It is not news that I tell you things are changing all around us. For example, my local newly renovated McDonalds now looks like the set of an early Star Trek movie set, and my grandchildren don’t need go to the bank, but can deposit their paychecks via their handheld devices. When it comes to Community Association (CA) committees, why assume that things are the same as when our CAs were established?
If your CA is five years or older, chances are that many things related to its functioning are being influenced by changes in the world about us – as probably are committee operations. Sorry, but if you are a part of community management and don’t sense this, you are probably headed for a rude awakening.
When I “cut my teeth” volunteering for committee work in the small town where I lived and later in the new HOA to which I moved, things followed an established pattern. Committees were established and volunteers invited to join. Meeting dates were set, a site and time determined, and reminders were mailed out. While an agenda might have been included, descriptive background material may not have been included. If a quorum of members were present, discussions could proceed, and decisions made. (Of course, when strong conflicting views were expressed, arriving at decisions didn’t prove easy.) Minutes were handwritten by an appointee, and typed copies were circulated for adoption or considered at the next meeting. It involved a simple process – and all things considered it worked. Important things got accomplished.
What has changed to the model I described?
First, at least as I have observed, resident willingness to volunteer for committee work may have decreased. Many other volunteer organizations are sharing this problem. Thus, it may pose a greater problem to staff CA committees. However, securing volunteers may vary by community and circumstances. In some new communities residents may have a greater than ordinary interest in playing a role in operational decisions and laying down policies and procedures. Conversely, in an established community, benefiting from earlier years of effective volunteer and community management efforts, a measure of complacency may have set in. Alternatively, if problems have been growing related to, for example, failing CA infrastructure or out of control companion animal conditions, residents may be upset and desire to play a role in making improvements.
Hopefully, elected officers and community management have a feeling for the state of affairs – either way – and recognize whether it will be necessary to “beat the woods” for volunteers or exercise a measure of caution in how to screen persons expressing strong interest in volunteering. In the former case, it may be helpful to “incentivize” recruiting by holding social events for volunteers and candidates, including gift card raffles for attendees.
A difficult problem to address is when “a behind old guard” takes control of the volunteer (including elected) positions in a CA. If term limits haven’t been provided for-it may be time for their consideration.
Second, and related to the first point, people tend to be busy today, and new homeowners particularly so. Committee participation needs to be made “convenient” and not burdensome. This can be dealt with through limiting the frequency of scheduled meetings, as well as adoption of related “ground rules” related to maximum allowable meeting lengths, as well as permission for “off site” attendance, such as via telephone or remote camera. While it may require some need for creativity, if committee membership is heavily made up of young mothers (or fathers) daytime scheduled dates plus having child care available, may be useful. Of course, there are limits as to just how far a community need go to accommodate volunteers.
Third, the educational level of society continues to increase and volunteers can reasonably expect to be called upon in a manner that best utilizes their capabilities. I think that this condition is met by: best informing volunteers of the matters they will be asked to consider, via the provisions of well written background materials, and making reaction to routine procedures as easy as possible. The latter can be satisfied by management staff compiling minutes and providing them via email to committee members. Finally, it needs to be made clear that means exist for volunteers to introduce points of view.
The interface between a community and its volunteers has posed problems since the beginning of CAs-and won’t ever end. It is simply something that needs continual attention.
By Rich Terselic
Rich has served as both a committee volunteer and elected board of directors member in a large, twenty-year old, HOA located on the suburban fringes of the Washington, DC metro area.