22 August, 2013

Candid Advice On Starting A Neighborhood Watch

The first thing you need when starting up a neighborhood watch is a fast and free way to communicate with the people in your defined neighborhood. That means smart phone numbers and email addresses so you can simply add people to phone groups and email groups and send emails and texts to a lot of people simultaneously.

Unless somebody gives you a database containing the names, email addresses and smart phone numbers of all the neighbors in your neighborhood, a start up neighborhood watch's first and primary job is to identify the residents of the defined neighborhood and capture their contact information. And by "contact information" I mean smart phone and email. 

Many new neighborhood watch groups make the mistake of either sending mailers to the homes of people within the defined neighborhood or going door to door and leaving invitations to the next meeting but failing to capture a way to communicate with those people fast and free

Sending mailers is too expensive and yields few new members.

Inviting people to a meeting is a waste of time unless you also capture their email addresses and smart phone numbers. 

If you don't get the smart phone numbers and the email addresses you have to go back out and knock on doors or you have to spend money on USPS mailings every time you need to tell people something.

Don't get the cart before the horse: collect contact information first, then worry about how to get people to meetings, appointing block captains and such. Get the fast, free way to communicate first. Collect the email addresses and smart phone numbers.

If a neighbor doesn't have a way to receive email or text, get their old-fashioned dumb phone number.

At meetings, make sure you don't let anyone leave without giving up their email and smart phone info. Odds are you'll only get one bite at that apple because so many people attend one meeting then never return. Here's what I do: I get two or three people to help me hand a pen and paper to each person as they enter the room. We ask for name, street address, phone and email. Don't let anyone attend anonymously. Think about it: it's neighborhood watch. Neighbors have to identify each other. When I collect new names and contact info I update may master Excel spreadsheet and email that file to everyone who gave me their email address. In some neighborhood watch groups, the only person who has the contact information is the coordinator. This is insane. If neighbors don't have each other's contact info it's not a neighborhood watch. 

Don't let low attendance or a low return rate discourage you. If you collect the email addresses and the smart phone info you have a chance to demonstrate the value of the watch program. When people start receiving your texts and emails about bad guys who have been caught and crimes that have been stopped because vigilant neighbors communicated with each other and with police, they'll see the value of participating in neighborhood watch. 

Don't be stupid: concentrate all your start up effort on identifying everybody in the neighborhood and capturing their contact information. Unless your city already has this date and will share it with you, you'll have to collect it the hard way, door-to-door. Don't be shy about asking. I can tell you from personal experience that nearly 100% of the people who answer their door will give you the information you request.

When you come home with a page full of names, street addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, enter that information in your email group, your text group and into a master list. I use Excel to make a spreadsheet containing every bit of data I have collected. 

Do the hard work of going door to door and asking for email addresses and text numbers FIRST. Don't waste time and money mailing flyers to residents' homes. They won't reply. Once you've collected email addresses and text numbers from a significant percentage of your neighborhood's residents, you'll always have a way to get your message out - meeting announcements, police tips, suspicious activities - anything. 
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