SE Uplift Reevaluates How It Provides Communication Support to Neighborhood Associations
Over the years our neighborhood associations have done some amazing work to communicate with neighbors, between neighborhoods and with partners and policy makers, leveraging their voices to make change neighborhood and city-wide. Each year SE Uplift emphasizes its belief in the need for communications by distributing a total of $20,000 to community groups and our neighborhood associations to be used towards communication and outreach efforts. Communications Funds are intended to generate awareness of and participation in neighborhood events and activities, provide residents with information about local issues, and build relationships between neighbors.
Strong communication efforts make NAs more accessible and transparent, and also lead to increased recruitment and participation in the neighborhood system. Another way of saying this is that it’s hard for community members to get involved with a neighborhood association they don’t even know exists. Even so, many of our neighborhood associations still struggle with communications due to issues with volunteer turnover, prioritizing other projects and issues, and sometimes, not knowing where to focus their efforts. Considering these challenges prompted us to ask ourselves: What if we make a priority of identifying and addressing the barriers that prevent our neighborhoods from effectively communicating? How might we refocus our support services to make a greater impact?
Setting a Baseline based on Listening
When we considered how SE Uplift could best support neighborhoods in increasing participation and visibility, we kept coming back to the idea of communications being an iterative process, one of building layers on top of solid foundations. This realization helped us to pinpoint the crucial need for a solid foundation, or starting place from which to build.
To build that foundation we decided to define a minimum standard, or baseline, that we thought neighborhoods could aspire to meet via their communications efforts. We didn’t want to develop this standard in a vacuum, so we asked our neighborhood associations to tell us about what types of outreach and communications strategies they found to be successful. We also asked respondents to rate their Neighborhood Associations’ successes with the following communications methods: website, Facebook page, print and e-newsletters, yard signs, posters and outreach events.
We heard back from 47 respondents in 17 of our 20 neighborhood associations. Click through for a summary of survey results.
What We Heard
According to respondents, National Night Out and meetings with high-profile and possibly contentious topics were tied as bringing biggest crowds. These were followed by events that are unique to each neighborhood, such as certain holiday parties, plantings, and strategy sessions. Nearly half of respondents acknowledged using a combination of digital (website, e-news, social media) and non-digital (flyers, yard signs, print newsletters) media, along with sharing information via other networks within the community as the best way to reach their neighbors.
The outreach strategies identified by respondents as most in need of improvement within their neighborhoods were: Websites (45%), E-newsletters(43%), and Outreach Events(41%).
From this data, we came to a few specific conclusions:
- Public events draw the most people (versus, say, monthly meetings or work parties). Not only that, but the events with the most mentions in our survey, such as National Night Out, Movies in the Park and Community Collection Events (Cleanups), are heavily supported by governmental agencies. Thus, we encourage our neighborhoods to consider prioritizing outreach events that have city-wide recognition, funding, staffing and advertising. Neighborhoods: let governmental agencies do some of the heavy lifting and focus your efforts on maximizing your association’s visibility and participation during these events.
- Another big draw for neighborhood associations seems to be meetings about contentious issues. While this seems like a potential drawback, we actually think these meetings are a place where neighborhood associations can shine – if handled strategically. Facilitated properly, contentious meetings can show off the neighborhood association as a convening body, a resource for more information, and a connector for people with like opinions. Our recommendation: work with your SE Uplift liaisons to brainstorm a process, facilitation strategies and meeting logistics that will lead to neighbors feeling heard, informed and welcomed. Provide them with opportunities for learning more about the association beyond this single issue, and possible future volunteerism!
- Nearly half of respondents acknowledged using a combination of digital and non-digital media, along with sharing information via other networks within the community as the best way to reach their neighbors. This recommendation is easy: be strategic in using multiple methods of communication. Take care to think about your message, and its timing, so that neighbors know when and how to participate.
Staff used neighborhood feedback as well as their own training/experience as non-profit employees to set the following baseline target for SE Uplift neighborhoods.
- Maintain an updated website with basic information. At a minimum, we will work with our neighborhoods to ensure that the following information is current and easily located:
- Invitation to participate
- Description on how to participate (how to suggest an agenda topic/get on an agenda, committee info, volunteer opportunities)
- Contact information
- Meeting information (date, time, location)
- Pertinent descriptions of upcoming meeting topics
- Links to any other forms of digital communications the Board uses on a regular basis
- Utilize at least one form of non-digital communications on a regular basis. The opportunities are myriad: posters/flyers, newsletters, yard signs, mailings, etc.
- Plan at least one event per year with robust outreach prior to and during the event.
- Prior: Advertise the event digitally and through at least one non-digital method (printed newsletter, flyers, posters, yard signs)
- During: Advertise the neighborhood association (signage, swag, hand-outs) and provide a way to sign up for future contact via e-newsletters, emails, specific volunteer opportunities.
We are planning individual conversations with each of our neighborhood associations to:
- Develop a shared understanding on where their communications efforts meet (and often exceed) baselines.
- Determine what types of support will help them overcome barriers to meeting baselines.
- Strategize steps for moving beyond the baseline
- Explore how SE Uplift communications funds could be used more strategically to meet the needs of the neighborhood association.
We aim to have 90% of our associations meet and/or exceed our baselines by this summer, prioritizing staff support to neighborhoods most in need of support for reaching the baseline. As we move forward and reach these goals, we plan on realigning our communications support services to build off the foundation we create this year.