A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Neighborhood Events for Fun and for Fundraising - Part 1

By Fred Gillette

 

 

When someone puts together a neighborhood project or event there is usually a clearly defined purpose. When someone throws a party, however, they usually do not encounter very much questioning of their motives or objectives. Most people recognize that some things should just be done for fun without concern for statements of purpose and measurable objectives.

These approaches need not, however, be mutually exclusive. Events that are designed for fun and those designed to advance some more lofty cause can share many of the same organizational strategies. Regardless of purpose why not try to harmonize the activity with the wishes and needs of the neighborhood as a whole? The block party that sounds like great fun to one group may be dreaded by some neighbors. The presentation at a membership meeting of some neighborhood security issues may have been, in hindsight, more effectively presented at a mass general meeting. Furthermore, insuring that an event is planned to maximize its impact and minimize its distress generation almost always means that it will be more fun.

Stating the objective

Typically a neighborhood event seeks to accomplish one or more of the following objectives. It is intended to be pleasurable, both for participants and organizers. It celebrates some achievement. It is a vehicle for expressions of cohesiveness or community. It hopes to further some explicit goal of the organization such as education, fundraising or recruitment. These objectives can be seen to exist at the basis of almost all neighborhood events, whether or not they are stated. They often are not.

The goals of an organization are probably best served if some effort is routinely given to stating the basic objectives of any event. This statement then becomes something the planners can make reference to while making tough decisions. Should we or shouldn't we serve food at this event? If one objective is to recruit new members, provision of food sends a particularly strong message of group caring and attention, most important at early stages of introduction to a group. Will it be appropriate to have tables with chairs or just chairs at an informational meeting on neighborhood safety? If the meeting has dual goals of information and cohesiveness, the tables are important. They can better facilitate small, more intimate sub-group meetings after the main presentation. Even the most whimsical events can better be served by giving some forethought to what the event is intended to do.

 

Types of Neighborhood Events and How to Organize Them


Educational or Informational Events

This is the most common type of neighborhood event. It usually involves the most conscious and careful preparation. It often comes out of a clearly understood need. Although there may be fundraising opportunities associated with such events, the primary motivations are more related to broad, non-material organizational goals.

The typical needs addressed at an educational or informational meeting fall into two basic categories. First, there are those matters of pressing concern such as discussions of a imminent property development or other perceived threats to the well being of the neighborhood. Timeliness of response is of great importance.
These events can utilize extensions of the structure used in regular group meetings, they will just involve more people. For instance a development issue might result in soliciting attendance of all people within some geographic bounds. The event itself will probably be structured to allow a presentation of the issue by the organization regulars and then expand into a more open forum involving the participation of non-members. It is best if the normal organization rules of operation are used. There isn't really time to let this new configuration make up new rules. Strangers to your group will expect to find some existing structure to facilitate the meeting and make it more productive than a mob gathering.

The other major type of educational or information event is that having no pressing time constraints. It usually involves an issue which the regular organization members have been aware of for some time. It may result in a recurring event, just changing slightly over the years. The event and the management thereof may then evolve its own structure and rules of conduct which are somewhat different from those of everyday functioning of the organization. Following are descriptions of the most common types of educational and informational events occurring in neighborhoods.

 

Meet-the-Candidates Night.

Candidates for local elective public offices are invited to meet with the group, define their positions on various issues and respond to questions from attendees. Since no neighborhood meeting seems capable of holding an audience much beyond a couple of hours, a better depth of coverage is possible in something other than a debate format. There should also be an opportunity for informal socializing with the candidate, usually after formal proceedings.

Candidates are usually most favorably disposed toward attending such meetings. It offers them a public forum with minimum organizational work required by themselves or their staffs.

Home and Neighborhood Security Meeting

This is an issue of ever increasing interest in neighborhoods. It is mostly prompted, of course, by growing crime rates and increased feelings of personal insecurity at home and in the streets. A major additional factor is the increasing attention given to citizen empowerment by local police organizations. In fact, the police most readily admit that they can not do the job themselves. A safe community requires resident participation and involvement.

Your local police community relations representatives will give a neighborhood group a great deal of assistance and advice in setting up such an event. They will also most often provide a person or persons to make a presentation to your meeting and engage in dialogue with your participants. Often a traveling exhibit can accompany the presenter. This is an issue of such importance to residents that a minimal amount of publicity should produce a substantial turnout. A school auditorium may be need to accommodate it.

