Community Engagement: Attracting and Retaining Volunteers

Posted on Monday May 21, 2018

No matter what kind of community you live in, apathy can take a serious toll on the operation of your homeowners association (HOA) and the quality of life of your residents. Everything that your community accomplishes – from making policy changes to throwing a memorable holiday party – depends on the involvement of homeowners who are willing to step up and become volunteers. But enlisting volunteers to work on a community event, a committee or even the board of directors can be a struggle for many communities. Finding the perfect solution to attract and ultimately retain volunteers is often a bit of a mystery. So how do you crack the code?
 
Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to instantly staffing your volunteer slots. But there are ways to encourage homeowners to get more involved and to create a positive environment for those who wish to volunteer. Here are four techniques you can use to inspire your residents to become volunteers. Just remember that the culture of every community varies, and so do the needs of their homeowners. You may want to tweak these strategies to fit the unique nature of your community.
 
1. Don’t be afraid to ask HOA members for help.  
The needs of your community might be obvious to you, but the average homeowner is probably unaware of the specific areas that require volunteer assistance. The first step to filling those voids is to ask for help where you need it. Just remember to follow a few basic guidelines:
  • Focus on only one or two of the most urgent needs at a time, no matter how many types of volunteer positions you need to fill. Even if your requirements range from needing new members on multiple committees to finding enough people to staff your holiday festivals, you don’t want to overwhelm homeowners with too many requests. You could end up scaring them off.  
  • Be sure to reach out to legacy volunteers when a need arises. These are people who have already shown an interest in pitching in.
  • Think outside the (volunteer) box. If attracting volunteers from your community has been difficult, consider reaching out to local schools and clubs. Students who are looking for community service hours may be happy to lend a hand at your next association event.

2.  Communicate your need for community volunteers in multiple ways.
The bottom line is that engaging volunteers comes down to good communication. Homeowners will not step up if they don’t know that you need help. For the best results, communicate often and communicate clearly about opportunities to serve. Advertise volunteer openings in your community newsletter, on your website and on social media. Consider using a free online tool such as SignUpGenius or VolunteerSpot to streamline the signup process. The easier it is for homeowners to raise their hand, the more likely they are to volunteer.
 
3. Be specific about what you need HOA volunteers to do.
Take the guesswork out by providing transparent details. Include specific dates, times and number of hours required, as well as the type of activities volunteers will be doing and any special talents or skills that may be useful for them to have. This will make it easier for volunteers to know whether a position is a good fit. Most people are willing to help if they know exactly what is expected of them or if they feel like they are especially well suited for the position. It’s also helpful to provide a few answers to frequently asked questions. By anticipating questions up front, you can overcome residents’ hesitation due to uncertainties and help them make an informed decision based on what is appropriate for them.
 
4. Don’t forget to say “thank you” to all of your community volunteers.
It’s important not to overlook those faithful community members who have committed their time. Although they may have gotten involved because of a passion for the cause or for their community, people still appreciate recognition. Make sure you formally recognize the efforts of volunteers publicly. Let them know how hard the task would have been without them. Volunteers who feel valued are also more likely to stay involved and give their time again. Here are some simple ways to recognize your volunteers and express your gratitude:
  • Give a shout-out to your volunteers by name at meetings, on social posts, in your newsletter and on your website.
  • Employ a “Volunteer of the Month” program to recognize those who are doing their part to positively impact the resident lifestyle within their community.
  • If funds permit, host an annual volunteer appreciation dinner at a restaurant or in your community room. If your budget is tight, host something smaller, like a breakfast of coffee and donuts.
  • Distribute awards each year. This can be as simple as handing out certificates of participation, or it can include additional awards for specific participation milestones such as “most hours volunteered” or “volunteer of the year.”

Fostering a spirit of volunteerism isn’t easy, but it is certainly feasible and well worth the effort. Start with these four steps and you’ll see a positive change in your community’s level of commitment and engagement.

Fill out the form below for more ideas about how to engage and recruit volunteers, or to learn how a professionally managed lifestyle program can help enhance the experience for residents in your community.