The "mortar" that cements together the building blocks for community is communication between homeowners and the leadership team. The following types of communication are extremely important: (a) member surveys—both written and via focus groups; (b) annual meetings; (c) town hall meetings / mid-year report-back to owners (you should receive and encourage owner input); (d) service requests/complaints—use a review and response procedure; (e) community activities, such as National "Night Out"; (f) block parties or holiday parties.
The use of surveys is probably one of the most effective tools available to an association. A survey can gauge the likes, dislikes, wishes and attitudes of owners. Surveys should be customized to meet the needs of the specific association and should contain some statistical information that can be used for comparative purposes from year to year. Surveys can be used to determine if the owners are in fact in favor of a proposal being promoted by a few. For example, should a children's playground be constructed on the common area adjacent to the recreation facilities, or should the available funds be spent on other named projects? The parents of the children will want the playground, but they may be few in numbers and the playground may not be the preference of the majority of owners. A survey listing the alternatives and costs will give the board an indication of the owners' wishes and will assist the board in its dealings with the minority. The topic, if brought up at the annual meeting, can more easily be dealt with if the wishes of the majority of the owners are known. Reference can be made to the results of the survey. For the survey to be effective, returns should be obtained from a significant number of owners. To facilitate owner response, the survey should not be longer than one page, and should be capable of being folded and mailed. If this is not practical, consider the use of a post card or supply the owners with pre-addressed envelopes. Use of the Business Reply Mail service of the U.S. Post Office will also increase the number of responses.
The Annual Meeting
The annual meeting is a time for celebration. It is a time to focus on the achievements of the association for the past year, a time to recognize the contribution of the volunteer leadership, a time to evaluate the association's goals and objectives, and a time to announce the association's plans for the forthcoming year. It is an opportunity for the board to communicate with the membership and report to the owners on the "State of the Association." It is also an opportunity for the membership to give the board feedback, to help set the association's standards, and to help define the expectations of the owners.
Dealing with a Dissident Minority
As previously stated, the annual meeting should be a time for celebration. Too often, the meeting is adversarial and is conducted in an unpleasant and confrontational atmosphere. Dissidents gain support through misinformation—filling the communication void. The town hall meetings, surveys and score card of accomplishments can minimize the effect of the vociferous few who sometimes control the silent majority. To be effective, these steps need to be planned and executed before the meeting. It should be said that dissent is healthy if handled in a positive and constructive way. It should also be emphasized that dissent is warranted when boards ignore owner rights or operate "in the dark." The business of the association should be conducted in the open and with transparency.
A Town Hall Meeting
As the name implies, the annual meeting is held once per year. As a forum for communicating with owners, this may be inadequate. Very often emotions of owners are pent-up and overflow at the annual meeting. Consideration should be given to providing owners with more frequent opportunities to express their wishes. The use of the Town Hall meeting is ideal for this purpose. The Town Hall meeting is an informal general meeting of owners. It does not require formal notice and a quorum is not necessary. It is merely a gathering of owners to discuss items of mutual concern. The Town Hall meeting should not be confused with a special meeting of the association that is called in accordance with the bylaws of the association to discuss specified business.