Being a board member is a multifaceted responsibility that involves planning, organizing, leading, and monitoring the affairs of your association. Not only does the board run a business by selecting contractors and deciding when to perform what work, they also must administer and enforce the association’s governing documents, all while being a volunteer! With all that hard work, there is a third part of running an association that often is relegated to the bottom of the list, when it really should be first: community management.
This isn’t referring to what your management company does (though they are often involved), it means actively working to build your homeowners’ sense of community, similar to how many companies work to create a positive corporate culture. Engaged homeowners are more likely to be satisfied with the board and active in the association, meaning there are more volunteers to help not only with the hard tasks, but also with the fun jobs! Here are some easy-to-implement ideas for your association to make sure “community” is always the main focus in your community association.
1. Communicate early and often.
While most states have laws that require certain notices to be mailed, there’s nothing preventing your association from establishing other methods of communication to supplement your legally required mailings. If you want your mailings to actually be read, try changing the format to catch your owners’ attention - make the information visually interesting with columns, pictures, and possibly even some color.
Try a newsletter format, even if it is just one or two pages; this can be a much better way to share more detailed updates that you want residents to know about. You don’t have to mail a newsletter either; you can create a community email list, website or us an app where a newsletter can be shared without the costs of printing or postage. Don’t forget to celebrate the good in your newsletters: thank outgoing board members or other volunteers, welcome new residents, and share information on projects that have been completed or other tasks the board has accomplished. With a little bit of “fun” to draw your reader in, it’s much more likely that your reminder about the deadline for painting decks and the process for placing out trash will be read.
Explore new ways to communicate without mail. Install a community bulletin board near the mailboxes, at your clubhouse, or post flyers in central location instead of sending long memos. If there is an important topic that is very detailed, such as major rules changes or a proposed special assessment, hold a town hall meeting where owners can ask their questions in person. A website is great tool to share information, but it requires owners to go to it and seek out information, so consider how you can distr information to the owners without them having to actively search for it, such as an email list, a program that can send phone calls and text messages, or an app that is able to send notifications to smart phones. With today’s technology, there are many choices available at low or no cost to help expand your association’s communication options.
2. Ask for feedback.
Some associations tend to just share final outcomes without including owners in the process. While we know that most items are ultimately the board’s decision, it's important to remember that you represent the community. Even if flowers at the front entrance are not something the association is required to have, if a majority of your owners want them despite an assessment increase, then the board should budget for flowers. When you haven't heard any feedback from a homeowner, don't assume they are satisfied – many people don’t offer feedback unless it's requested. Try an online survey, even if it is just one or two questions, to take the pulse of the community for upcoming decisions. Even if the board is mostly decided on an issue, being able to chime in on the matter before the decision is made helps homeowners feel involved and heard – and even if they disagree with the final choice, they appreciate being included. Polls don’t have to be for big decisions either; involving the community in something small like snacks at the upcoming barbecue gives everyone a sense of inclusion.
Social media can be a great way to ask for feedback, but since these types of forums may or may not be moderated, this is an area where the board may want to develop guidelines that are a little more detailed; you may want your attorney’s assistance with this. Look for outlets that let this type of discussion be held privately among unit owners, and not publicly where anyone performing a web search can find it.
You don’t want to remove a post just because it is critical of a decision; again, the goal with finding more outlets for two-way communication is to let owners feel heard. Hearing differing opinions is a way to spark discussion, as well as educate owners. If owners bring up a topic that the board has previously discussed and decided against, it may be time to revisit that topic. If they are suggesting something that may be cost prohibitive, it could be worth getting a bid for the work and sharing with the owners how that would affect their assessments so they have a better understanding. An often unexpected “side effect” of this type of open communication is time savings for the board; if someone brings up something that no one else is interested in, having that feedback from neighbors not on the board often prevents that owner from coming to the next board meeting and bringing up the topic.
3. Accept the help of volunteers.
Just because someone isn’t ready to serve on the board doesn’t mean they can’t help the association. Even if there’s not a specific project at the moment that might benefit from a committee or a commission being involved, that doesn’t mean there’s not something a committee or commission made up of residents can help with, even if it's conducting community polls or managing online homeowner forums. If someone wants to help, find a way to include them so they don’t feel discouraged – the goal is to groom future board members from the pool of volunteers so the same people don’t always have to feel obligated to serve on the board.
Buyers are looking for places to live with great curb appeal and amenities. And amenities don't only refer to specific places, like a clubhouse. Involved communities, especially when they offer events, and value-add opportunities to help owners live better, can be considered amenities as well; they help increase property values, which should be a goal every board has for their association. When owners feel more involved with their neighbors, more heard by their board, and more included in the decisions made by their association in general, they are more likely to be happy, active association members that help the community flourish. Do you have other tips for increasing community involvement? Share your ideas and success stories in the comments below!