Pillars of the Community

Association executives offer 12 ideas for connecting your members with consumers and the community at large.

Compiled by Ian P. Murphy

It’s easier to advocate for the real estate industry when your members are known as professionals who contribute to the betterment of the community on an ongoing basis.

REALTOR® AE asked association executives how they’re working to support the REALTOR® brand through consumer outreach. AEs responded with a variety of ways to help members get involved in service initiatives, advance knowledge of public policy, and educate consumers on the ins and outs of homeownership.

Persistence Pays

After months of trying to find an organization that would allow volunteers to participate in person, members of the Harlingen (Texas) Board of REALTORS® donated two days of their time in July to the Vintage on Jackson Thrift Store. REALTORS® helped sort donations, organized merchandise, and did some light cleaning. All profits from the two days went toward funding the Sunny Glen Children’s Home, a nonprofit that houses abused and neglected children.

“In the past, we had organized donation drives, but rarely do we get to see where those items end up,” AE Ana Becerra says. “Once there, we learned that the lofts above the retail location offer independent living facilities to young adults who have aged out of foster care. We were happy to lend a helping hand to an organization that helps so much with our local youths, and the feedback from members was positive.”

Use the Power of Persuasion

In January, the REALTOR® Association of Prince William in Woodbridge, Va., launched a project to “Elevate, Energize, and Expand” the association’s advocacy program. The effort harnessed the persuasive power of a group of the association’s past presidents to increase awareness of advocacy efforts and improve relationships with elected officials at the local, state, and national levels.

Despite pandemic restrictions, the “Triple E” team dramatically increased REALTORS® Political Action Committee investments, received a proclamation from the county government recognizing Fair Housing Month, worked with the state association on General Assembly elections, and launched a federal call to action in conjunction with national and state association partners. “We reached these goals, thanks to the determination, drive, and diligence of our members, says CEO April Thomas, RCE, AHWD.

It’s OK—heck, it’s encouraged—to steal great ideas and use them in your own backyard.” —Brendan Bailey, CEO of the REALTOR® Association of Pioneer Valley, Springfield, Mass.

Be a Hometown Hero

In Pennsylvania, the Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® Young Professionals Network partnered with Reading Public Works to spearhead a superhero-themed park cleanup event in May. REALTORS® dressed as their favorite superheroes for the cleanup and participated in a superhero-themed photoshoot that helped publicize the event on social media and in the local news.

Beyond giving back, the event emphasized the value of REALTORS® as important community resources and encouraged local youth to help care for public spaces. “We plan to do this again at different public park locations in our communities,” says AE Brittney Baker Shurr.

Getting other organizations involved can magnify an event’s impact while easing the “lift” required of the REALTOR® association, she says: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small, but execute the initiative well. Pooling resources with local nonprofit organizations and government entities is valuable. Also, encourage your affiliate members to take part.”

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REALTOR® volunteering in Harlingen clothes store

© Harlingen Board of REALTORS®

Outreach life vests donated to community

© West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS®

CPAR Outreach Seminar

© Central Panhandle Association of REALTORS®

REALTORS® get involved in their communities throughout the year, donating time, goods, and expertise.

Find a Need to Fill

To underline its “Member Driven, Community Focused” motto, Bonita Springs-Estero (Florida) REALTORS® asks its leadership academy to create a community service project each year. One successful initiative was a meal-packing event that attracted hundreds of volunteers. “We received front-page recognition in the local paper,” says CEO Meighan Harris, rce. “I would say that was a win for the REALTORS®.”

This year, the leadership academy is leading an event to educate the public about the importance of keeping the region’s waterways clean, featuring a walk for clean water, trash cleanup via kayak, live music, art vendors, and education from local environmental organizations.

Other association activities include a “Blessings in a Basket” charity drive to support St. Vincent DePaul CARES, an organization that helps get homeless residents into temporary housing. “As association executives, part of your role should be to engage with local organizations,” Harris says. “This allows members to find out more about what nonprofits are doing for the community, what their needs are, and how our members can volunteer or give.”

Keep Citizens Safe

Cognizant of the fact that dozens of drownings happen each year on Lake Michigan, the Community Outreach Committee of the West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS® in Grand Haven launched a drive to donate 375 life jackets to sheriff’s offices in Ottawa, Muskegon, and Allegan counties this summer.

The initiative made the evening news, and Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker told the Holland Sentinel that it was the largest water safety donation drive he’d ever seen. “We can’t say thanks enough,” he said. “Each of these jackets has the potential of saving a life.”

Put Out Fires

Summit REALTORS® in Dillon, Colo., connects with the community every year to promote wildfire education and prevention, sending homeowners a mailer in preparation for the wildfire season in Summit, Park, and Lake counties. The mailer stresses the importance of “defensible space”—the fire-resistant buffer zone between property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or forest surrounding it—and its impact on property insurance.

