Several years ago, Pete McDermott had some ideas for improving his neighborhood of Mayfair and some frustrations too. He checked out Mayfair Civic Association and found that participation at its meetings and events, such as its annual parades, had been lagging in recent years.
Feeling that it was time to step up and shoulder some of the responsibility, he and fellow neighbors of similar age and interests joined Mayfair Civic and set about to improve its reach and positive impact in the neighborhood.
Pete works with other volunteers to get the word about and increase attendance at the community group’s meetings and events. He coordinates three methods of outreach, the most successful of which is robocalls.
Mayfair Civic first tried robocalling about two years ago as an experiment, and it is now an essential way that the group shares information with neighbors. The civic uses its own donated equipment and pays about $25 per month for a robocaller service.
The week prior to each community meeting, Pete records a 45-second message. For regular meetings the message is limited to the main topics for discussion and always includes the date, time and location. The message can also contain updates on special projects or zoning issues as needed.
The robocaller dials nearly 3,000 telephone numbers drawn from sign-in sheets at meetings or events. Residents must opt-in to receive calls. According to Pete, prior to use of the robocaller, a meeting may have had 40 or 50 attendees, but afterwards attendance shot up to 150 or 200 attendees, depending on the topic.
Residents like the calls too as a passive way of getting information. Not everyone who’d like to can make an evening meeting, but the messages left in the robocalls give folks a briefing on meeting details, zoning cases, or a reminder of an upcoming event.
The other tools used by Mayfair Civic are a Facebook page and literature drops. The Facebook page is regularly updated with posts describing events, projects, and meetings of the civic and include plenty of pictures and videos. It’s a great way for residents, or anyone who loves the neighborhood, to learn of the group’s activities and to provide feedback and ask questions.
Anyone who “likes” Mayfair Civic’s page will see the civic’s posts in their “news feed.” Plus, all board members are asked to “like” and “share” posts to spread them around their own social networks.
Flyering or “lit drops” are a tried and true way to get the word out. Mayfair Civic usually uses lit drops are used to notify neighbors of zoning cases because they are a Registered Community Organization (RCO), which means they host public meetings about property owners within their boundaries seeking a variance from the zoning code. Flyering is done at the properties closest to the site of the proposed project that is requesting a variance.
The key to a successful lit drop for Pete is to make sure the flyer is printed on a half-sheet of heavy weight paper in a bright neon color, because you get more flyers per ream of paper by using half-sheets and, according to Pete:
Heavier paper makes it hard to crumple and toss [your flyer] in the trash and neon makes it hard to ignore!”
Mayfair Civic also tried print advertisements in local newspapers for events in the past, but according to Pete, “we didn’t see much bang for the buck in terms of turnout.”
Ask how attendees found out about a meeting or event to learn what works: email, flyers, social media, etc.
Try a combination of outreach methods to reach more people and increase attendance: flyers, door knocking, social media, robocalling, etc.
Grab attention with flyers printed on brightly colored and heavier paper.
Experiment! In Pete’s case, robocalls were an experiment that ended up working.