1. Start the conversation early.
“The best way to get people involved is to do it right when they move in,” says Debra A. Warren, principal of Cinnabar Consulting in San Rafael, Calif., which provides training and employee development services to community association management firms and training and strategic planning sessions for association board members. “Have a program in which a board member is assigned to go meet new residents and bring basic information about the association.
“The intention should be to get them to come to board meetings and meet the rest of the board members to have a conversation about their interests,” adds Warren. “From a committee perspective, you should be trying to get a feel for where they might fit in because they have an interest. The idea is to have a member of the board start that conversation.”
2. Be wary of burdening busy professionals.
“Look at new owners’ leadership ability, communication ability and so on for potential leadership positions,” advises Warren. “But be careful because I’ve seen problems develop. It’s important for board members not to be coercive to get someone to volunteer for the board who doesn’t have the time to participate.
“Maybe a CPA or financial planner moves in,” Warren explains. “She’s a very busy professional but has expertise the board can use. Board members will get excited to recruit her, and she can certainly be helpful. But maybe she doesn’t have the time available to devote to the board. So get a feel for that in that welcome discussion. Maybe the answer isn’t for her to be on the board but to be on a committee or available to provide extra advice to the board when necessary. You don’t have to lead people all the way into the swamp the first time.”
3. Empower members to get involved.
“I just ran across a huge community with thousands of residents that’s particularly good at this,” says McCormick. “I asked, ‘What’s your secret?’ The response was that it’s a matter of giving volunteers the authority to do things and recognizing them for their accomplishments. You need to have a process that supports them and enables them. If you don’t have that, they’ll fizzle away.”
If there’s a local meeting of association members or professionals that’s open to the public, encourage your residents to go. “The volunteers I saw were at an association industry event, and the association had told them, ‘Yes, please get involved,'” explains McCormick. “The association fosters those residents’ desire to go to industry events, and the residents feel involved, important, and like they’re really accomplishing something. That’s good for them and the community.”
4. Delegate authority to your residents.
“Another key is giving volunteers the authority to do things,” says McCormick. “You have to pay attention to what residents are saying. A resident may come to a meeting and say, ‘I was out doing this in the community, and I met this person.’ That person sounds like she has a natural tendency to meet people and might be perfect for a welcoming committee for new residents. In that case, you’re giving her the ability to do things she already likes on behalf of the association, and she’s going to have an investment in it. But you have to pay attention. If a resident says he loves gardening, you have to think: ‘Perfect for the landscape committee!'”
5. Start them out slowly.
“I’ve seen some people want to get involved, but they’re not quite ready yet,” says Robert M. DeNichilo, an attorney at DeNichilo & Lindsley LLP in Irvine, Calif., who specializes in representing community associations. “So they get involved on committees. It’s a platform to graduate from before serving on the board, and it’s a way for them to get a taste of what it’s like to be involved.”
6. Recognize their efforts.
Residents are more likely to want to continue helping out if you recognize them for their contributions. “Give recognition at the annual meeting, even if it’s simple,” says McCormick. “How much does it cost to create a certificate that you print out?”