Sign up here: 12 ways to recruit and retain volunteers

Volunteers play a critical role in making community associations vibrant and attractive places to live. Finding, motivating, directing, and maintaining volunteers’ interest, however, are challenging tasks.

Assigning association responsibilities to the right people, asking them to accomplish realistic tasks, and making them glad they did add to the challenge. Communities can perfect their recruitment and retainment strategies with the following tips and tricks.

Ask early. Start recruiting volunteers early. Tap into the excitement and energy people bring to their new home. Ask them to volunteer and get involved to channel that enthusiasm in a way that benefits the entire community.

Ask often. Many people will wait to be asked and, if no one asks, they may never volunteer. The best way to recruit is to personally invite people to get involved, rather than posting a notice in the newsletter, an email, or on social media.

Play matchmaker. Ask residents about their talents, interests, likes, and dislikes; then successfully match them with relevant volunteer roles.

Don’t overwhelm. Don’t overload volunteers, especially new residents, with too much work. Keep roles modest, and make sure they understand the monthly time commitment.

Respect their time. Start and end meetings on time, and always share the agenda a few days before a meeting so volunteers can prepare for the discussion.

Respect their ideas. When a volunteer shares an idea or recommendation, he or she is owed an acknowledgement, what the ultimate decision was, and why. If the idea isn’t appropriate, tactfully point out why without making it personal or attacking the idea.

Provide guidance. Have experienced committee members mentor and nurture newer members and provide them with the skills they need to take on greater responsibilities.

Educate. Providing relevant educational opportunities also is helpful and a wise investment in the community’s future.

Make it fun and rewarding. Build in time to socialize before and after a meeting, but don’t let it interfere with the purpose of gathering. Fun events build a sense of teamwork.

Make accommodations. People are more likely to volunteer if small accommodations are made to make it convenient. Be flexible and open to changes if it means greater volunteer participation. Consider asking your residents when they’d be most likely to attend meetings.

Build your bench. With more active, team-minded volunteers, your community can accomplish much more. It also will be in a better position when volunteers move or step down from their roles.

Thank gratuitously. Recognize volunteers for their efforts. Ways to express appreciation could include an inexpensive plaque or certificate of appreciation; public acknowledgement at the annual meeting; an expression of thanks on the association webpage; or a listing of volunteers’ names in the community newsletter or on social media. Keep in mind that board members typically are prohibited from accepting gifts.

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Crisis communicator: A board president’s coordinated strategy during Hurricane Irma

Michael Kulich, the overall winner of CAI’s 2018 Outstanding Homeowner Leader award, went above and beyond to help the Turtle Creek Homeowners Association in Orlando, Fla., deal with Hurricane Irma’s destruction. As president of Turtle Creek when the storm struck, Kulich led efforts to develop and implement the community’s disaster plan, and during Irma, he turned his home into a “war room” to give board members and vendors a space to provide the community with updates and review action plans.

When the skies cleared, Kulich—a management consultant by trade—took time off from his day job to coordinate vendor activities and lead the cleanup until the community was back on its feet.

What should homeowners do before and after a hurricane?

Residents should stock up on critical supplies and identify how to stay connected to the police and the association. It’s equally important for residents to be patient after the storm passes. Turtle Creek residents were eager to begin the cleanup process after Irma. While their intentions were good, it’s better to pause, confirm everyone is safe, and confirm it’s safe to begin clearing debris.

Michael Kulich

What must a community disaster plan include?

Our plan focused on preparing our infrastructure and homeowners for potential damage and partnering with local vendors and government officials to establish communications lines for continuous updates. Between computers and cell phones, Turtle Creek board members were in constant communication with local government officials, local law enforcement, and utility companies. This approach allowed us to gather pictures of the damage and have video conferences with our landscaping vendor to develop a cleanup plan. We were back to normal operations within a couple of weeks as opposed to months.

What makes a community leader effective?

