Establishing a Nucleus

Somewhere between the idea of forming a group to deal with neighborhood concerns and the actual researching of problems and input from the community, you will need to establish a group within the group. These are the core members who may have been instrumental in the formation of the ideas, who have the resources and experience to get things done, or both. This core group may be only half a dozen people, but they are key to building the organization.

Your Core Group

To form the nucleus of the group, seek out people who are committed to dealing with the cause or problem(s) at hand, able to make a time commitment, good at communicating with others, and open to various opinions. Civic leaders, community activists, business owners, government officials, philanthropists, and environmentalists may all offer valuable input. You'll also identify candidates for your core group by talking to community leaders, taking part in community activities, and looking in local newspapers for names of people who have impacted the community in other ways.

Once you have formed your core group and have begun your community-minded planning, determine which community newspaper, local groups, churches and temples, and/or government groups should know about your organization. Print some basic materials to alert them to your presence and mission; then follow up with fundraising information as it develops.

Once you have established a core group, hold meetings before opening your doors to the community at large. This way you can develop a consensus on the issues and determine a broad approach to implementing changes. While you will want input from the community, you will first want the opportunity to build a framework for running the organization effectively. For example, you may want to list some of the practical means of raising funds, such as a community fair or block party, and eliminate less practical ideas. This will give your core group a little time to address concerns such as the need for permits, should the larger group decide to organize a county fair or block party. Divide responsibilities and determine who will implement the fundraising campaign, who will be leading the promotional campaign, and so on. You can also set the agenda for the first public meetings to involve the community as a whole.

The objective is essentially to get the organization or fundraiser off the ground. By formulating a mission statement and setting goals and strategy, you establish basic parameters and build a structure from which to operate. Core group members should conduct research and become knowledgeable about the issues and the community. They should be prepared to head up committees, if need be (although your committee chairpersons don't have to be members of this nucleus group). This creates a framework the larger community-based membership can step into.

Of course, it is important the core group refrain from dotting every i and crossing every t or the general membership will not feel a sense of involvement. People are more likely to join a community organization that is, to some degree, a work in progress and not a finished product. This way, they can provide input for some of the decisions and feel a sense of ownership in the cause or problem.

The membership may comprise some very qualified individuals who are not in the core group but could step in and chair committees and handle other important functions. By not having everything completely in place prior to opening the doors to the community, you leave a little room for new members to get involved and, more significantly, present ideas that might work and generate a sense of excitement within both your organization and the population you are serving.

The Community Meetings

With your core group established, you can move on to the next phase, setting up a time and place for larger community meetings. Begin by finding a hall or auditorium to accommodate a larger group. Look at schools, churches, libraries, or community centers that have facilities available so you will not have to rent. In addition, ask your core group for donations for refreshments, or promise signage and promotion to a local bakery or coffee shop in exchange for some freebies. Remember, it's always advantageous to spread the word about the new community group to local merchants — some might want to get involved.

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