To 501(c)(3) or not to 501(c)(3)? That is the question…
What do you want to accomplish? Safety, curb-appeal projects, socials and fundraisers… there are a lot of good reasons to come together as a neighborhood, and sometimes it does not require being “official.” There are a lot of examples of neighborhoods organizing and creating a sense of community without the restrictions and responsibilities of becoming a 501(c)(3). Unless you are entering a legal contract or submitting a grant application, chances are good you do not need to be incorporated or a 501(c)(3).
Time & Leadership – Just like any volunteer activity, neighborhood associations take time, energy, and leadership or risk fizzling out. If you are serious about filing for nonprofit status you need to make sure you are organized (enough), and actively seeking out and engaging new neighbors to not only prevent burn out, but to meet minimum federal guidelines (book keeping, minute taking, board positions, etc..).
We’ve seen and heard plenty of examples of neighbors rallying and organizing when there was something urgent at hand such as a zoning change or safety concern. But as soon as that emergency is gone, so is the interest. Make sure you’ve got a plan to sustain.
Education – If you are starting from scratch, chances are you’ll need to educate the neighbors you are recruiting on what an association is. Neighborhood Associations are often mistaken for Homeowners Associations. Neighborhood Associations are a group of VOLUNTEERS that advocate for and create change where they live through education, peer pressure, and social activities. HOAs have actual legal authority to enforce local residential rules and codes.
Be Inclusive and Stay Balanced – It takes all sorts to make the world go round. The same is true for neighborhoods. Owners, renters, young, old, nuclear-families, blended-families, happy, crabby, introverts, extroverts, right-wing, left-wing, you-name-it. When it comes to your programming and communication, be sure to keep everyone in mind. Not only will you be more successful engaging your neighbors (and potential leaders), it will prevent the association from becoming biased and exclusive. Some folks just want to get down to business and work on the projects – others want to sip tea and socialize. Some folks still read the paper and would love a newsletter – others might just browse social media to stay connected. And remember, EVERYONE has a talent to share, even the neighborhood grump.