Communication is an essential quality. As a board member, I use MailChimp for email updates, Twitter, and I recently launched a YouTube channel to livestream our board meetings. Residents appreciate our efforts to keep them informed, as it lends itself to another trait of a successful community leader: transparency. Operating an association board shouldn’t be a mystery. Residents should feel welcome to attend all activities, and feedback should be encouraged.

Why do you volunteer?

Volunteering gives me an opportunity to remove myself from the daily grind and focus my time and energy helping someone else. Since high school, I’ve made it a priority to find a cause or an organization where I can volunteer.

What do you enjoy about serving on your board?

As president, I find the ability to address a homeowner’s concern and find a resolution extremely rewarding. But my main source of enjoyment stems from the relationships I’ve built with our homeowners and local vendors.

What else do you enjoy?

Traveling with my wife and daughter and adding to my sports card collection. Lately, my free time is spent writing. I’m creating my first blog, which focuses on community association topics and trends.

April is National Volunteer Month. Read our articles about preparing for a volunteer role and five steps for effective community leadership. And you can read about the inspiring work done by a homeowner leader who put his community toward a path of financial stability.

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Turnaround leader: How a board president revitalized a community in financial disarray

When Michael Shucart took the helm as president of Leisure Town Home Association’s board more than five years ago, financial disarray and outdated amenities plagued the 1,150-home community in Vacaville, Calif. Now, the retired banker is credited with putting Leisure Town back on a path to success.

Development of the 55-and-older community first began in the early 1960s, and the association had gone without a professional community manager for more than 50 years. There had been little resolve from the board to raise assessments and make improvements. “The community was left deferring maintenance with little in the reserves for replacement or repairs,” says Shucart.

Undoing decades of neglect, Shucart developed a list of priorities “to help define our vision” after consulting with the community’s 1,800 residents. The board developed a plan to overcome years of deferred maintenance.

Michael Shucart

Drawing from his experience as a banker specializing in wholesale mortgages, Shucart also reviewed each line in the association’s budget for cost-saving measures. He saw that the reserve study replacement costs were unrealistic and that vendor contracts could be improved.

“I realized all of our vendors were friends of friends. As a result, most of them were not giving us favorable conditions,” says Shucart.

In addition, after more than five decades without a manager, the board decided to hire a full-time, on-site manager to fill the void in day-to-day operations.

Through these steps and a few others, the community recently unveiled updated amenities including a new bocce court, a lawn bowling field, a remodeled swimming pool, and a new fitness center for residents. 

Because of the contributions that have improved Leisure Town’s financial standing and infrastructure, Shucart was named Homeowner Leader of the Year by CAI’s Northern California Chapter in 2018.

Shucart credits the success of Leisure Town’s turnaround to the collaboration with the other members of the board. He also points out that effective leadership “starts with identifying the concerns of membership, putting a plan together that addresses those issues, and working together in the best interests of the association toward a solution.”

But the work is far from over. Shucart has already set future goals to address at Leisure Town. “We are figuring out how to deal with the closure of our golf course, trying to bring in recycled water to use for the roughly 17 acres of green space, and installing new solar panels to offset the cost of electric usage,” he says.

April is National Volunteer Month. Read our articles about preparing for a volunteer role and five steps for effective community leadership. And stay tuned for another look at inspiring work done by a homeowner leader.

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Made in the HOA: 5 steps for effective community association leadership

Some volunteers who have served on a community association board have realized that much of what works for them in their day job doesn’t work as well in the context of board governance. That’s because, in an association, no single person is in charge. Decisions are made by the consensus of board members, so the chain of command is horizontal and less hierarchical.

The best board members understand this very different paradigm. They also prepare for the role and follow the steps below.

Embrace group decision-making

The individual director typically has no power. Once directors embrace the framework of the board as decision-maker, they understand that they cannot make individual promises. This restraint can be very freeing since no individual is responsible for the association and its actions.

