Producing an Effective Community Newsletter

By Bob Gourley

I fielded a question recently about the effectiveness of community newsletters. It came from a property manager who claimed he spent many hours every month preparing a newsletter for his community that “no one ever reads”. After reviewing the newsletter, which was little more than a collection of rants about trash, dog waste, and parking violations, I agreed with his summation of the newsletter’s effectiveness. I certainly wouldn’t read this newsletter or look forward to the next issue. He asked what he could do to improve his ability to communicate with association members in future issues. Here is a checklist we developed to help steer him toward producing an effective newsletter.

The Refrigerator Magnet Test
I use a phrase to describe the appeal a community newsletter should carry. When a child brings home a great grade on a spelling or math test, it usually gets stuck on the refrigerator door with a kitchen magnet. A great community newsletter should have the same appeal. It should look good enough to be worthy of the honor and the content should be relevant enough that a community member should want to keep it close at hand.

The Golden Rule
First, and foremost, remember the Golden Rule of Community Communications – “Speak Unto Others as You Would Like to be Spoken to Yourself”. If you are going to use your newsletter to simply admonish and threaten those who violate the rules, you can expect a highly ineffective result. Every community has rules broken from time to time. The rule breakers usually represent a very small portion of the community. Why not celebrate the actions of those that follow the rules and thank them for being such good citizens? A pat on the back feels better and is more enjoyable to read about.

Positive versus Negative
Think about some of the great communicators of our time. They know that a positive message is better received than a negative message. Use positive energy throughout your publication and you will end up with a newsletter that is both highly read and enjoyed by the community. Use negative energy and you will end up with a largely unread newsletter that does little more than waste resources both in its production and its effectiveness.

Content is King
If you want to draw readers in to your newsletter, you must provide something that they want. My experience with communities has taught me that its members want to know what is going on, especially those items that effect their pocketbook. If the Board of Directors is discussing plans for a major capital improvement project, association members want to know how the improvement will benefit them and how much it will cost. Nothing draws readers in like learning about the new swimming pool they will be enjoying in one year’s time or the new parking lot pavement project that will get rid of the potholes they drive through every day. The more interesting your content is, the more your readers will look forward to learning more in the next issue.

Human Interest
Facts and figures aside, community members like to feel as though they are part of something more than a housing system. Don’t be afraid to add some human interest by sharing knowledge that will intrigue your readers. Who is new in the community? Who just celebrated their 50th anniversary? Who has a new baby in their home? These news items may seem a little trivial at first but they can become a very interesting topic to community members who are more social in nature.

Looks are Important
Making your newsletter look its best is critical to making it effective. If it looks like the person preparing the newsletter doesn’t care about how it looks, it is likely to be received in the same manner. Spelling, grammar, and design are all elements that require attention. If your community can afford color printing for its newsletter, it will carry a higher value by your audience.

Creating an effective newsletter requires attention to detail and knowledge of how to create a winning publication. If your publication highlights only negative items about the community and does nothing more than provide a platform to admonish readers about rules violations, don’t be surprised if no one ever reads it. If you take the time and effort to create a positive experience for your reader, you will be rewarded with an effective tool for communicating with your community members and they will actually look forward to each new issue.

Failure to Communicate Can Lead to a Manager’s Failure

By Bob Gourley

Since I work closely with management professionals, one of the more difficult questions I routinely face from community association leaders is how the community should go about the process of selecting a new community association manager. It causes me great concern when I first hear that a community is thinking of changing managers as most of them I know are conscientious and hard-working individuals who truly give their all for their clients. My first reaction is to ask the board members why they are even considering changing managers. Among the more common answers I hear are:

Too many residents complain of the manager not getting back to them after an issue is reported

 

Projects aren’t getting done on time

 

This manager is charging us too much for the service provided

 

It just isn’t working out.

