Working with Local Preservation Groups | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Working with Local Preservation Groups

Chapter 10: Preservation Community Relationships, Page 4 of 5

Working with Local Preservation Groups | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Local preservation groups play a critical role in the success of community preservation, so it is important that commissions have good relationships with such groups. Commissions and local preservation groups should identify common objectives and establish preservation as a core value of the community. If a commission and a local group work together on preservation objectives, they can efficiently address issues, strategize to build effective programs, and effectively maximize preservation. If they are at odds, have poor communication, squabble over turf, or disagree on the credit for projects, they will waste precious time and resources. Poor relationships risk unfavorable public opinions and jeopardize preservation efforts.

Local Preservation Groups

A big part of an effective relationship is to identify the roles that each group has and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses that exist in each. Many of these roles will be similar, so it is worthwhile to clarify those roles and maintain a two-way flow of information.

Identify and Clarify Roles

Commissions and local preservation groups have distinct as well as overlapping roles. Both groups can provide the public with expertise and technical assistance regarding preservation issues, and both may provide economic incentives for rehabilitation of historic properties. Other roles are more distinct. Non-profit preservation organizations typically focus on education and historic preservation advocacy. Commissions work within the realm of local government to:

  • Implement zoning codes
  • Carry out public processes
  • Advance public policy

Commission members should use these differing roles to advantage when facing challenges, and clarify what the roles will be before working on projects with local groups.

Foster Open Communication

One way to develop strong and regular communication with a local non-profit group is to regularly attend the other group's meetings and invite the group to attend commission meetings. A commission may want to include the non-profit in its agenda at each meeting to keep informed of upcoming public education or advocacy issues. Likewise, a representative of the commission should provide insight into zoning, code, or political issues at the group's meetings. When both parties are informed of each other’s activities, everyone will be better prepared to address potentially controversial issues, take a proactive approach, and present a unified front.

By working together and collaborating, both the commission and the non-profit preservation organization can cultivate and build strong preservation leadership in the community. Commissions can gain insight into board development from observing non-profits and apply this knowledge to commission member recruitment. Commission members should educate non-profit boards about the design review process and other commission procedures. Non-profit board members come from a variety of backgrounds and typically have a wide range of social and professional contacts throughout the community. If they are well-informed about preservation procedures, they will be better equipped to advocate for preservation policies. 

Local Historical Societies

A local historical society can be a great asset to a commission in building support and appreciation for preservation. Historical society members are interested in history, but they may or may not be well-informed about architecture, the role it plays in the community's identity and history, or the preservation of historic sites and structures. They may be even less informed about public policies concerning preservation. The commission should build an amicable relationship with the local historical society and work to educate its members on the role of the commission and its operations and procedures, as well as the benefits and value of historic preservation. 

Ways to Collaborate

A commission has many opportunities to collaborate with the local historical society:

  • Include the society on the commission's mailing list for the newsletter, press releases, and notices
  • Offer to have a commission member give a presentation at one of the society's meetings
  • Ask for input from the society for planning, district designations, and preservation projects
  • Involve society members in commission volunteer opportunities such as handing out flyers, helping with mailings, photographing properties, and conducting historical research
  • Develop joint educational programs for the public to showcase the history and resources of the commission and the society or efforts to save a historic resource