By Patricia A. Book, Ph.D.
Engaging volunteers is an ongoing challenge in homeowner-led communities. Working parents with young children have limited volunteer time. Professionals with heavy travel schedules or businesses with heavy work schedules are challenged to commit the time necessary. So, if the cost of volunteering with your Homeowners Association (HOA) is time, what might be the rewards and how do you engage homeowners in serving their neighborhood?
Tapping into homeowners’ expertise, interests, and skills on specific projects has been an effective strategy for getting them engaged and has led to extraordinary benefits for the community. Whether these be social events like organizing fishing derbies, Halloween parades, or developing a swim team, to more technical needs like pond management, planning or fence replacement, homeowners recognize that they may have the experience to help their own HOA make good decisions about expenditures that directly benefit them as homeowners.
Our management company and business partners play a key role in supporting our efforts to make service to our neighborhood a positive experience for volunteers as well. The managers and business partners help educate volunteers about our practices and past experiences, help them locate important historical documents, and assist in securing additional information to support them in their work.
We have found that having a Board liaison devoted to building the relationship with the business partners is invaluable to effective communication. It helps the Board understand the partners’ needs and it also facilitates prompt handling of requests from business partners that need Board action.
A success story for Willow Springs Community Association involved sale of land to the City to enable expansion of an arterial roadway. This expansion is beneficial to homeowners as it improves safety, reduces congestion, and provides improved accommodations for alternate travel modes. The project required significant negotiation because an irrigation pipe traveled through this area and we had to protect that pipe for our 33 acres of green space and over 500 trees. To enable the sale, we had to keep the community informed every step of the way over many months of land appraisals, legal reviews and negotiations. The City contractors pressured us into a very short time frame, threatening eminent domain, but we were able to secure 75% of the homeowners’ approval needed within a two-week time frame—with volunteers going door to door--to enable the sale and protect our irrigation system. The key to all this was transparency and communication to our 460 homeowners. Homeowners understood the situation and were responsive when ballots were sent out. Our management company provided superb support in preparing for and executing the election. The staff were as excited as the Board by our success. Now that is a partnership!
Another success story relates to the chartering of a Pond Committee to mitigate the costly recommendation in our Reserve Study to dredge our irrigation pond. We were able to tap into considerable community expertise—engineers, water management experts—as well as our vendors to come up with cost effective solutions to selectively hydroexcavate the pond, install stone rip rap to mitigate further erosion, and forego a planned Reserve budget expenditure of some $500,000. Instead, the Committee developed a pond management plan for future Boards, documenting important technical and legal aspects of this irrigation system, including pumps, wells, water sources, and recommendations to address sedimentation. Again, communication with homeowners so they were aware of every step of the project ensured their support during various periods of disruption. The volunteers did an extraordinary job that will benefit the community for decades to come.
Transparency, communication, managing expectations, and responsible fiscal management create the necessary environment for rewarding volunteer participation. Volunteers take pride in their community and playing a part in its success, whether through short term projects or events or longer-term Board and committee service.
Patricia A. Book, Ph.D., CAI-RMC delegate to CLAC, CAI International’s Homeowner Leaders Council and Government and Public Affairs Committee, and Executive Board of Willow Springs Community Association in Fort Collins.