4 Steps to Encourage Residents to Volunteer in Your Community
One of the toughest tasks for any association is turning passive residents into active participants in the community. But volunteers are essential to the success of a community. They keep the community running and help keep residents engaged. Volunteerism is what transforms a collection of residents into a community.
Here are four steps you can take to increase volunteerism in your community.
1. Listen to residents
Each resident in the community is unique, which means they have varied interests and passions. Keep your ear perked for these interests in meetings, correspondence, and in conversations with residents.
“When residents bring up issues at meetings that I can tell they feel very passionate about, I always use it as an opportunity to encourage them to volunteer in the community,” says Michele Poetsche, regional director at FirstService Residential.
Those passions can be viewed as fuel for potential volunteers. Is someone upset about a gardening issue? Tap into that emotion and put them on the landscaping committee!
“We want residents to know that their opinions and views are welcome because it is their community at the end of the day,” Poetsche says. ““There’s no better way to do that than to encourage them to get actively involved in the community.”
While listening for people’s passions, make sure you’re hearing from a wide range of residents and not just those that are the most vocal. Occasionally, the loudest voices can drown out those who are less engaged, so make sure you’re casting a wide net. Poetsche recommends surveying residents so that everyone has an opportunity to share their vision for the community.
One St. Petersburg Condominium switched to an online platform to garner resident feedback on community initiatives, “so everybody is able to have a voice, no matter where they are in the world,” says Erin Fabian, the General Manager at One St. Petersburg.
One St. Petersburg also has online meetings which attract upwards of 100 people, up from 15 - 20 people prior to the move online. The key, Fabian says, is “being open to resident feedback. Everybody feels welcome and has a voice.”
Once you’re familiar with the desires of the residents, you can better determine the community’s priorities. This will help in choosing which committees to establish and how to funnel volunteers into them.
2. Create committees
Committees are where much of the work in a community happens. Usually appointed by the board, committee members play a crucial role in providing the board with recommendations on important issues in the community. Some of the most common committees within community associations are social, landscaping, communication, and maintenance and repairs.
Each member of the community should feel valued equally, and one way to do that is to include them on a committee.
“Through committees, boards involve residents in the decision-making process. Residents feel heard and empowered, and like they get their needs met – and it's not just the manager or the board making the decisions that impact all of the residents,” Fabian says.
Joining a committee is a great way to help the association, and also to work closely with other residents who share interests.
“We worked with a building that had very little interaction among residents,” Poetsche recalls. “One of our first priorities was to start a Social Committee to plan group activities and events, including a book club, an art club, spring Sunday brunches, a Super Bowl party, meet-ups at downtown restaurants/bars, and guest speaker events. The social tenor of the building completely shifted. There is a true sense of community now. Establishing the committee brought owners together.”
3. Communicate clearly and transparently
Throughout the entire process, clear communication is paramount. Take advantage of the full range of ways to both listen and communicate to other members of the community, online and off. For instance, if your community needs more volunteers, communicate that! It might be the prompt someone needs to get involved.
A quality property management company should help with these types of communications, utilizing multiple channels to reach as many residents as possible. Communicate volunteer opportunities plainly, informing residents what volunteering will entail and how they can pitch in.
Communicating with full transparency will also build trust. Make sure needs are clearly stated.
“Many residents want to be involved, but not everyone can or wants to be very hands-on. We make residents feel comfortable by being completely transparent about expectations – and providing all of the information that anybody would want to know up front,” Fabian says.
Remember to continue communicating after the fact. Make sure to articulate changes and celebrate successes. As Fabian points out, “When you show the results, residents are more likely to join.”
Poetsche told a story of communication in action. One residential community had an upcoming vote about a new paint color for the building. The Building and Grounds Committee set up a table in the lobby showing renderings and reached out individually to inform fellow owners of the specifics.
“The community obtained the large ‘in favor’ voting percentage needed to update the exterior of the building and it greatly improved sales prices for all owners,” Poetsche says. “It actually brought the community closer – owner to owner.”
4. Put the power in residents' hands
As each person’s voice is valued equally, the balance of power will shift away from a small group making decisions for everyone and toward the whole community. Once people recognize they have a say and a stake in decisions, they’ll be encouraged to contribute.
“Ultimately, you want residents to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their community and what they have built together,” Fabian says. “When you involve them from the early stages, there's a lot less likelihood of people being dissatisfied with the result.”
When giving assignments to volunteers, make sure it’s necessary and not just busy work. Set clear expectations, deadlines, and a budget if there is one. You don’t want volunteers for the sake of it. You want them to engage in meaningful ways, so they feel productive and know their time is going to something of value.
An experienced property management company can help you devise a plan for getting residents engaged, while also helping residents see the rewards of becoming more involved the community.
As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” That’s especially true in a community association, where an active volunteer pool is vital to the success of the association.
“It takes a community to make the community successful,” Poetsche says. “And it works when everybody works together.”
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