want to say and keep it succinct; an agenda published beforehand goes a long way to keeping everyone on task. Name a chairperson to oversee the meeting proceedings and keep to the agenda. Of course, you’ll need a name, and you’ll need to come up with your main aims and objectives. Make sure you record any decisions or actions agreed on at the meeting, and the names of all in attendance.

In terms of governance, you’ll need a board of directors who will be responsible for the individual action areas of the NA. These can be wide ranging in scope, but you will definitely need a Chair, Treasurer for finances, such as banking, and a Secretary responsible for information recording and publishing. Decide on your regular meeting schedule and stick to it.

Also, in terms of governance, there are a few concepts to bear in mind. A constitution, the rules of which govern the election and activities of the board, is essential to ensuring the organization operates as intended, and doesn’t get sidetracked. It also serves as an ethical check to ensure the actions of the board are in line with the will of the members. The requirements of an organization shift constantly, so be ready to update or remove by-laws as needed. A bank account is, of course, a necessity, as it’s likely all this planning, advertising, and event organizing will not be free.

Once your NA is up and running, you may want to expand your activities. An online presence is the best way to reach as many followers and interested parties as possible. Maintaining a consistent level of activity on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can take a lot of effort, so having a dedicated member to handle this is wise. Further to communications, you’ll want to name a public spokesperson, that is, someone who understands the goals of the organization and can articulate them well to the public in many forums.

Keeping all the plates spinning can be a challenge, and so we leave you with these pieces of advice. First, host regular events, and remind members and residents that you’re There to help, and to advocate on their behalf. One-time or special events can be a great way to keep your NA top of mind in the community. Activities that you plan to improve your neighbourhood (clean-ups, BBQs, round table discussions, etc.) are the main activities your NA can organize to show residents that you want to help and have the capacity to do so. We hope to see many more NAs pop up, and, as always, Happy City is here to support your neighbourhood initiatives.

Here’s that deeper dive from Georgestown Neighbourhood Association member Elizabeth-Anne Malischewski with collaboration of Georgestown Neighbourhood Association’s first chair, Sean Murray.

I. Organizing a Neighbourhood Association
II. Holding the First Meeting(s)
III. Governance
IV. Final Advice

I. Organizing a Neighbourhood Association

Why do you want to organize a neighbourhood association? What kinds of
immediate, medium- and long-term goals might an association strive for?
Are there others who share your goals? Do you expect broad support across your neighbourhood for this initiative? Decide whether a neighbourhood association is the best way to achieve the goals you have in mind, or whether an interest group about a particular issue is more suitable.

  1. Organize around an issue

    Sometimes the desire to start a neighbourhood association comes up when someone wants to socialize more with their neighbours, but more often this occurs when there are problems that are beyond the capacity of one household or one block to resolve. It’s ideal if a current, pressing issue is facing the neighbourhood, whether it be an environmental issue, a planning or development issue, a social justice issue, etc. This can help attract interest but bear in mind that if area residents are divided on the issue or on potential solutions, a neighbourhood association may not be the best vehicle. An association may, however, provide a forum for people to express their views and to lobby for more public input on the decision-making process for issues affecting the neighbourhood.

    If area residents are mostly united in their views, the association may be a good vehicle to lobby on behalf of residents. Even if no single current issue is pressing at the moment, you may still wish to proceed by focusing on a set of goals or objectives that could benefit and improve the quality of life of area residents.

  2. Determine boundaries of your Neighbourhood Association

    The Georgestown Neighbourhood Association is bounded by boundaries run from Military Road to Empire Avenue, and Bonaventure Avenue to Monkstown Road, including both sides of the streets. These boundaries are slightly larger than what Georgestown would have originally been, but they make sense in terms of coherence of the neighbourhood and also in not letting any streets be orphaned. Some streets may not fit within the definition of your neighbourhood for reasons including size of homes, class, and simply because they aren’t accessible through or connected to your neighbourhood. Some neighbourhoods have clearer, more obvious boundary lines than others. In this case, consider starting with a small area (even a street or a few streets) and then seek consensus at one of your first meetings about how the boundaries should be determined.

  3. Determine who is a member

    Anyone who is on the e-mail list? Those who pay fees? Those who participate? Anyone who lives within the boundaries? This is what Georgestown does. Again, this decision may be taken by the organizing group or it may be delayed being taken by the larger group at one of your first meetings. Bear in mind that it may be difficult to say credibly that you are a neighbourhood association representing area residents if you do not welcome membership and participation from all residents, whether they rent or own property. Before organizing the first public meeting, make personal contact with other area residents who you may know and consult them on your aims and see if they might be interested in helping out, taking part, or at least attending the meeting.

    Ideally, you will be able to establish a small, informal group of people who support the idea of establishing an association and who will help get it off the ground. Are those who are helping you organize the association long-term residents? If so, be sure to make a special effort to contact newer residents and residents from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. If you and your friends are newer residents, be sure to reach out to long-term residents for their input and ideas. A neighbourhood association should never be there just to advocate for the interests of a small or privileged part of the neighbourhood.

