If apathy seems all too prevalent among the members of your community association, you’re not alone. Getting residents to attend meetings, volunteer on committees or help run events can be like pulling teeth for many boards. As a result, it’s often the same handful of people that takes on the burden of running the association and planning activities from year to year.
What’s wrong with that? For one thing, volunteers are liable to burn out over time. In addition, the board’s decisions are likely to be based on input from a small number of people and not accurately reflect what most residents want. These consequences further erode general satisfaction and reinforce residents’ reluctance to step up.
Compare this to communities in which members actively participate, and you find that residents tend to be happier, and the association is generally more successful. Perhaps you already know this, but you’ve had trouble coming up with concrete ways your board can increase community engagement. Are there specific actions you can take that will encourage residents to become more involved?
We’re glad you asked! Based on our experience managing thousands of successful communities, we’ve come up with 5 practical steps.
1. Start by identifying common values.
Identifying residents’ shared values will help you better understand the things that matter to them. This, in turn, will enable you to focus your appeal on topics and issues they care about. For example, in a family-oriented community, residents may be willing to join a committee that’s evaluating new playground equipment. Residents in a luxury high-rise may be more interested in helping to develop better valet services. You’ll find clues by looking at:
- The type of community you live in (luxury high-rise, active adult family oriented, etc.)
- The amenities you offer (golfing, dog park, valet service, classes, etc.)
- Your rules and regulations (stringent aesthetic guidelines, RV parking, unrestricted landscaping, etc.)
2. Create shared experiences.
Residents who feel like they are an integral part of their community will be more interested in getting involved, and there’s nothing like a social event or activity to instill that feeling. “Community events and lifestyle programs provide great opportunities for residents to get to know each other and to share common interests,” says Melissa Ramsey, vice president of community and lifestyle services at FirstService Residential. “They also help increase the sense of community and pride that residents feel.”
3. Encourage 2-way communication.
Keeping residents informed about what is going on in and around their community also helps to establish a sense of belonging. Provide regular news and event updates, and use a variety of communication channels to reach the largest number of people: your online or printed newsletter, community website, emails, social media, signs in common areas and direct mail.
In addition, your board should invite residents to make their voices heard. Send out surveys periodically through which residents can express their interests and concerns, as well as weigh in on activities and projects that the board is considering. Offer easy ways for them to provide feedback and make suggestions, for example, by creating a dedicated email address.
4. Enable residents to feel more empowered.
Apathy often stems from a sense of powerlessness, and many community residents don’t believe they have much influence over the way their association is run. However, they have more power than they think:
- Voting helps determine who will represent them on the board and how their money will be spent.
- Attending meetings to voice opinions and ask questions impacts board decisions.
- Volunteering on the board, on a committee or at an event affects community success.
5. Be effective leaders.
When your board does a good job of governing the association, residents are more likely to volunteer and attend meetings. Why? Being part of a well-run community fosters pride. That pride fuels a desire to play a bigger role in the community. Ensure that your association is functioning well by developing a thorough knowledge of your governing documents, holding productive meetings and maintaining transparency and integrity.
“Many hands make light work,” as the saying goes, and that’s especially true in an association that relies on resident volunteers. By following the steps in this article, you’ll be able to increase the number of people who are willing to step up and contribute to the success of your community.