A Guide to Establishing a Neighborhood Association


A Guide to Establishing a Neighborhood Association

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What is a Neighborhood Association?

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.

The Importance of Neighborhood Associations

Why Start a Neighborhood Association?

 Neighborhoods usually organize to:

  • 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.

Benefits of a Neighborhood Association

  • 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

Start-Up Organizing Tips 

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.

The following are suggested steps to organize a neighborhood association

  • 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

Neighborhood Meetings

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

Communication and Publicity

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).

Working with City government 

  • 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.

Neighborhood Projects and Special Events

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.

Project ideas: 

  • 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


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? 

No. We do encourage neighborhood associations to develop an organizational structure that works for them. Some options for neighborhood associations to consider include:

  • Mission statement – An organization’s vision is its driving force. The mission statement explains why a group exists and what it hopes to accomplish. A group can revise and clarify its mission statement whenever it is deemed appropriate.
  • Bylaws: Bylaws are simply the rules governing an organization’s internal operations, including: purpose of organization, membership information, terms of officers, committees, voting procedures and dues. Examples are available from our office.
  • Meeting Management: Making the most effective use of your time, and your neighbors, by running effective meetings, communicating outcomes, and engaging/recruiting new participants is key to a successful organization.

What are some key organizational questions?

  • Is the neighborhood association attracting, maintaining, and recruiting new members?
  • Is the neighborhood association representative of the area? Are you involving individuals across barriers of race, religion, age and socio-economic status?
  • Are the neighborhood association meetings publicized? Status reports? Successes?

Are you identifying and forming partnerships with organizations that support the residents of your community, such as:

  • schools
  • centers of worship
  • merchants, business associations
  • landlords
  • realty companies
  • libraries
  • community centers

Are you celebrating your victories? Spread the word and tell other associations how you did it and how it can help them.

 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.