Some thought should also be given to follow-up events or meetings. This may be suggested, in some detail, by your initial police department contact person. It simply involves being sensitive to the mood of those in attendance and making some efforts to assess their feelings of continuing or un-met need in this area. Perhaps there was insufficient time to handle all questions or the presentation itself was incomplete. More likely there will be some participants who feel a need for additional information in some focused areas. They should be given, at the time of the meeting, information on how these un-met needs will be dealt with. Perhaps your response will be a promise to have another meeting with the announcement of the meeting time to appear in some designated place. It may just involve the presenter making their office number accessible for provision of more detailed information by themselves or their staff. Since you will likely be dealing with a large audience, many of whom may be intimidated by the format, you may want to present a simple exit survey of continuing or un-met needs and concerns in this area.

Neighborhood History Presentation.

Although this is offered as an example of an educational event, it deserves some special consideration. It is the kind of event-focus that can fulfill a number of simultaneous purposes. It is a great, non-intimidating introduction to the neighborhood organization for people who would be otherwise hesitant to come to one of your functions. Let's face it, deserved or not, many people stereotype neighborhood organizations as purely political, almost a model of a city government, just on a smaller scale but with a proportionate amount of complex codifications of human behavior, always fighting some adversary, and mainly characterized by long, boring meetings dealing with esoteric topics. If your organization hopes to have a broader approach to neighborhood involvement then some of your most public events had better reflect this. The kind of event which has the greatest potential for getting some otherwise disinterested people to take a closer look should have the following characteristics. It should appeal to some area of interest that is common to as wide a spectrum of neighbors as possible. It should have a focus more specific than a party or purely social event. Attendees expect a non-intimidating format, one in which they will be taken care of and not subjected to some surprise pitch or pressure for involvement or commitment. The presentation of a neighborhood history talk fills the bill neatly.

Another effect of such an event is that it reminds neighbors of those things which they share and it gives them a sense of continuity. The neighborhood comes to be seen as having a personality and longevity and some defining characteristics... as well as some noteworthy characters.

Finally this kind of event can be entertaining and fun for a great diversity of neighbors. The old timers will come year after year. Newer residents will see this as a way of understanding this place while perhaps meeting some of their neighbors It is a kind of event which accomplishes much. It is also one which takes a great deal of special preparation.

Quite possibilily your organization already knows of or has as a member a neighborhood history buff. This would be someone, ideally, who not only has a great collection of memories and memorabilia, but also feels comfortable making a presentation to a large group. If you are starting from a point closer to scratch, you may have to do some extensive solicitation of historical items. A presentation is most ideally augmented by photographic material represented as projected slides or video. You can solicit members as well as non-members for access to their personal photo archives, if they contain material supportive of your presentation. City archives, maintained by some city agency, or more likely by the public library will also make such material available to you. An ordinary camera or scanner can be used to make copies of photos. Using public sources alone you may be able to put together a good show. Doubtless, however, the real spice of your presentation will come from having as much participation by neighbors as possible.

It should also be noted that there is fundraising potential in an event such as this. However, as many attendees will know nothing of your organization's performance potential it is probably best to confine admission fees to a modest suggested "donation".

Meet the Neighborhood Organization

Events which accomplish this goal often have their origin with some other primary goal. Meeting the neighborhood organization is a side benefit. For example, any kind of educational or informational meeting to which the general public is made welcome will likely lure a number of people new to the organization. The way in which the primary event is handled will give much information about the organization.

It is possible, however, to design an event with the primary or even sole purpose of giving people some familiarity with your group. For example, an annual general introductory meeting could be announced. It would be a kind of orientation meeting for new or prospective members. It could involve a formal presentation as well as questions and answers and contain an informal social component as well with time to mingle and, perhaps, view displays of the organization's past and current activities.

An even bolder outreach activity might be the placement of an exhibit or information table in some popular public place. This could be in the public area of a commercial or government organization. It could also be a table set up at a heavily trafficked piece of sidewalk. It is best, if possible, to have a person on hand to answer questions. An un-personed display, however, could also be made viewer-friendly by anticipating questions, providing take-away literature and giving the phone number of a contact person.

