Why do people choose managed communities? What makes these communities feel like home? There are lots of reasons: knowing that a group of like-minded people is working to help maintain the value of their largest investment, location, safety and security. Increasingly, the amenities and lifestyle that community provides are also driving purchase decisions. A thriving lifestyle program will connect your residents and help build great relationships throughout the community.
How a community defines its lifestyle impacts the types of programs it chooses to have. For example, a family-focused community may want many of its events and activities to be geared to children. A luxury high-rise property may prefer more upscale programming. Ultimately, though, it comes down to like-minded people connecting and engaging through shared interests. Before you embark on lifestyle programming, make sure your board has a clear vision for your community and what you want it to be, built from resident feedback and input.
Julie Sanchez is a senior community association manager and lifestyle director for the MetroWest Master Association in Orlando, Florida. She suggests that, even if a vision has been defined, boards conduct surveys from time to time to ensure that programming stays in line with your evolving community. “Ask about demographics and age groups, days and times that people can participate, what kinds of events people are interested in, and more importantly, who is willing and available to volunteer to help plan and execute,” she says.
“The most dynamic and comprehensive lifestyle programs typically encompass a broad and diverse base of community-wide events, clubs, classes and other activity offerings in multiple dimensions of health and wellness,” says July Julison, senior vice president of lifestyle programming at FirstService Residential. “These may include programs that not only respond to the social and recreational needs and interests of the homeowner base, but the physical, creative and intellectual, vocational and environmental elements of lifestyle programming as well. Nurturing social connectivity, enriching the resident quality of life and enhancing property values are always important overriding goals.”
Who’s going to execute that programming? Depending on how intense your program is, you may be able to use active board committees and other volunteers—working with your community association manager—to manage your lifestyle program. Your property management company may have resources in place to help train your board members, so they can be effective in this role.
You may also need to bring in a professional, like a lifestyle director, but how do you know when that is necessary?
“The association board should initially consider the level of demand for programming that may exist and how adding or enhancing this component at their property would be perceived to favorably impact the homeowner and prospective buyer experience,” Julison explains. The current level of available resources, the economic impact of adding another staff member and the pros and cons of other potential options must also be evaluated.” Of course, that lifestyle director can be either part-time or full-time, depending on how active your community and its volunteers are.
When you hire a lifestyle director, it’s important to choose the right person. Your professional property management company should have the depth of resources and expertise to help your community hire someone who fits well with your community spirit and works well with your other staff as well as volunteers. What else should you look for in a lifestyle director? “Attitude, attitude, attitude!” exclaims Sanchez. “You want to hire someone who is positive and engaging, who can connect with a variety of age groups and cares about your residents. Experience with planning events and social activities is important but having that experience doesn’t matter if your lifestyle director doesn’t connect with your community.”
Julison notes that previous experience in hospitality, event planning and marketing, recreation programming and public relations experience can be helpful to a good lifestyle director as well. “A high level of energy and enthusiasm, a dynamic personality, professional presentation and a positive ‘can-do’ attitude are other important qualities that typically serve them well,” she says.
Now that you know you need a lifestyle program and you’ve determined who is going to carry out said programming, what’s next? Start planning activities! Check out these three simple ways to start programming:
1. Develop interest groups and clubs.
Special-interest groups, such as book or garden clubs, often form organically due to homeowner-driven needs or hobbies. However, if it has been a struggle to get clubs going in your community, you may want to survey your residents to see if any common threads show up. Be sure to also ask if anyone might be willing to help lead a group. A good community association management company can help establish and support special clubs and groups.
2. Make better use of existing amenities.
Amenities are often high on the list of homeowner must-haves, but your community pool, walking trails or pond can be more than just another feature. Whether it’s a Fourth of July holiday pool party, a scavenger hunt or geo-tagging along the trails, or a fishing tournament at the pond to raise money for a local charity, consider using the features you already have to engage residents. Your amenities are a natural draw and create the perfect venue for bringing people together.
3. Think outside the box.
It’s likely that your community has a few traditional events that generate a good deal of anticipation. Your annual “Easter Egg Hunt Extravaganza” or “Summer Splash Bash” are popular for a reason. To keep things fresh, you should continuously seek new ways to incorporate evolving resident interests. Consider hosting a community clean-up event centered around Earth Day or rally around a local cause that may have meaning to your homeowners. Some low-cost event ideas might include holding game or movie nights, bringing in speakers to talk about topics like travel, or having experts come in to teach classes such as financial investing. Remember that the quality of the event is not necessarily tied to the money spent. It’s all about creating the best experiences and the most engagement possible.
4. Communicate to drive engagement.
Once you have some plans in place, communicating to your residents is the final piece of this particular puzzle. Your community may already offer a robust lifestyle program, but if you’re not seeing the level of engagement you really want, you may not be getting the word out well enough. Communicate your activities and programming consistently using multiple channels to reach your residents. If you community is professionally managed, you may have access to a mass communication tool like FirstService Residential Connect to help promote your events and other opportunities for residents. Although social media, community websites and newsletters are great ways to promote your programs, don’t discount “old-school” methods like kiosks, banners or signs at entry points to let residents know about upcoming activities.
Then have fun! The whole point of a lifestyle program is for residents to enjoy it, and that includes board members and other volunteers. A good lifestyle program can do wonderful things for your community: make it more desirable to future buyers, building a great sense of community and improving the lives of your current residents. So, what are you waiting for?