Know limitations

A director’s role is in the title; he or she is a person who gives direction. Directors are not normally required or expected to act. The board directs its manager, employees, and service providers to act through association policy and individual decisions.

A director has got to know his or her limitations. The best accept that they do not know everything; they rely upon managers, consultants, and committees. Such directors handle board disagreements much better by accepting the possibility that another sees or knows something that they do not.

Prepare for meetings

The dynamic between group decision-making and relying on experts should be on full display during association meetings.

The most productive and efficient meetings are the result of committed and prepared volunteers, normally assisted by a great manager. To help bring about the best board meetings as a director:

  • Read the agenda packet.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Talk to the board, not the audience.
  • Ask the manager for input on most motions.
  • Encourage open forum as an important part of meetings, and pay attention.
  • Don’t comment on every motion.
  • Respect your board colleagues.

Handle disputes without hostility

During your board service, there will occasionally be violations of the governing documents or other un-neighborly conduct. Try to work things out. Gentle escalation is almost always preferable to “going legal” right out of the gate.

Don’t assume the violating homeowners are disrespecting the board. They might not understand their rights and responsibilities. Give them a chance to do the right thing.

In addition, don’t be too quick to take sides in a dispute between residents, unless there is independent corroboration of the problem. Encourage residents to work things out as neighbors.

Recruit replacements

Finally, begin identifying and preparing your replacement on the board. Volunteer service should not be a life sentence. Committees are a great place to identify people who not only have the interest but will demonstrate commitment to the association and proper attitudes of service and governance.

April is National Volunteer Month. Stay tuned for a look at some of the inspiring work done by homeowner leaders.

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A nice approach: Finding success in your community and in business

Disputes and disagreements between board members, residents, community managers, staff members, and business partners are an inevitable part of living in a community association. While generating an atmosphere of kindness and respect might seem easier said than done, it can make for a more collaborative and positive environment for all, says advertising leader and best-selling author Linda Kaplan Thaler.

Thaler, who is CEO and president of Kaplan Thaler Productions, has carried the belief throughout her professional career that being nice pays off. Thaler’s advertising agency became famous for developing the Kodak Moments campaign, catapulting Clairol Herbal Essences into notoriety with a series of ads inspired by the iconic deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” and turning “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid” into one of the most recognizable jingles in the world.

Linda Kaplan Thaler

She says that her parents, especially her father, instilled the importance of being mindful and respectful of others. While working on a book that demonstrates this philosophy, The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness, she interviewed leaders and CEOs who noted their key to higher productivity and profit margins was practicing kindness.

“We don’t have enough people out there, enough leaders out there, who are really espousing this belief that being nice is really a tool for success. You are not filling people’s champagne glass. You are not a doormat,” Thaler emphasizes. “It is a fine strength when you can allow people in to collaborate. At the end of the day, people will work much harder if they feel acknowledged and if they feel like part of the process.”

The same applies to community associations. Thaler believes that codes of civility are a great way to get people toward a path of being nice to one another. “You can’t have a culture, or an association, or a group of homeowners who will feel comfortable with each other if incivility is allowed, if disrespect is allowed,” she explains.

But actions always go beyond words, and community associations can practice what they preach in simple ways. “Listening is such a huge part of creating a culture where people are nice to each other, where people are kind to each other, because they feel like they are being heard,” Thaler says, adding that listening is also critical to creating empathy and connecting with people.

“The other thing is that you can deflect a lot of tension with humor. When we make another person laugh, we are basically creating a bond,” she notes, saying that humor can be a tool before communicating decisions that may not sit well with many people. “I think it’s very important to use humor in a way that says, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ ”

Thaler will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 CAI Annual Conference and Exposition: Community NOW, May 15-18, in Orlando.

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How to prepare for a community association volunteer role

A community association is no better than the board of directors that leads it. If an association is to be excellent, willing volunteers must be developed. 