 

The follow-up comment I usually get is to “please do not tell the manager” that we are looking to replace him. While I understand this sentiment, the secrecy between board and community association manager highlights the much larger problem to me. Quite simply, there has been a failure of communication between all parties involved. Unfortunately, it is often the association manager who becomes the scapegoat for this communication failure and will lose not only a client but also valuable income for years to come. That is why it is in every association manager’s best interest to be proactive in his managed communities’ communication efforts. A well-informed client is a happy client.

Communicating with board members is simple enough. Association managers already attend numerous board meetings, annual meetings and even committee meetings. However, with the exception of those homeowners who attend the annual meeting, most residents are largely unaware of the professional who manages their association. Worse still is that the only communication some residents ever receive from their association manager is a notice of a rules violation or a fine. That is why communication tools such as letters, e-mails, newsletters, community websites and even social media are vital to helping association managers properly communicate with the vast numbers of residents whose communities they manage.

Of course, there are numerous other advantages to establishing and maintaining great communications within the communities you manage. Better informed residents tend to be better behaved residents. You can use your communication efforts to build civic pride and create a better sense of community. Perhaps, most importantly, successful communication efforts create loyal clients. Wouldn’t you rather have the board come to you to discuss management shortcomings such as those listed above instead of going out shopping for a new manager behind your back? Of course, you would!

Taking the time to produce great communications is not always at the top of a busy manager’s “To Do” list. Understandably, there are numerous distractions and emergent matters to deal with. However, if you neglect a community’s communication needs, don’t be surprised to learn your clients have been secretly looking to replace you. You can avoid that disappointment by making communications a top priority. If you need help telling your story, don’t be afraid to seek out an expert. Communicating with your clients is the best way to assure they will stay loyal to you for years to come.

Bob Gourley is founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as board president of his local HOA.

As originally appeared in CondoManagement Magazine

Outsourcing your Homeowner’s Association Operations, and Why It Makes Sense

Whether your community is large or small, successful management by the homeowner’s association is crucial to a smoothly running residential community and growing property values. And the governing board is often left with a long list of responsibilities for members that already lead busy lives outside of their community. Regardless of the number of board members in your HOA, there’s almost always an endless “to do” list.

From taxes and assessments to repairs and beautification, an HOA member’s job involves many different types of property management duties. A significant aspect of these responsibilities includes the duties that fall under the operating budget. These are the regular tasks that are part of the property’s ongoing maintenance such as landscape management, building exterior repairs, and property taxes.

Seeking Assistance with HOA Operational Duties

A handful of the duties that you may handle as a board member of your HOA could include collecting dues from community residents, arranging for landscaping and repairs, fielding questions and complaints from homeowners, and determining how dues are allocated. Not all your board members may have experience dealing with these issues, and sometimes there can be too many tasks to be managed by the board.

A new trend emerging with HOA boards is the process of seeking assistance with these ongoing, time consuming operational duties. By outsourcing some of the regular tasks that face the board, while still retaining key management duties, the HOA can focus their attention on long term strategy and decisions for the property that require more planning and discussion, or anything that will affect the reserve budget.

What Duties Are HOAs Outsourcing?

As a board member, you may have never thought of outsourcing the operational duties of your HOA, but it’s becoming more common than you think. HOAs are finding that by off-loading some of the more mundane or regular tasks, they can focus more on the relationships with residents and carefully making the long-term decisions for the community. So, what tasks exactly are HOAs outsourcing to third parties?

HOA Dues Portal – Reputable companies that manage HOA duties offer secure portals for homeowners to pay their HOA dues, which can be directly deposited into an association’s account. It can automate a, sometimes archaic, process and offer a bit more convenience for homeowners.

24×7 Maintenance Support – One of the more frustrating responsibilities of an HOA board member includes late night phone calls from homeowners with maintenance emergencies. Some third parties offer call center support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to field those emergencies, to help over phone, and to engage your local contractors or maintenance personnel to make any needed repairs.

Homeowners Portal for Community Discussions – For non-emergencies, homeowners are always looking for a place to voice their concerns, or continue a discussion from a recent board meeting. Some third parties are assisting HOAs in setting up online portals for homeowners to engage in discussion and potentially self-resolve some issues outside of board meetings.

