Building Community Involvement

Published in the ECHO Journal, April 2012

There are so many factors that go into running a successful association that listing them could prove exhausting and counterproductive in the area of reader interest. However, an association would not even need to consider this list without first having community involvement. How do you promote this “community involvement?”

There are numerous ways to recruit and involve new members as participants in association activities and governance. Possibly the first opportunity comes with the presentation of a “welcome package” to new association members. This first communication with a new owner or resident can go a long way toward dispelling misgivings that new members may have formed due to any number of reasons. The “welcome package” can explain the workings of the association’s governance and at the same time invite newcomers to participate. This communications tool can actually educate residents about what it means to live in a community association. It is even better if other residents deliver the welcome information. They can personally welcome the newcomers and invite them to any upcoming social events.

Another important means of recruitment is through the association manager. The manager has contact with the members as well as with the board. When residents call in with problems, the manager is in a position to act as their voice and at the same time educate them on how the system of governance works. Chances are that if they are interested enough to complain about something, they will be interested in participating in the activities and governance of the association. The manager needs to make an effort to get to know everyone and work at using even difficult issues to create a unified community. Many times an individual will accept not getting exactly what they want as long as they have had the opportunity to be heard. In this manner, they may gain a better understanding of why they can’t have things their way and how to go about making a change if the community agrees with their point of view.

Surveys can be very effective in promoting community involvement. If the surveys are done door to door, there is the opportunity to personally speak with community residents. In addition, a survey lets people know that their opinion is appreciated and that they have some input relative to the decision-making process. Surveys can include a section that deals with volunteerism and getting involved. Surveys can give residents a chance to communicate their interests and concerns about the community.

A suggestion box placed in a prominent area could be a great source of owner/resident input. Some individuals might find it difficult to actually attend a meeting but might have some great suggestions for the board to consider. If the board communicates that they have heard and considered the suggestions, individuals might feel that their input is appreciated and be more inclined to make an effort to devote some of their time to association business or functions.

Newsletters are a valuable tool that can be used to get residents involved in association activities. They serve to communicate information ranging from board actions to upcoming social events. They can list upcoming board meetings and present financial information. When residents know how and why things are happening, they are much more likely to get involved.

With an open meeting policy, the board can get to know the residents personally. The residents can see how the board functions and gradually mature into potential new board members. If the residents can see and understand the governing parameters within which the board works, they will be in a much better position to understand how the board arrives at their decisions for the good of the community as a whole. When the board finds it necessary and within its authority, it can adjourn the meeting and go into executive session. This tool will allow the board to welcome attendance by homeowners and still have the opportunity to work on certain issues in closed session when the situation dictates. Holding an open forum at board meetings will allow owners and residents to be heard. The open forum can be conducted before the actual meeting begins and can be an informal session of conversation between the board and interested owners and residents. The board is elected to act on behalf of the owners, and it is extremely important that the board be sensitive to what the owners want and need.

Social functions are another great means of involving new people in the workings of the association. A real sense of community is of vital importance to a community association. Without it, people become complacent and do not care. Frequent social functions will allow a relaxed atmosphere in which interactions can flourish. Information is shared and common concerns and needs can be identified. Individuals will slowly merge into a real community and will actually become acquainted with their neighbors. Once a sense of community is established, it is much easier to work out problems without involving management.

Last but not least, the utilization of committees can go a long way toward promoting active participation by the association’s owners and residents. The more people are involved in the workings of the community, the more they will network in the community as a whole. Committees serve to provide communication from the board and input from the residents. In the committee setting, individuals can be educated and groomed to move on to more structured positions within the community. Even if committee members never serve on the board, the education gained from being on a committee will enable them to share their knowledge with others in the community. These others may want to get more involved themselves, or at the very least, will better understand the workings of their community government.

How do you promote community involvement? Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! A sense of community increases involvement and involvement is based on interaction and communication. It is important to use every source available to communicate and to share the responsibility of the community as a whole.

Colletta Ellsworth-Wicker is a vice-president with the Community Group, AAMC, an Associa company with several offices in Virginia. This article has previously been printed in Association Times.