How to Host an Annual Meeting Your Homeowners Will WANT to Attend
If you are on the board of a community association, you know you have to conduct an annual meeting. It’s the most important meeting of the year. The annual meeting should keep stakeholders apprised of upcoming changes or capital improvement projects, provide an assessment of the financial state of the community, review the accomplishments of the previous year and be the forum for electing new board members.
While it seems that homeowners should want to know this important information and have a voice in their leadership, many boards struggle to get enough people to attend the annual meeting to have a quorum.
What is a quorum and why does it matter? Quorum is the minimum number of homeowners that must be present, according to the community’s governing documents, to proceed with the meeting. If an association does not meet quorum at its annual meeting, it cannot conduct any business; the meeting must be rescheduled, which can cause potentially costly delays. This is clearly a situation you want to avoid.
So how can you make sure people want to attend your meeting? Check out the tips and suggestions below to make your meetings the talk of the town – or at least the townhouse.
Make the meeting convenient – and keep it that way.
Scheduling this meeting on roughly the same date and at the same time each year lets people plan around it. Knowing that the annual meeting is always the second Monday of November, for example, just makes things easier for residents with busy calendars. Always check your governing documents for guidance before scheduling. If you can’t have the annual meeting on site, choose a location that is as close to home as possible. The further people have to travel, the less likely they are to attend.
If your community includes a lot of younger families, don’t schedule meetings for mid-afternoon or Saturday mornings when they are at work or busy with children’s school and sports obligations. Scheduling the most important meeting of the year when a lot of residents cannot attend will make them feel alienated and breed ill will.
Communicate clearly and often
Make sure you provide adequate notice and repeat that message often. Each state and province has a requirement about when annual meeting notices must be mailed prior to the meeting. Your governing documents may also have a requirement more stringent than the state, down to requiring a specific date and time. But that’s not enough to get people in the seats. Communicate through every channel you can: newsletters, posted announcements, social media, community e-blasts, bulletin boards and even nextdoor.com. A mass communication tool, such as the one in FirstService Residential Connect, will help you reach your homeowners more easily and efficiently.
“Communication is the key to success,” says Anthony Gragnano, regional director at FirstService Residential. “It all comes down to making sure that people know what’s going on. People that can’t attend will submit their proxy or ballot, but it’s on the board to make sure that all needed information is distributed.”
Include details about any incentives you are offering and any other activities that will be combined with the meeting. The more you publicize the benefits of attending, the better attendance you will have.
Free food is a guaranteed draw. If your meetings occur around dinner time, this is especially true. Light refreshments, even something as simple as cookies or doughnuts and coffee, can stave off “hangry” residents and make people want to attend. If you have the budget to provide a more substantial offering or a reception of sorts after the meeting ends, consider that instead of refreshments during the meeting itself.
Offer kids’ activities in another room.
Many single-family communities are heavily represented by young families. Offering kid-friendly activities to keep the little ones happy and occupied will give parents a chance to attend a meeting they may have otherwise skipped. This can be as easy as a table in the back of the room with crayons and coloring books. Some boards will even splurge for full childcare at the meeting location.
Combine the meeting with another activity.
Does your association do any kind of annual distribution, for pool cards or parking stickers, for example? If so, hand them out before the annual meeting! Ask residents to come for the pool card and stay for the meeting. You can plan to hold an event, such as a wine and cheese mixer or game night before or after the meeting. Partner with your vendors to sponsor the mixer or other event if possible. If your annual meeting is in the fall, consider combining the meeting with a charity drive for toys, food or coats. Residents can do good for the larger community and get in on the meeting at the same time.
Include homeowners who cannot attend.
Most associations allow for a proxy submission. This means a homeowner does not have to be present to participate in the election. A proxy can work in two ways: authorize another homeowner to cast a vote in place of the absent resident, or allow homeowners to submit their vote prior to the meeting. A proxy can even be submitted without a vote to serve solely in the quorum headcount. Make sure that everyone in your association understands the rights and limitations of proxies as defined by your state and governing documents. If you aren’t clear, check with your association attorney.
Collecting proxy ballots can be a little trickier than it seems, though. In many cases, homeowners may just disregard these ballots, so it’s always a good idea to follow up on them once they have been distributed. Whether you use email reminders or employ a committee to go door-to-door to collect them, follow-up is certainly the key to success!
If your state allows electronic voting, check out that option. It’s convenient for residents and you can include a link to voting in any e-blast or e-newsletter before the meeting. Your professional property management company can help you select an online voting system that will work for your community.
Most communities struggle with how to increase voter turnout at annual meetings. However, we believe that with a diligent strategy, you can meet quorum with ease. The right association management company will partner with the board to determine the best process for your community.