Running a Successful HOA with Outsourcing Support

Property helpers like Hands On Tap can offer the kind of expertise and support that most HOAs never get the opportunity to benefit from. Leaving many of your regular HOA duties to a team of professionals with longstanding careers in property management results in less stress on your board, well cared for homeowners, and more time to focus on the future of your community.

Condominium Newsletters from MyEZCondo Keep Condominium Unit Owners Informed and Involved in Their Communities

By Bob Gourley

Frequent and open communications are often indications that a condominium association is being run by leaders who strive to create a connection between the Board of Directors, the Property Management Company, and the condominium unit owners who reside in the condominium association. These leaders are not just building properties. They are building strong, well-connected, and vibrant communities. They have learned the secret power of the condominium newsletter to be more than a throw-away piece of paper with warnings and fines and violation notices. They have embraced the power of the condominium newsletter to unite their communities and foster a bond that encourages neighborly behavior and can even call volunteers to action from projects as simple as a Spring Planting Day to as important to finding new community members to serve on the Board of Directors.

Why is it important to provide information and connectivity to condominium unit owners? Quite simply, the stronger the bond between condominium residents to their community and to each other, the more likely they are to behave in ways that are positive for themselves and the community. A positive and vibrant community carries other benefits as well, including increased property values and a strong sense of civic duty and awareness. When condominium unit owners take pride in their community, they are much more likely to report problems, suspicious activity, and other problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Printed condominium newsletters are a simple solution. However, more and more condominium associations are embracing technology such as email and websites to distribute their materials. Whichever method of newsletter distribution you choose the challenge of creating a top-notch, good-looking newsletter remains. That’s where MyEZCondo comes in. Our talented writing and graphic design team members will work hard to make your condominium newsletter look fantastic. It takes a fantastic-looking newsletter to get your readers’ attention. A MyEZCondo condominium newsletter will be well-read and well-received by your condominium association members. Since 2004, we’ve been “building better communities through better communication”. Contact us today and we’ll produce a great-looking newsletter for your condominium association.

Manager Licensing and Your Community; A Story Worth Telling

By Bob Gourley

I have had the honor of serving on the Legislative Action Committee for CAI-CT for a few years now. I have watched various bills come and go, insurance regulations debated, the implementation of the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA), and much more during my stay on the committee. No bill has had me more optimistic about the future of Connecticut’s community associations than the Manager Licensure bill. It is a major step forward in protecting communities and the professionals that manage them all across the state. Even if your community is self-managed, this important legislation will have an impact on you. It is a story your community association members should hear and they should hear it from you.

In the past, just about anyone could apply for a community association manager license in our state. There were no educational requirements or professional licensure maintenance standards. The license could be revoked by the state but there was little in the form of prequalification to attract qualified applicants to the license. That doesn’t mean previously licensed property managers were unqualified. It simply means they weren’t required to prove their qualifications. All of that has changed with the implementation of the new law. And that’s good news for condominiums and the professionals who manage them.

The National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM) was created in 1995 by the Community Association Institute (CAI). CAI created the program in response to a need for stringent professional standards of community association management. Prior to the State of Connecticut requiring certification by NBC-CAM for community association manager licensure, several other states had already recognized NBC-CAM certification as the “gold standard” by which community association managers were judged. In 2012, only 74% of the applicants passed the initial exam, meaning more than 1 in 4 candidates were denied the opportunity to become licensed because they failed to achieve the required score on their examination test. Certification from NBC-CAM is no easy task. It requires coursework and dedication to learning best practices with regards to community association management. I commend our state legislature for taking this giant step forward in elevating the profession and the management standards for our state’s many community associations.

