Volunteers R.O.C.K.!

cai-il volunteers working together

“Common areas do not automatically create a sense of community. Nurturing the community spirit is probably the greatest challenge facing community associations today.” —CLIFFORD TREESE, CPCU, ARM, CIRMS and community association guru extraordinaire

So, how can an association nurture community spirit? Through its volunteers! This article will offer a few thoughts on how to encourage volunteerism and some ideas on fostering community spirit.

Encouraging Volunteers in Your Community

First, the basics. If you’re a manager fortunate enough to work with a developer when the community is but a gleam in his or her eye, you’ve got the potential to cultivate the community spirit from the very beginning. It may take some persuasion, but convincing the developer that committees composed of volunteers help the community succeed, resulting in quicker sales and happy residents who encourage family and friends to join them, is a win-win for everyone.

As the community’s first cheerleader, your responsibilities may include drafting committee charters with volunteer input that address a real purpose, real responsibilities, and a detailed organization including reporting, leadership (picking the right chairman is crucial), number and required skills of members, frequency and location of meetings, minutes, board liaison and approval process for expenditures. Committees are not for the gadfly you think you can stifle – it’s for legitimate, needed work to improve and advance the community – and foster community spirit!

How do you appeal to residents’ volunteer instincts?

Browse the following tips to appeal to residents’ volunteer instincts:

  • Find out what makes them tick. Are they interested in networking? Meeting their neighbors? Making new friends? Improving their resume? Working for the “greater good”? Giving back? Craft your appeal to hone in on specific personal, professional and emotional needs.
  • Create catchy, positive, exciting and motivating recruitment material such as a YouTube video and upbeat handouts that describe each committee and the ideal committee member (necessary skills or talents, specific job description). Always include a sign-up sheet.
  • Purchase logo material and apparel (your association DOES have a logo, right?) that’s free for volunteers.
  • Plan personal recruitments efforts through one-on-one appeals and at every membership event where recruitment handouts are always available.
  • Budget for volunteer education and training specific to their role, such as CAI’s Board Tool Kit and webinars and classes on maintenance, landscaping, budgeting and insurance.
  • Post pictures on the association’s website and in newsletters and other communications of happy volunteers having fun in their committee and with their events and projects.
  • Update email and cell phone lists of every household member at every event to provide no-cost (and controlled frequency) communications and information about committee activities. Send out monthly postcard updates – they’re cheaper than envelopes and have a better chance of being read.
  • Hold volunteer get-togethers with meals/snacks/barbecue – fun!
  • Charter a Welcome Committee with contagiously enthusiastic members who encourage new residents to join a committee.
  • At the community’s entrance(s), hand out bags of popcorn that say, “Pop into the clubhouse every third Thursday for the Social Committee meeting!”
  • Hand out bags of potato chips that say “Chip in to help the Landscape Committee the first Monday of every month!”
  • On Valentine’s Day, distribute bagged or boxed candy hearts that say “Love your association – join the Board!”
  • Enthrall children in the community through conservation challenges or protecting the newly-planted saplings (kids are great about engaging their parents in their efforts).
  • Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly so residents can access the calendar of events and committee information.

Keeping Volunteers Engaged

Sometimes it may be relatively easy to attract volunteers but much harder to keep their interest and participation. Here are some suggestions for keeping volunteers happy and involved:

  • The committee chair is prepared, organized, focused, warm, kind, friendly, helpful and welcoming, assigning responsibilities to the members instead of doing everything himself or herself. Meetings are as short as possible while still being productive.
  • Volunteers recognize leadership opportunities – first serve on the committee, then chair the committee, then serve on the board, then preside over the board.
  • Board members are committee liaisons, not committee chairs, to allow for the incubation of future leaders.
  • Shortly after the annual meeting, hold an organization meeting of the board and committee chairs to familiarize everyone with the community’s mission statement, progress and challenges and to brainstorm new goals and objectives.
  • Recognize volunteers at every opportunity. Give credit every time there’s an audience. Showcase a volunteer in every newsletter and on the website. Acknowledge committees and committee members in newsletters, minutes and member correspondence.
  • Allow each committee chair to present a 3 – 5 minute “committee in review” at the annual meeting or in the annual meeting handout, listing all the committee members.
  • Install brick pavers honoring specific volunteers
  • Hold an annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner/Barbecue/Lunch with spouses and families.
  • Ask for a Mayoral Proclamation recognizing a particular volunteer or committee.
  • Recognize a “Volunteer of the Year”.
  • Ask contractors and vendors to contribute gift cards and other tokens of appreciation.
  • The committee chair and board president should regularly communicate with and encourage volunteers so there’s no disconnect between the board and the committees’ goals. They should also attend committee meetings occasionally to personally thank the volunteers.
  • Heartfelt, genuine hand-written thank-you notes are always appreciated.
  • Surprise them with chocolates, a bag of sweets or an edible arrangement.
  •  Present “This is Your Life” for a long-term volunteer.
  • Create and maintain a photo album or scrapbook highlighting volunteer projects and successes.
  • Provide a comfortable, safe, welcoming, encouraging, appreciative environment.
  • Provide snacks and non-alcoholic beverages at meetings.
  • Encourage creative thinking and collaboration.
  •  Set reasonable workloads and deadlines.
  • Cancel unnecessary meetings and disband superfluous committees.

The true value of someone’s time and talents are measured by the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment they feel when they know that their work has been worthwhile. Treat volunteers with the respect, kindness and appreciation they deserve. They are the lifeblood of community associations – they help accomplish work of the association but also establish values and priorities of the membership. The more effective and committed our volunteers, the more successful the community will be and the happier the members. The more positive their experience as a volunteer, the better chance they’ll continue to serve. Volunteers will also prove invaluable in recruiting other volunteers. So, go forth and recruit, welcoming those volunteers and expressing your appreciation at every opportunity.

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