The end of the calendar year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s conjures so many memories and correlations for all of us. When I think of this time of year, one of my earliest and most vivid memories is of my grandparents’ dining room table filled with desserts surrounding a centerpiece made of pinecones and candles. The season also brings to mind children wishing for snow days, traditional songs, family visitors, vacations, beautiful ornaments, ugly ornaments, snow, ice, freezing cold temperatures, and feast after feast. I picture lights, and glitter, feeling the underlying stress that I always try to ignore. I remember with amusement relatives who always seem to tell the same stories and family lore, while everyone present jumps in to repeat the punch lines. For family and friends, it’s a time of personal reflection, gratitude, and the offerings of gifts.
In my professional realm as a manager of a very large-scale, homeowners association with mixed housing and some commercial aspects, the last months of the year and the start of the new year are very predictable in some ways and unpredictable in others. What follows is perspective for community management on activities and considerations for associations during this season.
Just as we often pause to take special care of the people we care about in our personal lives during the holiday season, so too can we pause for our communities at this time of year to make sure we can begin the new year in an orderly fashion. Calendar traditions are important in our celebrations and can be important in the workplace in terms of planning.
This is the time of year when your annual calendar should lead the way. One of my guiding organizational priorities is maintaining a strong annual calendar. Once an annual calendar is in place, it is ideal to update and consult it daily. I keep my annual calendar on Outlook where I share it with all of my staff. The end of the year is when we start to anticipate snow, and I find that it’s useful to make entries in the annual calendar stating the dates and times snowstorms start and end. I document the hours, as well as whether sand or salt was used for treatment, the number of inches of snow or ice accumulated, and the total cost of snow removal and surface treatment for a particular storm. This way there is always an accurate reference at year’s end. Being able to present data showing all the storms and their costs is instrumental information to present to boards and finance committees.
Winter weather is unpredictable, so this is the time of year to think about winterization and policies on providing weather notices to communities. I have been successful in managing snow removal via snow contractors by creating an online form for resident snow complaints, which is helpful for a number of reasons. For instance, when you are responsible for 80 to 120 streets, an online form helps to determine if contractors have accidentally missed clearing a street, pipe stem, or cul de sac. An easily accessible form also helps keep track of repetitive complaints from particular homeowners who may desire a higher level of snow removal service than the snow contract allows. Since community association staff members may not be able to travel to work during a snowstorm, an online form is another tool in addition to emergency numbers that allow residents to maintain contact with managers and staff. In our system, residents who enter information in the online form receive an automatic response that confirms feedback has been transmitted, thanks individuals for their concern, and assures them work will occur in a timely manner. This allows staff to focus on communication with snow contractors instead crafting email conversations with homeowners. Finally, online forms allow snow complaints to be categorized and thus better organized for comparing and relaying information in the future.
Budgets and Annual Meetings
As is the case for many communities, my fiscal year matches the calendar year. Two large items on many action lists at this time of year are the budget and the annual meeting. Moreover, many contracts and insurance policies expire or renew during the end of the year. Best practice is to be aware of and working on these items throughout the year so that the end of the year isn’t a time of stressful overload for community associations. This should be the time to make sure you hit your budgeting and planning targets.
For an event such as the annual meeting, it is good to have a timeline that is dictated by the bylaws of the community. My standard is to begin planning the annual meeting with the community starting in July. As the year progresses, there are times when it is important to share information with community members. Here is an example of one of the communication items on my annual meeting calendar:
“September 28, 2017 – Section 2.8 of the bylaws, states the record date for determining those homeowners who are eligible to vote shall be the close of business on the 10th business day before the effective date of notice of the annual meeting which is being sent out on October 11th. This means that any person who settled on their home by September 28th is eligible to vote in the coming election. Homeowners who settle after September 28th will not be eligible to vote. However, they are welcome to attend the meeting. Management runs a report to determine who is eligible to vote and prints two copies, one for documenting votes on and one to be made available for owners during the annual meeting. Blast email the same day to introduce the election and annual meeting schedule.”
Notice that the calendar entry above cites a specific bylaw section, which is helpful for quick reference. The note then clearly explains the bylaw and answers a frequently asked question. Lastly, it gives staff instructions for the annual meeting, and the action needed to be taken on this day. Another helpful measure may be to add any useful contact numbers to the entry. Of course, the annual meeting itself is the optimum platform to recap the year and look forward to new directions for the community.
The budget is always a continually evolving task. I usually begin working on the budget for the community by April 1, and the budget tends to wrap up around September or October. Once the board of directors has approved the budget, I send a large mailer that includes the new budget and the annual meeting notice. Some managers may tell you not to include too much in one mailer to avoid information overload. My community, however, prefers that I don’t spend their money on postage for two separate mailings. Beyond that, I send weekly blast emails to residents, which provide updates on current activities, and stresses the importance of participating in the annual meeting. End of year communication with the community is also a great time to market new initiatives, highlight accomplishments, and celebrate the work of community volunteer members. You may even consider hosting a community gathering or party along these lines. Regardless of the platform of communication, make sure that any item sent out includes links and information that answers frequently asked questions, including reasoning for changes made from last year, and provides office contact details.
The end of the calendar year may bring a slowing of some regular work activities, which may provide opportunities to attend to lower priorities or to rearrange duties your duties temporarily. For instance, in our community, the covenants administrator has some downtime in the colder months because there are not as many applications to process, and weather hinders outside inspections. Weather also impacts exterior work for maintenance staff such as painting and landscaping. This is a good time to take inventory and evaluate stored items. Covenants and maintenance staff may be able to assist other staff members at this time as needed. It’s also a time to closely monitor and communicate information internally regarding staff calendars and coverage since many staff members will take vacation time during the holiday season. Staff meetings can be scheduled to debrief and discuss the past year and any upcoming projects.
The holiday season at the end of the year can be a time of both personal and professional connection and productivity. Take time to communicate with residents and staff regarding the last twelve months and what to expect in the coming year. Pause to get reorganized and ensure that everything is in place to start fresh in the new year. Show gratitude, celebrate the people who surround you and prepare for new beginnings.
By Jill Allen, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
Jill is a manager with Community Management Corporation, an Associa Company and has been in the community association industry since 2008. Jill’s ten years of management experience, is comprised of managing very large upscale communities consisting of over 1,900 units plus. Presently, she is the general manager of Belmont Community Association, a golf course community comprised of single-family homes, townhomes, attached homes, and condominiums located in Ashburn, Virginia. Jill is a member of WMCCAI.