Here, we provide six tips to help you prepare your annual meeting. The result will be a properly noticed, well attended, and productive meeting.
1. Send notice early and often.
“Well in advance,” suggests DeNichilo, “check your governing documents for your association’s notice requirements for an annual meeting.”
You may be surprised to learn that smart planning starts as early as a year in advance. “The important point is to start the process as early as possible, which in some communities could mean 12 months in advance, but in most it’s six months in advance,” 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. “You sit down, verify the notice requirements in your governing documents, pick the date, and back plan from there.
“You want to have the first mailing go out 60 days in advance, and then send another notice 30 days in advance,” advises Warren. “Maybe you also put a ‘save the date’ notice in your association newsletter. It’s a matter of getting started early, getting the date selected, and getting the location secured if you have to find one.”
Also pay attention to election details. “Get a call for board candidates out early,” adds DeNichilo. “Also set a closing date for nominations, though check your governing documents because they or your state law may require that the board allow nominations from the floor.”
2. Plan the meeting around an event.
“You might say you’re going to have a party at the annual meeting,” says James R. McCormick, Jr., a partner at Peters & Freedman LLP in Encinitas, Calif., who represents associations.
“I’ve seen associations do an ice cream social for an hour before the meeting or try to bring in guest speakers,” says Warren. “But that’s always a double-edged sword. You have to really know your speaker and that the speaker will stick to the time frame allotted. If residents think it’s going to be a two-and-a-half hour presentation, they might say, ‘I can’t go.'”
McCormick suggests that speakers discuss issues in the association. “Depending on the association, maybe the speaker discusses something that’s been going on, like litigation or a landscape project,” he says. “Or maybe it’s information on what’s taken place for the last year and where the board sees the association going in the next year, two years, or five years. It should be heavy with information valuable to owners. You may not hit your mark in the first instance, but once you develop the trend of good speakers, owners will come because they’re going to learn things.”
3. Allow residents to meet board candidates.
The more opportunities your residents have to meet candidates for your HOA board election, the more likely they’ll become invested in the process. “If you’re having an election,” suggests DeNichilo, “consider having a candidate forum prior to the election to allow members to come out and talk to candidates and hear what they have to say.”
4. If there’s a hot-button issue, educate early.
“When annual meetings go haywire, most often it’s because of a lack of preparation,” says DeNichilo. “The number two reason would be when there’s an amendment on the ballot that’s a hot topic. If something’s going to be a hot topic, the board behind that should really be involved in communicating what’s involved to the membership well in advance. That will help the meeting go smoothly.”
5. Consider giveaways, but be careful.
“I’ve seen associations use giveaways to draw people to meetings,” says McCormick. “Sometimes it’s food, and sometimes it’s little trinkets. But associations also have had success giving away a month’s worth of assessments. You might say, ‘If we make our quorum on the first try, we’ll have a drawing every month.'”
However, gauge whether that will sit well with your members first. “Sometimes you can’t anticipate the reaction of your residents,” says Warren. “You think you’re doing something fun, and it turns out to be bad. There was one association that offered a $250 shopping certificate as a drawing, and owners were insulted. They said it was their hard-earned money that should be going to other things, and people should come to the meeting without having to be enticed. That created some negative communication at the meeting that was a shock to the people who came up with the idea.”
6. Always have positive information.
“The most important thing is to have some positive items on the agenda,” says Warren, “whether it’s celebrating or giving awards to committee members.”