Beyond volunteering and voting: 5 ways to boost community involvement

If you’re like us, community is important to you. The neighbors you see every day, the folks you work with, the groups you’re a part of shape who you are and where you live. Maintaining those bonds and making sure our neighborhoods are strong, welcoming, and enjoyable places to be takes some work. But you might be wondering how to get involved in your community beyond simply volunteering and voting? We’ve got your back. Check out our step-by-step guide to getting involved in your community in deep ways, and find out what kind of project you could make a difference in your neighborhood. 

Community involvement, How to get involved in your community
Getting to know one another, and building bonds among neighbors, can be a powerful way to figure out what needs to change in a community and gear your neighbors up to start making that change.

1. Get to know your neighbors

The first step, but arguably one that’s most often overlooked, can be as simple as getting to know the people you see everyday. You can start by simply greeting the folks you bump into in the community, and talking to folks you already know. Find out who lives in your neighborhood, what they care about, and how they’re already engaged in community work. Are they concerned about the same things you are? Are there new issues that come up? Listening, sharing, and paying attention are the first steps to getting involved. 

Detroit has  a classic tradition of gathering neighbors over a spaghetti dinner. Consider a simple potluck to bring your neighbors together around a hearty meal and great conversation, so you can get to know each other and get familiar with your shared concerns. Invite the people you run into regularly, or invite folks from your local community center (which could include something informal like a popular coffee shop or bodega) or your local online message board. If you’re looking for a more formal way to get feedback from your community, you could also conduct a Needs Assessment Survey to get data about people’s thoughts on an issue you’re working on. 

2. Speak at a hearing

Attend local government meetings, where you can find out what issues are already being discussed in your community. City Council meetings can be a great place to see what changes people are working to create, and the kinds of policies or programs currently in place. If there’s a particular issue you’re interested in, see if there’s a smaller community task force or subcommittee—these are often very approachable, and full of concerned citizens like yourself. 

Find out what your fellow neighbors are advocating for, see if they can provide you further background, and speak up to support their cause at a meeting. There are also other channels that your city or local government officials use to gather feedback, like a 311 number. Learn from ioby leader Michalyn Easter on how to organize using those channels to push for positive change

Community involvement, How to get involved in your community
Neighbors learning together at the School Board School in Cincinnati, which prepares community members to be an effective School Board member.

3. Run for office

If you’re already involved in on-going advocacy in your community, and feel that you can represent the views and needs of your neighborhood, you could be a great candidate to run for local government, school board, or another elected position. It’s great to aim high, but positions that get less attention and appear to have less prestigious can still have enormous power—like your local school board. If you’re thinking about running for office and feel passionately that education is the way you can get involved in your community, learn about this project in Cincinnati, OH, with a mission to prepare folks to effectively lead the local school board.

Some ioby leaders find that planning and executing a project in their neighborhood helps them connect with their neighbors, and grow their ability to serve and represent their communities. The nonprofit Velo City was started by three women, including Samelys Lopez, to give teens in Brooklyn and the Bronx experience with urban planning and design. After her successful ioby project, Lopez is now running for congress. Similarly, Tamy Sawyer is a well-known activist in Memphis, TN, who also led an ioby project to support the highly successful social media movement #Takeemdown901, and she’s now running for mayor of Memphis. 

Keep in mind that while participating in local government is one powerful piece of community involvement that does require a heavy commitment, it isn’t the only way to play an important role in your neighborhood. Movements and democracy are built by all the actions people take to get involved, unite communities, and support each other.

Community involvement, How to get involved in your community

4. Start your own project

You don’t have to climb the highest mountain to make a significant contribution to your community! Movements for positive change are built of all sorts of actions. If there is something you’ve noticed that needs attention, organization, or handiwork in your neighborhood, you can make it happen. Start with something simple like a public art project, a community garden, a community playground, or another project that you can gather a small group around and tackle together. 

The first step is to build your team. Find the other people in your neighborhood who are as excited to invest your community as you are, and will get onboard to bring this project to life. 

Next, as a group, you’ll want to do research so you can decide how to approach your project. The kind of information you’ll want to gather can be anything from making sure you have the right permits to install a public art project to identifying water supply challenges that starting a garden could present. You’ll also need to consider what supplies you’ll need for the project, any experts or training you might require to get started, and any space you need access to in order to continue the project — this can include a regular meeting space, a place to store your project supplies, or even a venue to hold a fundraiser. You may find that your local government offers financial or other support, depending on your project.

Once you have a list of the resources, you can put together a budget and start an ioby campaign page! While raising funds can be one way to find the supplies for a project, don’t forget that you can also ask people and local businesses to donate space, volunteer time, supplies, and other resources. The more ways your community can participate in and support your project, the more invested they’ll feel, and the bigger effect your project will have on your whole neighborhood. For tips on how to tell your story well and get community members engaged, visit the ioby Leader Toolkit to get you on the right path. Set a fundraising goal, set a deadline, and go out to raise the support you need!

After you’ve gotten together your team, the resources, and the space, you can begin! Organize work sessions to start the project, and invite people to drop in to help with what they can. Don’t forget to update your community on the project to let everyone know about the change they’re creating. When your project is complete, make sure to thank all of your donors, and tell them much they’ve contributed to the success of the art project, garden, or playground.

Finally, make sure your project makes a lasting impact. Whether this means throwing regular art events around your public art installation, or starting a community group to maintain the community garden, build a movement around your project. Evaluate the effects of the project by learning who is feeling supported, and how that is changing the way your community lives. You may have found a great way to support folks in other communities, or to take on new challenges in your own.

Is there an issue in your neighborhood that needs community support? We want to help you start a project and get people involved! Share your idea with us and we can help get you started. 

ioby is a national crowdfunding nonprofit, but we’re much more than that. Our crowdfunding platform helps connect leaders (like you!) with one-on-one coaching and support to raise the money they need from their communities to make our neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable, and more fun.