  4. Get the word out that you are organizing a neighbourhood association

    It is important to publicize widely that you are organizing a Neighbourhood Association or at least holding a meeting to discuss the feasibility of forming one. Put up posters; deliver invitations to all the addresses within your boundaries to invite residents to come to the meeting to form the association. The simple process of walking door to door delivering invitations helps make the fledgling association visible and offers opportunities for face-to-face interaction with residents to talk about the association. Use social media as appropriate. Hold an activity, such as a barbeque to gather people together to talk about issues and about forming an association.

II. Holding the first the meeting(s)

  1. Book a suitable venue: community centre, parish hall, etc.

    The GNA’s first public meeting was in a school library. Board meetings and other public meetings and neighbourhood events have been hosted at the Lantern, St. Bonaventure’s College, the Georgestown Pub, the Georgestown Café and Bookshelf, the Association for New Canadians, in board members’ homes, and other neighbourhood venues. Ideally, the venue for your first public meeting should be in the neighbourhood, accessible to all, and (hopefully) free to use or cheap to rent.

  2. Write an agenda (list of topics to be discussed

    Having a list of topics to discuss will help participants to stay on track and not branch out all over the place, which is very common in public meetings.

  3. Ensure you have a chairperson

    Someone needs to chair the meeting to ensure that everyone who wishes to join in the discussion is given an opportunity to contribute and ensure that one or two voices don’t dominate the meeting.

    The chair will also facilitate discussion, help keep people on topic, and ensure that any items that require a decision are clearly described and the various options presented. The chair will also ensure that the meeting ends at a reasonable hour so that people remain engaged. Ideally, decisions should be made on the basis of consensus. This may be challenging sometimes, and more so if there is a larger group at the founding meeting or at public meetings. A show of hands might be necessary to gauge support for different options. If the room is divided on an issue, it may be best to table the issue for a future meeting until the new board can study it and bring back more information or other recommendations.

  4. Name your association

    Don’t assume that a name you like is one that others will like.

  5. Agree on your aims and objectives

    Are you going to work on advocating for or restricting certain types of development in your neighbourhood? Are you going to organize activities to help bring neighbourhood residents together? Are you going to work on housing needs? What might seem evident to the organizers is never so evident when you get in a larger group. A neighbourhood association can do a great deal; however, your discussion should try to identify those aims and objectives where there is consensus or at least broad support. This is an important discussion which will likely determine whether your association will succeed or fail. On a practical level, it will also inform the writing of your constitution.

  6. Record any decisions or proposed actions agreed at the meeting

    This means you need someone to take minutes (essentially, notes describing the main topics discussed at each meeting and the outcome of the discussion, recording any decisions made). This will become the official record and reference point for future meetings. The minutes should be made available to members if possible, whether through email or, depending on how organized you are, by posting them on a website. Avoid recording or posting personal information about residents without their consent.

  7. Record names and contact information of those in attendance

    This way, you can keep everyone up to date with progress and further meetings.

  8. Elect a board

    This will probably be done at the first meeting or at an AGM. The GNA constitution allows for the election of up to fourteen board members. In practice, the number tends to be lower. These board members elect their own executive at their first board meeting. The GNA has a chair, a vice-chair (Advocacy), a vice-chair (Community Building), a secretary, and a treasurer. We also have a de facto vice-chair (Communications), though this is not official as it is not in our constitution.

    You may wish to simply begin with a standard executive format of Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, and whatever number of board members is deemed appropriate when establishing the association. You can assess the need to establish other roles later, but prior to drafting a constitution.

  9. Form committees (optional)

    The board of the association may do all the work itself, or it may be decided that having separate committees to work on certain aspects of the association’s mandate might be helpful. Choosing what committees you need will largely depend on what your objectives are. The board may establish an ad hoc committee for a one-time purpose, or it may establish permanent committees that report to the board through a board member who chairs that committee. The GNA now has an advocacy committee, a community-building committee, and communications committee.

    Committees are an additional demand on volunteer time and resources; however, they can be useful in making progress on issues or activities. If the board is small and members are limited in their available time, you may wish to postpone the creation of committees until the board has sufficient capacity. Even if you don’t have committees, you may need additional volunteers for certain events. Make sure you provide an opportunity at any public meetings or through social media for people to sign up and indicate their interest in volunteering.

  10. Decide when you want to hold your regular meetings

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but in the beginning, we just called each other now and then when we thought it was time for a meeting. It was hard to get people together. Now the GNA holds its meetings on the first Tuesday evening of the month; other meetings are held as issues arise. This means we know all the dates well ahead of time.

