Most building based tenants organizations spring up in response to a crisis.
The crisis is over, now how can you sustain the organization? Usually organizations that spring from a crisis are pretty informal and drift apart when the "crisis" is over.
Sometimes, though, an uprising organization will decide that there's some value in sticking together past the crisis time. To insure survival, there are five things to consider: structure, mission, goals, leaders, and participation.
Structure means a way to do business. An organization that is built to survive needs to have some plan for who belongs and how decisions are made. HUD regs say: Meets regularly, operates democratically, is inclusive of all the tenants and independent of management. That's good advice for any tenants organization. Having written guidelines in the form of a charter and bylaws insures that everyone knows how things work even if memories fail or leaders move away. Of course, as situations change, bylaws can change. But there's a written process for that too.
Mission is also known as The Power of Purpose. A nice clear statement of the goals of the organization can help keep the members on track. If you can condense your mission into a statement that fits on a coffee cup, so much the better. Everyone can remember why we're working together. Think of "We the people...." which you memorized in elementary school.
Goals flow from the mission. Goals should be balanced with some short term/high impact goals and some longer term goals that shift the balance of power between owner and tenant. As you achieve a goal, add another one and don't be afraid to keep score.
Leaders. Your uprising organization was probably led by one person who could express the feelings of the members clearly and was courageous in speaking truth to power. Formal organizations need that kind of inspirational leader...and more. A task leader makes sure that the agenda is clear, that meetings are focused, and assignments are completed. Task leaders make sure that work gets done. A social leader makes sure that members have a chance to participate and have a feeling of belonging. Task and social leaders can be competitive unless they understand how each role supports the other.
Participation. Members who are active are critical for long term success. People who come out, speak up and follow through are the backbone of a voluntary organization. What's a rule of thumb? Aim towards engaging 30% of the community for active membership. Having another 30% who are not active, but generally supportive (the silent majority) is also a good measure of participation. Keep your members moving along the path of engagement.
The hardest thing for organizations to remember is that being an organization is supposed to be fun. In the darkest days of January and February of 1975, when it looked the Rainbow Terrace Rent Strike would collapse at any minute, a group of tenant leaders (the social leaders) decided to start a community garden. The Cleveland Mounted Police were convinced to dump a truckload of horse manure on the city property near the apartment complex and folks started planning. By the time the weather broke, tenants broke ground with borrowed tillers, rakes and shovels. The non gardeners got dragged into building benches and tables and raised beds with scrounged lumber. A project was born and morale stayed high, even as the court case dragged thru the next summer.