Do you love where you live, but wish that you knew your neighbors a little bit better? Whether you’re just moving into a new home or have been on the block for a decade, neighbors come and go — but building bonds with the people next door has always been an important way to improve your quality of life and create a network that looks after everything from the community kids to burnt-out street lights.
One great way to bring your neighborhood together and keep everyone connected is by writing and publishing a community newsletter. A community newsletter helps to get the word out and get people involved in activities going on in your neighborhood all year long. In fact, strong communication can create safer communities and more rewarding living experiences.
Ready to get your own community newsletter up and running? Here are the five big things you need to do to have your newsletter off to a successful start:
1. Form A Newsletter Committee
If you already live in a community with a homeowners’ association (HOA), make sure to attend the annual meeting or get in touch with one of the committees to get involved. Working with the existing organization will make it much easier to get in touch with residents, and you’ll have built-in support for the newsletter project. Also, be sure to consult your property management company as many provide community newsletters for their clients and are knowledgeable about templates, printing and distributing.
If you need to start from scratch, there are a few ways to elicit volunteers. One is to make a flyer announcing your intention and asking for volunteers to help. Another way is to work with whoever administers your community’s social media sites and see if you can post an announcement there. While you might be tempted to do it all on your own, it’s important to involve as many people as you can — after all, the whole point is to bring neighbors together and provide a forum to share interesting news about your community, which can be a challenge to tackle by yourself. Schedule an informational meeting date, provide some snacks, and get ready to go to work with the friends and neighbors who show an interest in this project.
2. Decide on Topics and Roles
After introductions and perhaps an ice breaker to get everyone relaxed and talking, start a brainstorming session during which everyone can add to the list of story ideas for your newsletter. It’s smart to come up with general categories first: news, neighbor spotlight, upcoming events, a gardening advice column, etc. If people have ideas for specific articles or stories, be sure to write those down, too — you can always put them in the appropriate category later. The cardinal rule of brainstorming is that all ideas are heard, so bring lots of markers and a big easel pad to record everything.
Once you’ve got a big list to work with, decide what role your volunteers will play. One person will need to be the editor-in-chief — that is, the person who is in charge of keeping track of deadlines, collecting articles, and reviewing them for errors. Another volunteer who is good with computers can be the layout editor who cuts and pastes work into a publishing program, adds photos or artwork, and saves the entire piece. Other volunteers can be writers and contributors in charge of a particular category of topics from your brainstorm. If you have many people, feel free to rotate responsibilities — just be clear about the jobs as assigned.
3. Set Deadlines
Once you’ve chosen either a permanent or rotating editor-in-chief, that person should gather everyone’s contact information and set deadlines for the first articles. While waiting for the first batch of stories, the editor can begin thinking about the calendar for future issues and setting up any meeting dates needed. Before the end of your first big meeting, it’s also a good idea to decide how often you want to publish the newsletter, though you may want to wait and see how much work the first one takes before committing to a set schedule.
4. Publish and Distribute
With the wonders of modern technology, you don’t need any special equipment or credentials to publish your newsletter. Most computers already have templates for magazines and newsletters right in their standard word processing applications, and you’ll be able to get really professional-looking results just by dragging and dropping photos and articles into the boxes.
Once your first newsletter is complete, decide how you want to distribute it. Printing out a newsletter on old-fashioned paper and delivering it door-to-door is a bit more time consuming, but it’s the best way to make sure everyone in the neighborhood gets one. Unfortunately, traditional printing can also be an expensive downside, especially if you were hoping to have multiple pages or full-color photos. You can check with a local vendor for specific pricing details and figure out what’s best for your community.
If you have access to an email contact list from your HOA, you can send your newsletter as a PDF attached to an email. This is certainly quicker, but you may accidentally leave out people whose contact information you don’t have access to. You can also look into existing community webpages and resources as a hub for reaching others in your community.
5. Avoid Common Pitfalls
Once you’ve gotten your first neighborhood newsletter out there and the systems are all in place, you can continue to publish new issues on a scheduled basis. As you stretch and grow to keep your newsletter going, take care to avoid some common errors:
- Keep Meeting in Person:All of your volunteers are busy, but try to meet in person at least a few times a year to touch base and make sure everyone is still happy in their roles. Face-to-face meetings are fun, and they allow you to do your best brainstorming work together. You’ll also get to review what worked well and what could be improved from past issues if you continue to meet regularly,
- Share Responsibilities:Don’t try to do too much yourself — you’ll burn out! Make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute equally, and you’ll all be able to enjoy the newsletter as a fun social project instead of it turning into a second job for a dedicated few.
- Reach Out for Story Ideas:Though you and your original volunteers have done the hard work of launching your newsletter, resist the urge to let your committee get too cliquey. Make sure you encourage other people to get involved. Each newsletter should have an email address for neighbors to send in story ideas, news items, or anything else they want to share. A “Letters to the Editor” or “Community Kudos” section can be a great way to encourage the type of sharing that brings all your neighbors closer together!
Whether you publish a single-page newsletter once a season or develop your work into a Pinterest-worthy weekly magazine, a community newsletter can become an important thread in the fabric of your neighborhood. This project can bring together your volunteers for fun meetings and satisfying, creative work, and it will also let your neighbors know exactly what’s going on around them. It doesn’t take any special skills to get started — just a willingness to bring neighbors together and turn them into friends.