Making your objectives and activities accessible to the non-member is often good politics. It allays suspicions as to what devious objectives your organization may have as well as being a friendly introduction point for the less-paranoid.

 

Neighborhood Tour

Most people don't think of their neighborhood as being an appropriate object of tourism. Many have been quite surprised at the intensity of positive response when they tested this preconception.

Just as neighborhood history has a broad and strong appeal, a walking tour of the neighborhood invariably strikes a responsive chord. Many people carry some amount of discomfort at their lack of intimacy with their own neighborhood. They don't know anything about the old mansion down the street. They may wonder why the hardware store is located in such a wildly ornate building. When someone offers to walk them around and tell them about the development of the neighborhood there is significant interest.

Preparation for such an event is much the same as that needed for a neighborhood history presentation. If there are neighborhood history buffs, they likely have some information about the evolution of various pieces of property. An architect living in the neighborhood will likely be able to provide information on design trends and identification of places architecturally noteworthy. Your public library may also be of help. Some towns already have city guide programs which could direct resources toward your neighborhood. They may even develop a program for you and provide a guide.

This is also another fundraising opportunity. It would be quite appropriate to ask for a donation from those attending, or even to sell tickets.

It should be mentioned that although a guided walking tour has been the focus of this event suggestion, some neighborhoods publish printed touring guides. It has even provided significant income for some. Local bookstores will likely be quite willing to offer to sell your tour guide-pamphlet, maybe even giving you a more generous percentage of profits than they give to their other distributors. It could also be marketed through the neighborhood newsletter.

Promotion of Other Local Organizations

A common goal of a neighborhood organization is the overall health and well being of the neighborhood. This concern should extend beyond the organization's own programs and activities. That is, if someone else is carrying out organized activities it is likely beneficial to the neighborhood to give them some support as well.

For a neighborhood to be healthy and vibrant, it is best that there are many interlocking networks of varied interests and activities. It may not be readily apparent to some that the photo club serves greater community goals. Yetr providing one more way for neighbors to pool energies around common interests gives strength to the whole neighborhood. These people, while finding fulfillment within the neighborhood, are affirming the existence and value of very local resources. It does not matter, really, that the group's purposes are rather benign or even bordering on the silly. What matters is that they exist and are valued.

The neighborhood organization can provide support to wide ranging groups in a number of ways. It can provide them publicity for their meetings in its own newsletter. It can give them advice in organizational management matters. It could stage an event to showcase neighborhood organizations, a kind of organizations fair. This could include traditional hobby groups, political organizations, commercial organizations and societies, other overlapping service organizations, and even religious groups. The neighborhood organization may also lend support to events being staged by these other groups.

Whatever is done along these lines, giving strength to these other groups also gives credibility and strength to the main neighborhood organization and contributes to overall community health.

Ceremonial Events


Awards and special recognition

It not only reinforces desired behavior to reward exemplary performance, it almost always feels like the right thing to do. Recognition may take place in the context of a highly formal setting with solemnity and the awarding of medals. It may be easier to arrange a more modest activity that accomplishes the same goals. Perhaps you can give someone's work special mention in a newsletter. Maybe it can be mentioned at a meeting. You can buy off-the-shelf printed awards (just fill in the good deed and doer). It may be more fun and personal to make up your own , even if it is a bit whimsical. Whatever you do, this is a case of doing the right thing and generating ever more good feelings.

 

Ritual

It is said that ritual is an important part of organizational functioning. As with special recognition, there are benefits to be had from behaviors which have difficult-to-identify goals.

There are a wide range of ritual events possible. You may prefer to forego the secret ceremony by candlelight. A ritual could be an annual dinner (you could even Include a few awards). The ritual act is seen as an affirmation of group membership. It may be difficult to find concrete meaning and justification, but there is heavy symbolic meaning. The best way to avoid embarrassment from over-officiousness or cornyness? Play with it. Ceremonies do not need to be solemn; they can be playful. Stage a picnic. Plan an awards banquet to be held at a pizza parlor. As you get more comfortable with it you'll find yourself curiously even looking forward to these things.

Memorial

It is hard for the group to admit it but most things seem to end, including people's associations and sometimes even their lives. The group should give special attention to acknowledging these endings, either through special ceremonies or official mention and recognition.

