Put Community Development in Your Strategic Plan

By: Dawn Kennedy, PhD, RCE, GREEN, CEO, Birmingham Association of REALTORS®, Ala.

As association leaders we have a responsibility to perpetuate our organizations. This requires an infinite mindset. An infinite mindset looks far beyond the immediate quantitative measures of success—housing stats, membership counts, legislative wins—and toward our “just cause.”

Although many may cite by rote, “We advocate for private property rights,” there is no passion or just cause behind that statement. Our members need to feel part of something much larger than themselves, their careers, and their association.

I strive to communicate with our members our true just cause, which is ensuring that the American dream remains strong and sustainable. Our work in the association and in the market and communities we serve fuels the economic engine of the United States and stabilizes our society through the bedrock of home ownership. If we look at what it takes for a person or a nation to achieve self-actualization, shelter is the very first rung; it’s the foundation for everything else we strive for as a society.

When we, as the REALTOR® community, truly understand our role in society, the need for community development becomes clear. The responsibility as caretaker of the American dream is the ultimate argument for community development as part of the association’s strategic plan. We have a responsibility not just to profit from our market but to sustain a vibrant market through viable communities.

Community development is a way to perpetuate the organization and the industry far beyond our current board of directors, because as is true of the infinite mind-set, development is never done. This is why community development must be part of your organization’s strategic plan. If embedded in your strategic plan, community development enables us as REALTORS® to be a consistent, known, and positive force in the community. The association, which represents all REALTORS® it serves, should be the focal point positioning the REALTOR® as community advocate and stakeholder.

Working with other community partners, we find that we are better able to amplify the voices of our members as community advocates. This is a tenet of the Birmingham Association of REALTORS® strategic plan.

For the BAR, our strategic plan consists of a broad aspirational goal defined as strategic purpose. This is the language of the purpose that is aspirational:

BAR is committed to leveraging REALTOR® and community voices to advocate for property owners, managers, and investors; to protect private property rights; and to build socially and economically healthy neighborhoods.

We then take our strategic purpose and define strategic objectives. Under this purpose are examples of three strategic objectives:

  1. BAR is committed to partnering with our communities to increase public awareness of, and to take action on, issues that affect private property rights, property ownership, affordable housing (includes rentals) and economic development.
  2. Through our events and strategic alliances, BAR elevates the impact of REALTORS® as community advocates to improve the quality of life of our communities, and to position our communities as economic development centers.
  3. To engage BAR commercial members in BAR’s economic and community development initiatives.

From here, each objective is further defined with specific, measurable, attainable goals for the year. For example:

Partner with Opportunity Alabama to both promote awareness of opportunity zones, and connect their resources to our members through two economic development forums held by the end of the year; giving our commercial members access to the OA’s marketing guide for opportunity zone projects.

Our strategic plan is available to download on the members-only section of our website.

By stating that one of our primary purposes is to develop and revitalize our communities, BAR takes a singular stance, and to date it has received no opposition. As to potential issues where an action may be seen as negative to a certain segment, we always go back to what is our just cause, and that simply cannot be argued with as it is something greater than our individual needs. For example, the argument that affordable housing might lower property values in the neighborhood is taking a short-term view. Affordable housing is housing a REALTOR® can sell to a much broader base or a multifamily unit our commercial member can sell to an investor. Having an ample stock of affordable housing opens the door to a pending market, which in turn will typically upgrade to a second or even third home and then potentially downsize to a condo or townhouse upon retirement. That first transaction can lead to three more for the individual REALTOR® working that particular affected neighborhood. The homeowner population in the neighborhood grows and now can support a grocery store or strip mall that our commercial lender can lease. 

When an association operates for the greater good, and understands the “why” behind what it is doing, opposition is quickly turned.

BAR got started realizing its strategic goals in economic development following the lead of our governmental affairs director, Will Baylor. He says the first step in community development is to form relationships with community advocates and other stakeholders by attending neighborhood meetings, homeowners association meetings, advocacy group meetings, and legislative meetings. Once we become a known entity, we can ask for meetings with community leaders to learn about their development goals and needs. Then we go back to the office and analyze their goals against our goals and look at available financial resources and NAR grant opportunities.

With a relationship and a goal, we then develop a partnership proposal to present to either our Legislative and Government Committee or our Community Affairs Committee. The committees further flesh out the plans, which are then presented to the community stakeholder to show them how the REALTOR® organization can elevate their efforts. I have never had any group say, “No, we don’t want your help.”

Because we do so much, we are constantly bringing in new members to become engaged in our strategic community development efforts and serve on community stakeholder boards and committees. However, because our efforts are long-term, we count on staff members as well as REALTOR® members for community involvement. Being stretched too thin is always a concern, which is why it is essential that our REALTOR® members are involved in any initiative and our committees fully vet each proposal.

For BAR, we understand how our mission plays into the profitability of our members, another important goal. But again, we go beyond quantitative measurement and look toward working for the just cause: the American dream.

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