This is the question I’m asked most by our boards and I think we can all agree, if you’re on a community association board apathy is an issue that can affect even the most well-functioning communities.
Before diving into how to change the attitude of apathy, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the majority of people in your community do inherently care about the issues, but it’s up to the board to discover the best opportunities and leaders to properly motivate community members out of the rut of apathy.
Another important thing to acknowledge is that it’s worth it for boards to make an effort to overcome community apathy, because if the issue remains unchecked, it will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the board and that’s a recipe for burnout.
Here are six steps your board can take to lead your community through the stagnant fog of apathy:
1. Talk to your members. Whether you’re a new community just getting started or an established community trying to revive itself, it all starts with engaging membership. Now, we all know getting quorum for an annual meeting is hard enough, so think outside the box and utilize the other mediums at your fingertips. Do you have a community website where a survey can be posted or email blast capability? Do a large group of your neighbors participate in a social media site such as NextDoor or Facebook where a survey can be done? When people see that you are interested in their input about their community, they will respond, especially when you make it convenient.
*Important note, be sure to explain clearly the Board’s plan once the data is collected and communicate a reasonable timeframe of when the owners can expect follow up.
2. Record your responses. The worst thing you can do is ask for input and have members think you did nothing with it, so record your response. Not all responses will be helpful or even positive, as we all know every community has at least one of “those” neighbors, but take note of the suggestions that are reasonable. Be sure to thank people for taking the time to respond, which may sound simple, but this one gesture can go a long way in reinforcing to a person that they have been heard.
3. Decision Time. Here’s where your role as a community leader is really important. The board now must decide what suggestions/project/events they are going to focus on for the community and what type of committee should handle it. Once the committees are decided upon, the board should write a brief committee charter that explains how they will enhance the community and provide guidelines for submitting requests to the board and what they can expect from the board in return. Remember: in order for any group of volunteers to be successful, they must fully understand their purpose, limitations and goals because when they don’t, you lose them just as quickly as they sign up.
4. Follow up. Now it’s time to follow up with your membership. Be sure to do this within a reasonable time frame of 2-3 weeks of receiving the survey results so as not to lose momentum. Use the same mediums to communicate and possibly even a printed mailer from the board thanking each person for their participation, explaining the time and effort the board has put into reviewing all the responses, analyzing the requests for feasibility purposes, etc. Yes, community members do need to know the efforts the board has put into this project, so that they understand the role the board plays and it will also help the board gain volunteers. Provide a brief description of each committee, a list of the pre-approved projects currently under each one, and a call for volunteers.
Almost, but you’re not done yet…
5. Dig in. Now it’s time to help your committees set up their first meeting. Select a chairperson(s) and explain this will be the point of contact (POC) for the board and find out if they have any questions before sending them forth to prosper. If, on the other hand, you still don’t have enough volunteers, now is the time to put on your PR and Marketing hats. As leaders, your job isn’t over yet and you need to give this one last try by pulling out the names of those people that shared the suggestions that are being focused on and communicate with them directly. Ask them to be on, or even chair, the committee explaining to them how wonderful their idea was and how the community needs passionate and creative individuals like them. Make them feel important, everyone wants that. As a leader one of your jobs is to encourage and now is the time.
6. Appreciate and Recognize. This is the last step, but it’s arguably the most important step to creating a positive community. Whether it’s a simple certificate of thanks at your annual meeting or an annual committee member dinner you host, appreciate and recognize all of your volunteers as they are just like the rest of us who need that validation to keep going.
For those looking for a quick fix, these six steps may be a lot to digest, but when it comes to off-setting apathy in your community, there is no magic bullet. Apathy didn’t appear overnight, so it won’t disappear overnight either. These steps are necessary if a community wants to resuscitate its volunteer base and keep it going for a long time to come.