Arlington, VA

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

I often receive questions about how to broaden an organization’s membership whether it be race, age, or talent.

As I have written previously, we are challenged with having the same people across our associations which stifles the growth of some of our residents, organizations and the community as a whole.

This summer, many white people were asking what they could do to help with race relations. A continual concern among our Arlington organizations is the “graying” of our membership, and the difficulty attracting younger members. Some organizations are concerned whether they have the numbers to compete with other larger organizations. Other organizations do not feel their members have the technical expertise to succeed.

In Arlington County, we love our organizations. With over 50 advisory boards and commissions, over 80 member groups of the Arlington County Civic Federation and numerous additional civic groups which cover a variety of interests, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

We pride ourselves on civic engagement and much of that is done through associations. Decisions are made at the organizational level which have weight with our local government. Organizational leaders generally have entree with elected officials and the media. We routinely honor our community groups and their members for their service. We identify people by their organizational involvement.

I have two simple first steps:

Hold a join Zoom social event with an organization that is different than yours. The group could represent a younger demographic, have more or less racial diversity, have more or less organizational history, have a different focus, etc. These informal opportunities to engage with new people are valuable to us as individuals and our organizations.

It’s been several months since America had our most recent awakening about the status of structural racism. I don’t think many were surprised to hear that the majority of the respondents so far in the County’s Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE) survey have been middle-aged white women. My guess is that some non-white middle aged Arlingtonians believe that this survey is simply not for them, yet the County is seeking a more diverse sample of the community. The County’s DRE includes conversations across groups.

Invite a prospective member who fits the profile of a person to your next meeting or event or to speak about a topic of interest. I spoke to the Arlington Rotary Club a few months ago and I was invited to be a member on the spot. I have thoroughly enjoyed connecting with people whom I probably never would have met. I would not have likely sought membership with Rotary, but I have already reaped tremendous rewards.

We often view our organizational shortcomings as huge insurmountable challenges which may require years of work, funding, or are just simply uncomfortable. I encourage you to take that first step, and just ask.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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