Summit REALTORS® partners with the Colorado Association of REALTORS®, American Family Insurance, State Farm, and other organizations to offer Defensible Space Grants to homeowners who can’t afford to create defensible space on their property. The grant pays for tree removal to meet guidelines as defined by local fire department evaluations.

In June, Summit also raised $19,000 for the Neighboring Communities Ravaged by Wildfires campaign to aid residents displaced by the October 2020 East Troublesome Fire. “Sometimes, making that first connection to the community is as simple as picking up the phone,” says Executive Director Sarah Thorsteinson, RCE. “I called local fire departments nine years ago to start a partnership for our homeowner wildfire education efforts, and it resulted in an important relationship.”

Show Support

The REALTOR® Association of Pioneer Valley in Springfield, Mass., tapped REALTOR® Party resources to produce mailers in support of a REALTOR® champion running for mayor. “REALTORS® are trusted community resources,” says CEO Brendan Bailey, rce, cips. “When we have an opportunity to help educate the public on the benefits of a candidate, it’s important that we do so.”

Using grants from NAR and the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, RAPV funded a series of digital ads, two direct-mail pieces, and a webpage with the “homeownership matters” message, encouraging the public to engage with housing-related issues and legislative activity. “We were able to show that the REALTORS® advocate not just for business interests but also for the protection and betterment of the Pioneer Valley,” Bailey says. His advice? “Utilize the tools that are right there waiting through your state association and NAR.”

Put a Face to the Name

In addition to engaging consumers on housing-related issues, RAPV invites members to appear in paid interview segments that appear twice a month during the local ABC affiliate’s daytime news programming. Speakers are usually sourced from the association’s board and discuss topics such as the differences between REALTORS® and licensed real estate agents, prepping a house for the season or for sale, and pandemic relief resources available to homeowners, renters, and landlords.

To develop ideas for outreach, “talk to your colleagues,” Bailey says. “Put yourself out there and ask for help and ideas. It’s OK—heck, it’s encouraged—to steal great ideas and use them in your own backyard.”

Educate Employees

To help area businesses find and retain employees, the Central Panhandle Association of REALTORS® in Panama City, Fla., recently launched an Employer-Assisted Housing program. The program focuses on four areas to help workers create a plan to become a homeowner: homebuyer education, credit guidance, financial assistance, and optional employer benefits.

CPAR created a training program and toolkit for members to become EAH-certified, while a consumer-facing webpage educates local businesses and helps them find REALTORS® who are EAH-certified. Partnering with the local Economic Development Alliance and Chambers of Commerce, CPAR spread the word using a series of presentations and advertisements.

To help such an effort succeed, “get REALTORS® onboard with the program as early as possible,” says CEO Debbie Ashbrook. “Involve the local news media to get the word out. We issued press releases ahead of each of our speaking engagements to ensure good coverage. This exposure made our REALTORS® want to get involved.”

Keep the Community Safe

The Vermont Association of REALTORS® recently staged a “Home Safe Home” event in the parking lot of a local shopping center. The event offered free document shredding and radon tests, education on fire extinguishers and water safety, a pest control expert, and a home inspector, plus free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. “The fire truck and rescue truck were big hits with the kids,” says AE Sara Galotti Waskuch. “We got lots of positive feedback and will definitely do this again.”

Facilitate Donations

The Fargo-Moorhead Association of REALTORS® in Fargo, N.D., partners with a local radio station every year to sponsor an event to attract donations of gently used clothing and household items to a local charity. REALTOR® members work alongside community volunteers to unload vehicles and “Stuff the Truck” full of donations. “Members enjoy meeting the public when they drop off donations as well as working with other community volunteers,” CEO Marti Kaiser says.

Promote Small Businesses

The Mid Carolina Regional Association of REALTORS® in Southern Pines, N.C., recently held a six-month small business promotion through its consumer outreach committee, featuring three local businesses per month. The association encouraged members and the general public to shop, dine, and otherwise patronize the featured businesses during the pandemic. Customers of each participating business were eligible for a drawing, with a $100 gift card from the business—funded by MCAR—as the prize. “Some of the businesses saw such an uptick in customers that they continued the promotion on their own after their featured month,” says CEO Sandra Dukes Barnhardt.

Core Standards for Associations

Meeting the Standard

NAR’s Core Standards include the following consumer outreach standard: “Every association will demonstrate engagement in at least four meaningful consumer engagement activities annually, including at least two activities demonstrating how the association is the ‘Voice for Real Estate’ in its market, and at least two activities demonstrating the association’s involvement and/or investment in the community.” 



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