Excellent board members understand that their position is one of service rather than control. They serve their neighbors; they don’t supervise them. A service-forward attitude results in a less defensive perspective in which new ideas and opinions are welcomed and not perceived as insults or threats. 

Before seeking a board seat, the best candidates improve their readiness for the position. They should: 

Read the governing documents at least once. The governing documents are the framework (along with applicable laws) within which the board must operate. 

Join CAI and take advantage of all its resources. CAI is the only respected resource in the U.S. and around the world for homeowners to better understand effective community governance. CAI offers excellent introductory publications, training courses to better serve your community, and both online and in-person workshops 

Understand the business judgment rule. The business judgment rule separates careful board members from liability for the decisions they make while governing the association. Learn the boundaries of that rule.  

Attend at least four board meetings. Familiarize yourself with board meeting procedures, and observe the current issues being addressed.  

Talk to the community manager.  The manager may not endorse or oppose any board candidate (ethics bars it), but he or she can tell you what makes a good director. 

Read the annual budget. Study the budget and see where the association’s money goes before you pass judgment on the current board. 

Read the most recent reserve study. If the board has been reluctant to raise assessments in several years, and repairs aren’t being made in the community, the board may have suspended reserve account deposits.  

Avoid predetermined agendas. Board candidates often run on platforms that sound great but are based on inadequate information. The sitting board almost always has much more involvement and information than non-directors, so avoid making promises before you learn if you are right. 

April is National Volunteer Month. Stay tuned for more tips and tricks to volunteering in community associations as well as a look at some of the inspiring work done by homeowner leaders.

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A ‘kinder, gentler’ community starts with you

“Where is it written that we must act as if we do not care, as if we’re not moved? Well, I am moved. I want a kinder, gentler nation.”

That was the late George H.W. Bush as he accepted the Republican nomination for president in 1988. Bush, of course, would go on to serve in the Oval Office from 1989–1993. His call for civility rang true then and rings true today, perhaps even more so. It applies in politics, society in general, and in community associations.

Many association board members, managers, and business partners report dealing with disruptions at meetings, profane and threatening emails, and other behavior that most people would consider uncivil. In fact, some communities are moving to adopt codes that demand courteousness and respect, ban foul language, and prohibit threats of physical and psychological harm.

Read about these steps and a discussion about civility today in “A Civil Action,” the cover story in the January/February Common Ground TM magazine. 

For the article, we checked in with some experts on the subject, including Daniel Buccino, the current director of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

Is strife becoming more common in American society? Public opinion polls show that most people believe that it is, yet Buccino notes that people have been concerned about civility for a long time, and many think it’s somebody else’s problem.

The university’s project was founded in 1997 by Pier Massimo Forni as an aggregation of academic and community outreach activities aimed at “assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society.” Forni’s efforts inspired civility-based initiatives on college campuses and in communities around the country.

In his book Choosing Civility, published in 2003, Forni shares and examines 25 rules of considerate conduct. He writes about the need to be agreeable: “We need agreement in our lives because it is gratifying and healing, because human bonds could not be forged without it, and because it is the foundation of social harmony. Of course disagreement can be productive. ‘A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing,’ observed Thomas Jefferson. In disagreement alone, however, we couldn’t survive.”

Sadly, like Bush, Forni also passed away at the end of 2018. As a new year begins, maybe we can learn to follow their advice. Maybe we can accept that incivility today is our problem. Maybe we all can be a little kinder, gentler, civil, and agreeable.

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‘Twas the Night Before (the HOA’s) Christmas

‘Twas the night before the HOA’s Christmas, and through the community
Not a complaint was heard, there appeared just pure unity;
The thank-you notes were placed by the bulletin board with care,
In hopes that the board and manager would soon see them there;

The homeowners were nestled all snug in their beds,
No worries of paint or roofs bothering their heads,
And the Vice President in her condo, and I in mine too,
Had just settled down for a break from reviewing the dues,

When out in the courtyard there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my balcony to see what was the matter.
Away to the railing I flew like a flash,
Only to see neighbors with gripes to rehash.

