The homeowner newsletter, more likely a neighborhood e-mail nowadays, 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 homeowner 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.
With the vast majority of local associations deciding to send their news by e-mail, you have the opportunity for a weekly newsletter. We think even better than that will be a keep them guessing format, in which you simply send the newsletter when you have something to say. Certainly the lack of expense involved in sending your missive makes it attractive to remind people more often of key points.
Also think about whether a paper edition distributed by mail is the right format for your newsletter. It is 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 for residents who furnish their e-mail address, 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.
Now we take a brief detour into the question of whether Facebook can replace your old, tired newsletter. Some groups like the greater immediacy and livelier interchange that Facebook can provide, even if the newsletter is electronic. One advantage is that if you set up your page 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.
In addition, the ever-changing algorithms may mean that people who aren't looking at their Facebook quite frequently miss your posts.
Other social media networks, or in the U.S. a national network called Nextdoor, could substitute for some or all of the functions traditionally performed by a newsletter.
Having said all this, we favor either an electronic or paper 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, anyone can generate the newsletter if you use one of the popular platforms such as Mailchimp, which we use for our newsletter, or Constant Contact. These platforms have the advantage of automatically tracking the open rate, and managing subscriptions and undeliverable addresses. Subdivisions or rural communities may distribute so few copies that the process will be free. Urban neighborhoods will need a premium version of the various online platforms because of the high number of e-mails they are sending.
If you prefer to generate your own e-mail, anyone with a word processing program can prepare the e-mail, ideally saving it as a .pdf file that can be opened by both PC and Mac users. Make sure the person sending the online homeowner newsletter stays current on defeating anti-spamware that often rejects large mailings. Of course regardless of the number of recipients you have, you don't want them to see one another's e-mail addresses, so someone in your organization will have to stay abreast of the latest techniques for sending bulk e-mails effectively.
Even though we called this page a guide to the homeowner newsletter, 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 artwork 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 public officials lined up in a row to the back of the newsletter.
For printed newsletters, two columns is usually more interesting than one column, and an office grade word processing program makes forming the columns a snap. We think 11 by 17 inch paper, folded to a standard 8.5 by 11 inch size, is a good choice for printed newsletters, but some folks choose a tabloid newspaper size and send them to a friendly printer in the neighborhood.
2. Give every article a headline, 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. Most electronic newsletters should stop at about four articles. If you find that you consistently need to provide more stories, one great option is to simply include the first paragraph or so in the newsletter, and then provide a link with some wording such as "Read more." Then the link should go to your neighborhood or homeowner association website.
3. Make your neighborhood homeowner 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. With electronic newsletters predominating now, you also must work on making your subject line attention-grabbing. Most e-mail platforms give a preview now of the first words of the e-mail, so that too must be as engaging as possible and should be different from the subject line.
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 for print media, and a possibility in the e-mail format. 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. Have several people proofread.
8. Lastly, provide terrific content.
Depending on your community, report 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. Remind homeowners about seasonally appropriate maintenance tasks.
Below we will point out some additional appropriate topics for your newsletter.
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 derail 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. Hire someone from a gig website, where you pay a very moderate amount for each piece of graphic work, can pay off.
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. Another possibility is distributing them only at local grocery stores, coffee shops, pharmacies, hair salons, and so forth.
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 association or HOA communication strategies. Execute it well, and you will develop a loyal following.