How to Start a Civic Association

How to start a Civic or Community Association in your neighborhood

Building community can be a wonderful undertaking.  Not everyone has the time to take on all of the issues that can develop in a growing community; however if you get to know your neighbors, you may find that many of them have similar concerns, desires and interests.  When you join together and divide the tasks up, you usually find that each person has something to offer toward bettering the community.

We all want to maintain and increase property values.  A community association says to potential home-buyers, “we are here and we care about our environment and our community.”  Having a civic association allows you to create a forum for communication with your neighbors and with your local government.   As an association, your collective concerns often carry more weight with elected officials than those of individual citizens.

Unlike a Homeowner’s association, a civic/community association does not have any legal authority over the neighborhood.  However, when neighbors gather for a common purpose, they are more likely to unite to solve problems (like shoveling snow during the snowstorms), and take pride in their own property.

There are no hard and fast rules to starting an association.  Mainly you need to get neighbors involved and just “form it.”  Many times, it helps to work with an existing Neighborhood Watch or other organization within the neighborhood (church or school). 

Utilizing Neighborhood Watch is a good way to tap into existing resources. This organization is run by volunteers who all care about the neighborhood.  You may call your local district police station and get a phone number for the coordinator in your area.  Once you do this, you can ask the Neighborhood Watch Coordinator to forward information to the other Neighborhood Watch volunteers.

Initial Meeting:  Plan an “initial meeting” to start the ball rolling.  Have some bullet points ready regarding subject matter that needs to be addressed.  Ask the Neighborhood Watch Coordinator to send out information regarding your meeting.  You may want to make a flyer and deliver it to your community to get the word out.  Don’t be afraid to ask neighbors for help.

Once you have the meeting, you may call for volunteers to fill various positions and go from there.  Decide on annual dues (usually $10 – 15$ / household) and collect them either at this meeting or future meetings.  (You may use initial dues towards the cost of copying a community newsletter/announcing your formation and future meetings or for creation of a website).

Email List or Yahoo Group:  Many neighborhoods today have a yahoo group or email list.  When you have people come to your initial meeting or widely publicized meeting, it is essential that you get them on an email list.  This connects everyone to a common message center.  You may start with just a list at first and then move onto a blog or yahoo group as your association grows.

You do not have to file any paperwork with Fairfax county.  However, it is helpful to let your area District Supervisor’s office know of your formation.  And of course, let the Mason District Council know.  You will also need to set up a bank account and create bylaws.  There are many sample bylaws online.

Bank Accounts and Tax ID Numbers:  Usually banks require a set of bylaws and you may have to file Non-Stock corporation paperwork with the state of Virginia to receive a Tax ID number.  Every bank is different, so be sure to check with your area bank for more information. 

Positions:  Browse the web for area associations to see what positions are most common.  Usually you would have a President (Past President), Vice President, (Some have 2nd Vice President), Secretary, and Treasurer. 

Street Captains:  In addition to this, many large neighborhood associations have Street Captains.  If there are really long streets, you may have two Street Captains split the street.  These volunteers deliver newsletters and various notices in addition to keeping an eye on their street.  You set the duties for these positions. 

Committees or Teams:  Committees or teams can be set up as you begin to address common concerns or issues in your neighborhood.  Many community associations have “beautification committees” to spruce up common garden areas.  You may decide on what is needed for your community and select a leader to head a committee or team.

Events:  Having events is a fantastic way to build community and get to know your neighbors.  We recommend starting simple (only one or two events a year) and perhaps joining with your community pool for an event.  A successful recurring event (annual or biannual) can build momentum as word spreads.

Keep things simple and do not try to tackle too much at once.  Always delegate as many tasks as you can.  Remember – Self interest is what motivates everyone.  Let the volunteers have as much control over their tasks as you can.  The easiest way to lose someone is to micromanage them.  Volunteers are working for free so just keep this in mind at all times. Good Luck!

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