The Basics: Getting your organisation started

Community organisations are the backbone of any community. They come in various forms, shapes and sizes, but fundamentally they all have one common purpose – to improve the community in which they reside. Some come in the form of being known as resident associations, ratepayer associations, home-owner associations, tenant associations, community co-operatives and even business forums.

There are many examples of successful local community organisations across the country, but there are probably  even more examples of those that have failed. The success or failure is a direct consequence of  how well, or not, the community members work together, whether they meet the needs of the community in which they serve and, importantly, their financial sustainability.

If communities do not stand up for themselves and make their voices heard, they will be ignored. Many people believe a ward councillor should tend to all their needs, but realistically this is an impossible task as often, within the same ward, the needs are different right down to the street or block level.

Furthermore, some wards consist of tens of thousands of people. Even if a councillor wanted to, there are simply not enough days in a five-year term to visit every single resident.

Residents start Local Community Organisations, or LCOs, for the following reasons:

  • ●       To campaign for something positive e.g. a better play area.
  • ●       To campaign against something or get services improved e.g. getting parks cleaned.
  • ●       To give a community a greater voice.
  • ●       To keep residents informed of what is happening in the neighbourhood.
  • ●       To increase a sense of belonging to a community.
  • ●       To organise outings and other events.
  • ●       To get involved in what other resident associations are doing.

It is as easy a 1234.

The first step to starting any organisation is to talk to the people in your community. Find out what your neighbourhood concerns may be. It may be that household refuse is often not collected on the designated day, or speeding vehicles, potholes, unscheduled water or electricity cuts or that the parks are not cared for and are now havens for vagrancy and crime.

In the modern era in which we live, you can ask people on community chat groups. It is likely that your ideas of “what is wrong” may not be agreed on by everyone, but if you keep on communicating you will find common issues that you do agree on.

Interim committees, sometimes referred to as steering committees, are committees that stand in until a committee is democratically elected. This interim or steering committee will need to do some early groundwork and it will also allow you to decide who your community is by understanding which issues you will be focusing on. Having too broad a mandate may overstretch your resources and hobble you before you have begun. Remember, you are volunteers. You need to manage your enthusiasm to avoid burnout or worse – disillusionment.

The members who have shown an interest should meet and decide on a date, time and venue for the first meeting to be held. Within this group they must decide who will chair this first meeting, who will take the minutes and who will take a register.

It is prudent that this group give serious thought to matters that will arise. These include:

  • ●       An issue list that the majority of the community can support.
  • ●       Geographic boundaries of the association.
  • ●       Decide on membership fees.
  • ●       Draft a constitution.
  • ●       Call for nominations of committee members.

The interim committee must make sure that it makes every attempt to inform the community of a meeting to discuss the setting up of the association 14 days before it happens. Try to reach as wide an audience as possible and use social media, notices at stores, libraries, and the local paper.

The agenda and draft constitution should be made available for comment beforehand. Circulating the documents digitally is recommended. 

It will be a good idea to invite your local councillor(s) and any neighbouring or other community groups to the meeting, and even allow them to speak.

If it suits, there are a number of online platforms you can use to host your meeting. Most platforms allow people to raise hands for voting purposes or to notify the meeting host that they want to speak

At this meeting you should give a reason as to why you are setting up the community association.

You will need to nominate a committee. Normally this takes place by a person nominating another person, and then being seconded by another. If you have a lot of nominations and not enough spaces on the committee, you may need to hold a vote.

If any names have been sent through beforehand, they too must be entered into the pool.

On suggestion for getting this process more streamline is through asking people to submit recommendations beforehand. A Google Form is an excellent way to do this. 

It is generally accepted that it should be no less than five people, and no more than 14 on a committee.

For small associations, it is best to have an odd number of committee members so that motions and decisions do not get deadlocked.

The person being nominated can either accept or reject the nomination.

The general rule is that committee members should meet monthly, while general meetings that are open to the general membership are normally held once a quarter.

The Annual General Meeting (AGM), which can double-up as one of those quarterly general meetings, is held once a year.

Always have an agenda and set a fixed meeting duration (e.g. 1½ hours).  Always start on time. Always end on time. 

In all instances, make sure the agenda is shared prior to the meeting, as specified in your Constitution.

To become effective, you need to maintain good record-keeping from minutes to invoices. Using a cloud storage facility is recommended. It does mean some people need to dedicate a little extra time to getting the administration right but it will pay off in the long run.

Record-keeping helps build an association’s culture and longevity.

Lastly, and this is important, make sure multiple committee members have access to the general email account and cloud storage. You want to avoid a situation where all the institutional memory rests with one person.