The homeowner newsletter or neighborhood e-blast is a natural idea for both new and well-established community groups. If you think your community association will last more than a few months, you'll want to consider an organized and lively communication program.
Newsletters immediately spring to mind, but before you start down that road, determine if you have the people, energy, and resources to support writing a homeowner newsletter, whether printed or electronic. Consider carefully if the community newsletter really has to be a monthly publication, whether it can be labeled An Occasional Publication as part of its charm, or whether bi-monthly or quarterly will work fine.
Also think about whether a paper edition distributed by mail is the right format for your newsletter. It's very expensive. Most but not all neighborhood associations have moved to an e-mail as the homeowner newsletter, either as an alternative that saves paper and postage, or as the only way that the newsletter is available.
Incidentally, some neighborhoods prefer a print version because they would like them to be available in local coffee shops, restaurants, or libraries, where newcomers to the area may find them.
Let's take a brief detour into the question of whether Facebook can replace your old, tired newsletter. One advantage is that it you set it up properly, your page may be found by new residents or people you haven't been in touch with. But the disadvantage is that not everyone likes Facebook, and more people can open an e-mail than find a Facebook page.
Other social media networks, or in the U.S. a national network called Nextdoor, could substitute for some of the functions traditionally performed by a newsletter.
Having said all this, we favor a homeowner newsletter, with or without additional social media supports and extra e-mails to serve as reminders or alerts when something unexpected happens.
You may want to sell advertising to support the homeowner newsletter, particularly if the printed copy is important to you. A new hyperlocal media outlet could even make a profit. If you have local businesses, give them a bulk rate for a year of ads to cut down on the number of contacts necessary. Exercise judgment and tactfully reject any ads that defeat the desired image for your community.
If you decide on the e-mail newsletter, someone with a word processing program can generate the newsletter, ideally saving it as a .pdf file that can be opened by both PC and Mac users. Standard 8.5 by 11 inch paper is probably the best format.
If you can afford to contract with an online company that
specializes in sending bulk e-mails, they will deal with the technical
difficulties that arise. Subdivisions or rural communities may distribute so few copies that the process will be free.
Now there are several online businesses that will send a limited number of newsletters and meet the needs of many neighborhood associations for distributing information to residents.
Otherwise make sure the person sending the online newsletter stays current on defeating anti-spamware that often rejects large mailings.
Even though we called this page a guide to homeowner newsletters, with a nod to the growing proportion of folks who live within a homeowner association environment, neighborhoods should make a special effort to include tenants in your mailings. Tenant involvement is key to their respecting the neighborhood and its goals.
Here are some editorial tips to keep in mind for writing your homeowner newsletter:
1. Graphic interest is always a plus, so use photos and free or very inexpensive clip art just to make your newsletter more appealing. If your homeowner newsletter is electronic or you can afford color printing, it's very easy to incorporate some photos.
Close-ups, kids, and animals are sure-fire photo winners. We know you have to promote good local government relations, but see if you can push those stilted photos of people lined up in a row to the back of the newsletter.
Two columns is usually more interesting than one column, and an office grade word processing program makes forming the columns a snap.
2. Give every article a headline (title), and try not to have more than three or four articles on a page. Longer is not better, so keep the length of each article down to what is necessary to convey essential facts.
3. Make your neighborhood newsletter sizzle with personality. If different people write the different articles, one option is to ask the likely frequent authors to decide together if the style will be informal, formal, breezy, fun-and-funny, or what have you.
4. Having said that, almost any newsletter usually sounds better if one person does most of the writing, or at least most of the editing.
If you need to have multiple authors, then give extra attention to making sure the graphics and other elements of the newsletter are unified. As a last resort, turn huge style differences between articles into an advantage by giving each author a by-line (placing their name under the headline) and making the differences part of the personality.
In organizations that have a committee structure, asking each committee to contribute an article for each newsletter can be a relatively painless way to generate the content you need.
5. If you or someone writing for the homeowner newsletter has a tendency to write lengthy articles, insist on the newspaper format where the most important information is conveyed at the top of the article. Then cut the article off at some point, and conclude by saying, "For further information, contact Jim at xxx-xxxx," or "To discuss this matter further, speak with any board member."
6. If you have enough events to show a calendar, that's a winner. You can pad the calendar by showing holidays, winter solstice, first day of school at Smith Elementary, or whatever the personality of your newsletter will bear.
7. Lastly, provide terrific content.
Depending on your community, tap into these ideas for content:
A. News of park improvements, street projects, changes in speed limits or laws affecting your area, zoning changes, any change in crime trend, new city policies, foreclosure trends, and development projects
B. Reminders to homeowners about maintenance and seasonal tasks
C. How to complain to the homeowners association or city hall
D. Columns from your colorful characters or elected officials, or occasional op-ed pieces from leaders
E. News or even historic features or photos from neighborhood schools, libraries, places of worship, or educational or cultural institutions
F. Promotions of upcoming events and fundraisers for your own or neighboring organizations
G. Information useful to your community, which might vary from energy saving tips to social services to crime-fighting to preparing your home for re-sale. Pet issues, parking, noise complaints, yard waste, and rat, deer, or bird problems should be addressed, usually in a factual manner.
H. News about new or relocating businesses, significant new product lines or new services, changes of hours, facade renovations, new managers, and upcoming entertainment.
I. Organizational news, from new officers to strategic plans to office procedures.
J. Holiday themed articles
K. Cross-promotion with your other social media outlets, ranging from Instragram to Twitter and Facebook, as well as any local blogs
L. In most environments, it's best not to allow politicians to have a forum for unedited comments. But in some places, you really have to let thinly disguised self-promotion from businesses or politicians be published verbatim. If you have a hotly contested election, you might choose an in-print "debate" format, where you ask each candidate the same questions and limit their answers to a certain number of words.
After the publication name is settled and a basic homeowner newsletter or neighborhood rag has been established, another issue that will arise from the members or the public is a logo.
Realize that many important organizations have survived without a logo. Do not allow the logo discussion to de-rail other important work. If you have a graphic designer in your midst, ask him or her to design a logo free. If not, you can pay for this work, and some logo design services are available on the Internet.
If the cost of a logo is a questionable expense for you, consider also simply a graphic way that you always write your organization's name. For instance, it could be Southern Heights Neighbors.
But you can be more inventive than that. Pick a slightly unfamiliar and decorative font on your computer, reflecting the feeling you would like for your organization. Certain fonts recall particular historic periods, formality or informality, elegance or a contemporary attitude, or an industrial or homey feel. But please don't go crazy with showing off all your fonts on one page, or even one edition.
Paper newsletters may be distributed by hand, but if you do so, remind distributors that it is illegal to put them directly into mailboxes. So they will need to be tied to doorknobs, placed between a screen door and front door, or other such method.
You have the option of distributing newsletters only to your paid members, but you may want to consider distributing them widely as inexpensive advertising if you have decided to be a dues-supported organization.
Altogether the newsletter is a key piece of most neighborhood associations' communication strategy.