Get on Board! How to Increase Member Participation at Community Meetings

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One of the conundrums of co-op and condo life is how to keep members involved and interested in the governance of their building or association. Many residents are delighted to own, but less than excited to participate. That lack of engagement can ultimately cause problems -- not just in the form of a limited pool of volunteers for board service, but to the ability of the co-op or condo to conduct everyday business, since most bylaws require a quorum to make important decisions. Those decisions include the election of officers, but are certainly not limited to that. Major project can almost never be undertaken without a community-wide vote, which requires shareholders or owners to attend annual or semi-annual meetings.

So how can associations or co-ops coax their membership into more active, consistent participation?  The Cooperator spoke to some shareholders to find out.

Building Community

Dana Greco has lived in co-ops in several neighborhoods in New York City for her entire adult life, including SoHo, the Upper West Side, and currently Riverdale in the Bronx.  “When I moved into [my] building and attended my first meeting, it was packed,” she says. “But that was for the annual election of officers. Last year we had the semi-annual meeting and didn’t get a quorum. That concerned me, so I began a program on my own, hosting a social hour on Friday nights so that people would get to know each other and hopefully become more interested in participating in the governance of the building.” Greco adds that many people come to meetings to gripe about what’s wrong - so if they don’t show up, perhaps that’s an indication that things are running smoothly.

Make It Relevant

Ray Levy is a board member of a 54-unit co-op building in Washington Heights. “The most substantive thing we’ve done is posting agendas and providing opportunities for shareholders to add items to the agenda,” he says. ”You’ll want to come to address your issues. Having people serving on committees or task forces that are reporting out also encourages investment in the meetings.” He adds that the most enjoyable thing his building has done is to hold a social hour following the meeting. “I don’t know if more people came for refreshments, but people certainly lingered and this served as a good community builder."

What a Difference a Neighborhood Makes

Allison Spitz recently moved from a co-op on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to one on Fort Washington Avenue in Hudson Heights. She says the culture of the two buildings are vastly different. She served for many years on the board of her East End Avenue building, which never had a problem attracting shareholders to any business meeting for the corporation. In fact, the meetings had to be held off-site, in an auditorium big enough to accommodate the crowd. “We didn’t so much as offer a cup of coffee,” Spitz recalls.

She is very aware of how different her new Hudson Heights building operates. There are subcommittees of all types, which her former building didn’t have. People are encouraged to get involved—as she has—and the semi-annual meeting is referred to as a 'town hall.' Resident issues and comments are solicited before the meeting for the agenda. The feeling is just a bit cozier. She is eager to see the turnout at the town hall meeting and how it will compare to her previous experience.

Communication Is Key

Joseph Rosenberg is the COO with Atlantic Management, a property management company based in Secaucus, New Jersey that oversees many co-op and condo communities. To him, the important thing in getting residents to attend is communication. “We help the boards promote the meetings as part of our management responsibilities,” he explains. “We run announcements in the association bulletins if they have one, send out email reminders, and even make phone contact with the unit owners to get them to the meetings. We remind them how important their attendance is. They also have the opportunity to put their issues on the agenda.”

Clearly, communication and a feeling of inclusiveness are the key. As the adage says, it takes a village.

AJ Sidransky is a staff writer at The Cooperator, and a published novelist.

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