Purely Fun Events

With pressing matters such as zoning changes, startling property-development emergencies and funds crises, the motivation of mirth gets relegated to such a lowly position that often we just do not get around to acknowledging it. This is unfortunate for two reasons. One, even a completely frivolous event usually has some useful unplanned side effects. People watching others coming out of the pancake feed in the church basement may want to know more about an organization that could pull off such an event. Secondly, fun is fun. You don't really need to provide any justification for trying to make yourself and others have a nice time. Here are some typical fun events.

A Feed

Just as a family sees a special, celebratory meal as something to appreciate, despite the amount of extra work involved, an organization can have a great time assembling and experiencing a mass feeding. The primary message is the provision of psychological as well as physical nurturance. It can be an extremely positive experience to give and receive something as basic as food with a group of people, particularly people with whom you wish to establish some level of familiarity.

As with an ill-planned family dinner attended by people who are not always mutually appreciative, there are opportunities for disharmony. A large group meal, however, has is the possibility of selective engagement. As with the family meal, planning plays an important part in its success. The casually organized potluck in which everyone is just asked to bring whatever they want could end up being a meal of deserts and beer. A potluck should have a coordinator, making plans for diversity and quantity control. A catered meal is easiest, but a budget buster to most community groups. It is also a source of severe fiscal criticism from those members unable to attend.

Also part of coordination consideration is attendance control. Although it might be nice to really have an open event and feed the whole neighborhood, opportunities for disaster abound. In order to assure the best experience for all, it is almost mandatory that an event of this nature include invitations and required reservations. The invitation could be as casual as an announcement in the organization's newsletter, or could be a special mailed announcement to members. There will probably a facility-dictated limit to attendance and this information should be included in the announcement.

Location possibilities abound. Although it may be tempting to accept some generous offer for space outside the neighborhood, remember that this is ideally a community reinforcing event. There is doubtless available a church basement, a meeting room at a bank, a banquet room at a restaurant, a school cafeteria, or a piece of lawn.

Parties

This type of event is quite similar in objectives and outcomes to the neighborhood feeding. It is a community affirming event, where the unifying theme is geographic proximity and probably includes group membership. It lacks the complex food coordination of a group feed, requiring only snacks and beverages. On the other hand it includes some special logistical problems. It will probably cover a larger span of time than a meal alone would. Also people are more casual about their commitment to attend such an event. You must allow much flexibility in space and snack plans.

The greatest success of neighborhood-based parties occur when they are limited to a subset of the neighborhood, for example, a block party. These often occur without the facilitation of the larger neighborhood association. The larger group, however, should be seen as a resource. They can be a repository for such useful information as to how one goes about getting a street officially closed for a few hours.

Art, Display and Performance

There are doubtless many artistically talented people within your neighborhood, many of whom would be quite willing to share their products and skills with their neighbors. The giving and sharing of art occurs within many organizations. Churches have talent shows, merchants associations and even some individual businesses sponsor art displays. There are opportunities for much more involvement of community organizations in such community enhancing activities.

It would first be wise to accumulate some sort of file or database of resources available. Find out what talents members would be willing to share. Use members as means of locating other neighborhood artistic resources. Don't overlook the schools. Then, with, your file of art and music resources, discuss performance and display possibilities with the group. An art subcommittee may be then formed.

There are numerous commercial and civic spaces available for display art. It is common at libraries, bank lobbies, restaurants and schools. Many smaller establishments would doubtless also be receptive. There are many possibilities for performance art as well. Even if there isn't a neighborhood cabaret, there is probably space available in a church or school. Performance art also provides more opportunities for fundraising. You may wish to split the admissions charge with your performers. Or maybe you can just appreciate the benefits of neighborhood good will and let the performers keep the gate.

Art is one of those intangible, difficult-to-quantify resources. This leads to its relegation to the bottom of neighborhood priorities (and the bottom of resource lists). It's a form of mental health enhancement that gets neglected as much as physical health once was. It is truly worth the effort to raise it a bit higher in a neighborhood's events priorities.

 

In our next issue, we will give attention to events that are planned primarily as fundraisers…although they, too, may serve a variety of other purposes.

 

 


 

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