Community Association of the Year

From A Judge’s Perspective: A Look Inside CAY Judging + Tips for a Successful Submission

The Community Association of the Year (CAY) awards recognize the best of the best of communities in the Washington DC Metropolitan region. No matter the size of the community, from small to very large, or location, whether in a bustling urban area or a quiet hamlet outside of the Beltway, being recognized as a CAY winning community is a distinction that says your community is committed to excellence and that excellence informs everything that you do.

Now that we have introduced to some and reminded others of what makes the Community Association of the Year recognition so coveted, what does it take for your community to win this distinction?


It sounds simple but it really does start with the decision to apply…NOW! Do not fall into the trap of thinking your community has to be perfect before you take this important step. It doesn’t. Best practices come from doing, from implementing processes you have already in place. It is the starting point for your application, not the destination. Many communities may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you are doing many things right because its hard to think of those things when the feedback from a small percentage of your community may be otherwise. According to CAI’s 2020 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey, 89% of residents rate their overall community association experience as very good or good (70%) so be encouraged that your community is doing something right. Why not let others know what that is?


Do you remember that little exercise on a test that if you did not pay attention, it would cause most, apart from one or two, to fail the test because of it? It would be something like this: Print your name in the upper right corner of the test and then begin at question 1 and that question would read: “Fill in the date and then skip to the end, sign, and turn it in for full credit.” How many of us just started answering questions without reading the instructions first? More of us than we care to admit. That little thing made the difference between passing and failing. The same applies to the CAY application instructions. Read them carefully as they contain especially important information that applies to ALL applicants.

Over the years, we have seen many great applications that ultimately don’t win because directions have not been followed. Most of this occurs in the essay portion of the application.

Please make sure to pay attention to requirements on word count, spacing, and including the name as well as other required information of the person completing the essay. Missing these “little things” will result in points being deducted and significantly affected your chances of being selected as a finalist community.


One of the questions on the application relates to environmental and “green” practices for your community and inevitably many applications will note that their communities recycle using the blue bins. To put it plainly, that is the least we can do as most municipalities now mandate that communities recycle or face penalties, etc. What are you doing that goes beyond this requirement? Tell us that. A prior winning community used goats to clear the overgrown brush from the common areas in its community, noting that use of the goats reduced emissions from gas powered landscaping equipment. Thanks to that innovative thinking and the success of the project, neighboring communities implemented using goats to clear their overgrown common areas. This greener practice not only helped the originating community but others as well. This is a win/win.


Many of our committee members have helped judge CAY applications for several years and our consensus is this–the most important piece of the information for us has always been the essay. If a community is implementing best practices on a regular basis, then it will easily reflect in the short questions through the entire submission. When we read an essay, we want to really understand why we should want to live there and what makes that community special. So often the essay might reiterate some of the answers posted in the multiple-choice section. Paint us a picture of how your association goes above and beyond to be stellar! It must be compelling for us to uproot our lives and move into your community. Wow us!

By Community Association of the Year Awards (CAY) Judges Panel