  11. Determine what your online presence will be

    Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, a website, a newsletter, etc. It is now the law that you need someone’s permission to send them a newsletter, so it is good to use something like MailChimp which permits you to add subscribers and permits subscribers to unsubscribe. Also, consider writing a brochure about your association to distribute at events or online. You will need an e-mail address so that people will be able to contact you for more information or to volunteer. Ensure that all the City councillors, the mayor, and other politicians and people of interest are on your e-mail list. Invite them to like you on Facebook and ask them if they would like to receive your newsletter.

  12. Other outreach

    Don’t forget that the best way to make sure you are reaching all residents is to make a point to deliver something by hand to each resident of the neighbourhood. Board members can help deliver these, but other volunteers can also help. Helping with delivery is a great way to engage volunteers who would like to help but who don’t want to be part of the board or a committee.

    If the association holds one or two social events per year such as a block party or barbeque, it is a great excuse to deliver an invitation to each household. In this way, new residents can be welcomed to the neighbourhood, and residents who may have been skeptical of the association at the beginning are welcomed again and have a chance to get back in the loop and join in. Delivering something by hand once or twice a year also helps make the association visible and accessible.

  13. Decide on a public spokesperson

    This may be your Chairperson, or it may be another board member. If the association has taken a public stance on issues facing the neighbourhood, or if it is organizing events and needs promotion, it is important for the spokesperson to have the correct information and to represent the views of the association, rather than their own personal agenda. If association members wish to express their own views to the media, they should be cautioned not to give the impression that they are speaking on behalf of the association in order to avoid confusion.

III. Governance

  1. Write your constitution and by-laws, and then be prepared to modify them as your association develops

    The GNA’s constitution was drafted by the association’s first chair. It was presented at a public meeting, and after a facilitated discussion and debate, it was approved unanimously by neighbourhood residents. A constitution is a written understanding of what your group is going to do and how it is going to do it. It formally sets out the aims, objectives and rules of the group. A constitution is important to a group for at least three reasons:

    – It is a written understanding which keeps the association on the right track and avoids members coming at cross purposes.

    – It will serve as a reference and help to resolve problems in times of controversy.

    – It will list the number of officers on the board as well as the executive positions and some of the duties of these positions.

  2. Open a bank account

    You will have donations, and you will have expenses (such as renting space for meetings or events), so you will need a bank account. To do this, you will need an address. Check out different banks because some can be quite expensive. Some may have special accounts for your type of association.

  3. Register with the Commercial Registrations Division of the Department of Government Services

    This will help in a variety of areas, particularly regarding the increasingly litigious nature of our society. The GNA is a Corporation without share capital with a corporate name and number. The necessary forms are available on the Service NL website: Forms include:

    – Articles of Incorporation Without Share Capitol (Form 1a)
    Used in the process of incorporating a corporation without share capital in the Province.

    – Annual Return – No Share Capital
    Used by local corporations without share capital. To maintain its corporate status, a corporation must file an Annual Return with the Registry of Companies each year.

    – Notice of Directors (Form 6) 
    Used in the process of incorporating/amalgamating or when adding or changing a director at a later date.

    – Notice of Registered Office (Form 3) 
    Used in the process of incorporating/amalgamating or when a corporation changes the Registered Office at a later date.

IV. Final advice

Strive to be proactive, not only reactive. Often a neighbourhood association starts as a reaction to a situation, but a neighbourhood association is more than a string of reactions.

Building an organization is a process. It cannot be done overnight. Be patient. Identify your priorities and build them step by step. Everything takes time; for example, it took the GNA over ten years to get the City to improve Century Park on Hayward Avenue. We have been asking for traffic and pedestrian flow studies almost from day one.

Set realistic goals. Start small and build upward. As your organizational capacity grows, start setting your goals higher.

How you treat people is crucial to your success. By treating people with respect and honesty, people will be more likely to get involved in the organization.

Do your very best NOT to make this a one-, two- or three-person show. There is a tendency for a few people to take on the bulk of the work, but that leads to burnout and even resentment. Not everyone has THE same amount of interest, time, or commitment. Every little bit helps; we are a community.

REMEMBER: You represent everyone in your neighbourhood: renters, owners, those who agree with your position, as well as those who don’t.

People join neighbourhood groups for a variety of reasons. One of them is to get to know their neighbours better and to feel a sense of community. So, as you build your association, be sure to have some fun.

Regular events that people in your community can look forward to are key. The GNA’s Community Building efforts include the annual general meeting, Heritage Day, fall and spring clean ups, an annual skating party, and a flea market and barbeque. One-time events include Conversations on Community (different venues from the Lantern to the Georgestown Pub), Easter Egg hunts, and the Memories of Georgestown walking tour.

Activities to improve the neighbourhood can include community flower gardening like the one at the foot of Maxse at Monkstown, and spring and fall clean ups.

Regular events help to keep your association in people’s minds. Then, if you need their help or support, they are more likely to see you as legitimate and help out.

Elizabeth-Anne Malischewski in collaboration with Sean Murray