Community development projects are a means of strengthening a local region in one of many different ways. There are several types of community development projects, including those aimed at helping specific segments of the community, improving safety conditions, and enhancing social and cultural pursuits throughout the region. By financing targeted community development projects, foundations and local governments can spur their towns and cities toward future growth and sustainability.
The goal of some development programs is to assist segments of the population who are in need of social services. This could include building a job training center for the unemployed or creating or upgrading facilities for domestic violence victims or homeless people. Some projects might involve providing food or medical care for children and families struggling with poverty, or tuition assistance at local community colleges for those who can demonstrate financial need. Improving the health, education, and future prospects of the neediest members of society can help the community grow as a whole.
Disaster preparation, prevention, and mitigation are often the source of community development projects. A community program geared toward improving fire safety, for instance, could include handing out free or discounted smoke alarms, holding coordinated school and business fire drills, and sending local firefighters into schools to teach children about fire prevention and safety. In an area prone to flooding, a community program might exist to help improve or retrofit flood barriers and dams, thus increasing the protection level for homes and businesses near the flood zone. A community that is known for strong safety programs may enjoy increased property values and a higher level of safety and security for citizens.
The social and cultural component of a community is vital to its sustainability. By enhancing and encouraging a strong local social scene, a town or city can help enhance its reputation as a fun, enjoyable place to live and work. Creating and funding a city orchestra is one example of a culture-based community development program. The building or improving of community spaces for entertainment, education, and meetings is also a popular way for a region to improve its cultural and social offerings. Towns may also engage in community development projects that help restore and maintain historic buildings, parks, and other areas that help define the character and history of the region. These projects can not only enhance the lives of citizens, but help increase the flow of travel and tourism to the region, thus promoting the local economy.
How to Evaluate a Community Development Project
In examining the potential of a development project to benefit a community, you have to consider the actual need for the work that you are seeking to do. In other words, you should attempt to gauge the need that you are attempting to meet.
Conduct qualitative research about current community resources. You probably do not want to embark on a project that is duplicating the efforts of another community group. If you are hoping to create a housing development for low-income households, for example, you should consider the availability of similar housing opportunities in your community. Likewise, if you are creating a garden, you should evaluate the proximity of other gardens as well the general interest of community members in having access to a space for gardening.
Next, consider the feasibility of what you would like to achieve. Consider what financial resources are necessary, potential partners, and ongoing operational logistics. Assess whether you can rely on the work of volunteers or you would need to generate enough capital to pay staff.
How to Start a Community Development Project
When you have identified specific ways in which marginalized members of your community are currently underserved or a substantial need in your community that is not being met at all, you need to find allies who can help you advance your mission. Consider seeking out a nonprofit organization with a mission that closely aligns with your goals for a project. If you cannot consolidate your efforts with an existing organization, you might consider establishing your own.
Many but not all states have associations of Community Development Corporations. Their directives focus primarily on the creation and maintenance of affordable housing, homelessness prevention initiatives such as Housing First, and green space development. Find out if there is a certified Community Development Corporation in your area that is engaged in the same type of work that you would like to start.
It may be possible to form your own CDC, but you would first need to establish a 501(c&(3) nonprofit corporation. Having CDC status may allow you to work closely with a state or city’s department of neighborhood development and access federal funding opportunities with limited availability. Bear in mind, however, that the process of becoming credentialed as a CDC varies greatly between states and it may be a lengthy process. Nevertheless, starting the process early on in your project’s development may prove to be advantageous later on in the course of your project’s advancement.
It may be helpful to talk to individuals who work in the relevant department of your city or municipality. They can point you in the right direction about who is doing a similar type of work as well as what type of support their department may be able to offer.
How to Develop a Community Project
Developing a community project is going to require funding from foundations, private donors, or government grant sources. Grants are available at federal, state, and municipal levels. Be on the lookout for notices of funding availability frequently. NOFAs are requests for proposals that invite nonprofits to submit applications asking for a specific amount of funding and describing how they would use it in detail.
You may also be able to seek out donations in-kind, which are non-monetary contributions. Some companies who operate in your area may have corporate giving programs that allocate donations of services. Be aware that soliciting donations in your state may require getting a formal certificate of solicitation from the state in addition to federal nonprofit status.
Every type of funder likes to see when a project is partnering with nonprofits that work in the same area but do different work. Signing a memorandum of agreement to work with different groups can strengthen applications significantly. For example, a housing development for chronically homeless individuals should consider seeking out MOAs with local shelters to receive housing referrals.
Funders also want to see neighborhood support for a project. Getting a letter of support from a neighborhood association for a housing project can be a major asset in getting a project off the ground. In addition to support, funders like to see engagement. Strategize about how you can recruit volunteers from your community.
Ultimately, funders want to see that you are leveraging resources. In fact, some foundations’ RFPs and federal NOFAs require you to match the amount that you have requested in your application by more than one hundred percent with contributions that are either monetary or in-kind.