At the local level, this means that, in short order, licensed property managers who have not already done so will need to earn their certification from NBC-CAM. If you are not certain if your property manager is NBC-CAM certified, you should ask at once. If they are not certified, ask them if and when they will be. If they have no intention of becoming certified, you may need a new property manager. While experience counts, certification matters. The investment of time and money required to become certified by NBC-CAM isn’t just the law; it’s a commitment to a property manager’s clients that their manager is fully trained and maintains that training with ongoing continuing education as outlined by NBC-CAM.

NBC-CAM has provided an online search tool to help communities find property managers with certification. Point your web browser to http://www.nbccam.org/hiring/search.cfm and begin your search. Hiring a credentialed property manager has always been a best practice supported by CAI. In Connecticut, it’s now the law. When you hire a NBC-CAM certified property manager, you have employed a best practice for your community. That’s a story worth telling to all of your residents so they know that they are in capable and certified hands when it comes to their community’s management.

(Editor’s Note: NBC-CAM is now known as CAMICB. More information is available at http://www.camicb.org/)

 

 

Condo Residents Demand – Show Me The Money!

By Bob Gourley

The image of Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Rod Tidwell screaming at Tom Cruise as the titular character in the 1996 movie “Jerry McGuire” is a powerful cinematic moment that launched the catchphrase, “Show Me The Money”! All these later, I barely remember the movie but the catchphrase lingers as virtually everyone I know has said “Show Me The Money” at one time or another. While it is taken entirely out of context here, you had better believe that condominium residents expect you to show them where their money is going. How well you tell that story can be the difference between ending your story with “…and they all lived happily ever after” and “… and so the hull of theTitanic lies sunken on the ocean floor”!

Let’s begin with the state your community’s finances are currently in. Hopefully, they are in good order with all of your residents paying their fees and assessments, all of your vendors being paid on time, a healthy reserve fund, and no lingering financial clouds of doom. That is an easy story to tell – everything is just fine – happy beginning, very little drama in the middle, and a happy ending. While I wish such an ending for each and every community, the reality of hard times has jumped from the national headlines and landed in many communities across the country. If your community is experiencing financial challenges like so many, may I suggest that you get in front of the story and use your communication skills to keep residents informed and avoid adding to the problems by not telling your financial story.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that light may be further away than most of us would care for. Many economists are convinced that the days of bailouts, Bernie Madoff scandals, high unemployment, etc. are set to scale back, meaning a lull in the bad news which may allow the economy to stabilize before rebounding. Many associations find themselves facing the unenviable task of taking action against residents – late fees, liens against property, even foreclosure. While these actions may seem harsh or drastic, many BODs find they are bound by their governing documents to take these actions in order to protect the rest of the citizenry. This is a great time to explain to residents how the system works. They can read the full details in the condominium documents but it is a great idea to reiterate the basic concepts so they can fully appreciate what actions are taken against their neighbors. This can go a long way to alleviate fears that the association finances are about to collapse or that some homeowners are being unfairly targeted by the Board.

Many associations are opting to borrow money to meet their financial responsibilities. Again, there is a very positive story to tell about such action. Borrowed monies ensure that the business of the association continues, even though the current economy appears sluggish. Borrowed monies are repaid over a period of years. Surely, all of us have lived through the ups and downs of the American economy before. There is no reason to think that things are not going to get better. A loan is simply an investment in tomorrow being a better day.

Finally, it is a great time to talk about your community’s accounting efforts. Bookkeepers, auditors, CPAs and others are constantly working to assess and manage your association’s finances. Choose a few selected items from your balance sheet and see if there isn’t a positive story to be told. In my community, our insurance premiums DIDN’T go up this year. After several years of increases, I thought this was a story worth telling. We locked in a two year agreement with our property management company so those fees won’t be going up this year either. These may not seem like big deals but for me they were the difference between ending our last newsletter with a listing of delinquent commons fees (where we sink to the ocean floor) and a happy ending (where we all live happily ever after). Look for your happy ending when telling your community’s financial story. And don’t be afraid when they say “Show Me The Money”. Offer them your thanks for continuing to pay their fees and assessments and look forward to your own happy ending.