I couldn’t figure out in the dark of the night
Exactly what they thought gave them the right,
But I knew from my time on the homeowners board,
Our meetings these neighbors had always ignored,

Then in a flash I noticed a visitor,
Who tried to join that group of inquisitors
He wore a red fur coat over an ample belly, and
His hearty laugh made it shake as it were jelly,

His smile quickly faded as they all turned away,
They told him that tenants had nothing to say,
The jolly man disappeared as quickly as he came here,
Amid the sound of eight snorting… reindeer?

In a moment came another, without much ado,
He arrived with a viewpoint needed and new,
I knew in a flash it was manager, Nick.
He knew what was needed and he brought it quick,

He exclaimed “Now, Member! now, Neighbor! Now, Bylaws and Covenant,
Please read the rules before bringing your comment.
Now back to your homes, and back to your castles,
Please, just for today, have a cease to the hassles”

He said “you by choice bought in a community,
Which works at its best when all live in unity,
Remember that your board serves you for free,
and consider joining a committee – or three.

“You have no busy elves, and HOAs thrive when all work as a team,
If all think only of selves, a nightmare soon it will seem.
Your association is much like a large but rowed boat,
If each rows as a solo, not for long will it float.”

Amidst headshakes and handshakes the courtyard then cleared,
And I hoped that above still flew a sleigh and eight impatient reindeer.

No reindeer or jolly elf’s labors returned to the site,
But folks reached to their neighbors, and started treating them right.
A different air began to take hold in the complex
As the Golden Rule became our theme and our text.

Manager Nick surveyed the scene, pleased,
Knowing the group a happy future had it seized.
And laying his finger aside of his face,
He ran toward his car as if in a race;

He sprang to his auto, heading home in a dash,
And away he drove as quick as a flash.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

[Readers: May peace and neighborliness permeate your communities in the coming year!]

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Sea, Sand, and Sustainability

In the May/June issue of Common Ground, CAI profiled Seabrook Island, S.C., a 2,400-acre coastal barrier island tucked away 20 miles south of Charleston, S.C. A maritime forest, marshes, and miles of beach make Seabrook Island a wildlife haven. The community’s residents have acted to preserve the area’s delicate habitat and promote sustainability.

The 1,800 residents who occupy the 2,594 properties of Seabrook Island Property Owners Association don’t take for granted the miles of pristine beach on the Atlantic Ocean and North Edisto River. They delight in watching bottlenose dolphins from the shore and spotting bald eagles soaring overhead.

They take advantage of this wildlife haven by exploring the community’s 14-acre lake, miles of biking and hiking trails, and more than 500 acres of common property.

That’s why the association embarked on an effort to protect and preserve the area’s natural beauty and create a plan to prolong the island’s sustainability. That’s also how it recently became the first in the state to be designated a Certified Sustainable Community by environmental education nonprofit Audubon International.

Download a PDF of the entire article “Sea, Sand, and Sustainability” and—for a limited time only—access the entire May/June issue of Common Ground through the magazine’s digital edition.

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Survey Says: Residents Satisfied with Their Community


For the seventh time in 13 years, Americans living in homeowners associations and condominiums say they’re overwhelmingly satisfied in their communities, according to the 2018 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics for the Foundation for Community Association Research. Sixty-three percent of respondents say they are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their community association living experience, while 22 percent report a neutral response.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents say their association’s rules protect and enhance their property values, while 28 percent say they have a neutral effect. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed expressed that neighbors elected to the governing board “absolutely” or “for the most part” serve the best interests of their communities.

Other highlights include:

  • 73 percent say their community managers provide value and support to residents and their associations.
  • 81 percent say they are on friendly terms with their association board.
  • 80 percent say they prefer either no change or less government control within their association.
  • 60 percent say their association assessments are “just the right
    amount”—or “too little.

Read the complete report at

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