Asked and Answered: Getting Owners Involved
Question: Q: Can you recommend new or creative techniques for getting owners more involved in the community? We have a very dedicated board but most owners seem content to let board members and a handful of volunteers do everything. What’s the secret to persuading owners to take more of an interest in the community and play a more active role in running it?
Answer: A: If there is a secret, no one has shared it with us, and if you have “a handful of volunteers,” you’re already doing a lot better than most communities. As for “new and creative” strategies for encouraging owner involvement, there probably aren’t any. But there are some ideas that boards and managers have found helpful in the past that may also be helpful to you. Here’s a short list:
1. Make communication with owners a priority for the board. Keep owners informed about board decisions, community issues and plans. Encourage owners to attend board meetings and solicit their input. The more residents know about the association, the more engaged they are made to feel, the more likely they are to see themselves as an integral part of the community. The converse is also true: The less residents know about the community, the less likely they are to identify closely and positively with it and the less interested they will be in playing an active role in its governance.
2. Also make volunteer recruitment a board priority. It won’t happen by itself. Make sure owners understand what volunteers do and why they are important. Provide new residents – and all owners periodically – with an updated list of committees and volunteer opportunities.
3. Ask for help. One reason (although not the only one) owners don’t volunteer to serve on committees or tackle other assignments is because no one asks them to. So ask owners to get involved and ask them in person. It is easy to ignore requests for volunteers posted on bulletin boards or on the association’s Web site; it’s more difficult to say no to a neighbor who is standing in your doorway making a personal request.
4. Encourage owners to participate, but don’t badger them. No one likes to be badgered. Explain why owner participation is important, but emphasize the positive (it can be fun rewarding and helpful) as well as the obvious: “It’s your obligation as an owner in the community to share the responsibility for running it.”
5. Identify owners’ talents and interests and try to match them with volunteer assignments. If owners express a concern or propose an idea – enlist them to serve on a committee to address it.
6. Make volunteering satisfying and, as much as possible, fun. Create meaningful assignments and set reasonable, achievable goals. Assign several small, manageable tasks instead of one or two huge and intimidating ones. Most volunteers offer to pitch in because they want to make a difference. If committee assignments are vague, pointless or impossible to achieve, volunteers won’t want to repeat the experience.
7. Define committee responsibilities and volunteer assignments clearly. You don’t want to tell a hard-working volunteer, “Thanks – but you weren’t supposed to do that.” Also respect the work committees do. Boards don’t have to accept committee recommendations, but they should take those recommendations seriously.
8. Expand the volunteer circle. .It is tempting to call on the people who always volunteer, because you know they will say yes. But that risks burning out the “old faithfuls” and overlooking the “new blood” associations need.
9. Say thank you. This is an obvious point, but it is important and too often overlooked. Volunteers need to feel useful and they need to feel appreciated. Thank them often and publicly for their efforts so other owners are aware of the contribution they are making.
10. Understand that the board itself is the best recruitment tool – or the worst. If the board operates efficiently, if board members seem to be enjoying their work, then other owners may want to volunteer to serve on the board or on other committees. If the board is dysfunctional, if board meetings are acrimonious, if board members seem miserable, then why would anyone else want to participate?