Annual meetings serve two functions, one of which is often overlooked.
Obviously the annual meeting is the place where the business of the association is conducted. Votes are taken and the Board of Directors is elected.
The more overlooked opportunity is the second function of the meeting.
In addition to conducting regular business, the annual meeting is an opportunity for the Board of Directors to show off their hard work by educating neighbors on the progress the Association has made over the past year and their vision for the upcoming year.
Here are a few helpful hints to make the most of your association’s annual meeting.
1. Announce, Announce, Announce. And then, announce again!
You can’t have an effective meeting if no one attends. Making several announcements in various forms is imperative to making the most of your association’s annual meeting. The association’s governing documents will detail how and when the annual meeting notice goes out.It’s important to follow those guidelines (because they are legally binding) but those parameters were likely written years ago.
Use this opportunity to take your announcement into present time by utilizing technology. Most associations have Facebook pages, websites and utilize various apps for communication. In addition to the snail mail announcement, make sure to highlight the upcoming meeting on various platforms.
Signs posted in prominent places throughout the neighborhood are also a great way to make sure the meeting stays on everyones mind and doesn’t get lost in a pile of mail on the counter.
2. Incentivize, Incentivize, Incentive!
Offering incentives for attendance is a great way to boost participation. There are a number of ways this can be done depending on your budget. If attendance is truly abysmal perhaps including a small portion of your budget for incentives would be an option.
Door prizes are a great option. Everyone loves to win something, especially something they can use. Gift cards to local establishments like restaurants and/or nurseries are a great option. Another option would be to offer $100 off annual dues.
Let your imagination guide you as to what works for your neighbors. Perhaps a neighbor who crafts would be willing to donate a door hanger? Would your lawn care company donate a month of free lawn maintenance to one homeowner? Consider having one of your committees solicit donations from local establishments to minimize the bottom line cost to the association.
Another great option is making the meeting as convenient as possible. If your neighborhood is full of families with small children consider an outing at a park with a pavilion where business can be conducted and children can play. Is your association full of seniors looking to make friends? Make it a pot luck meeting with cards, board games or bingo to follow.
There are tons of ways to incentivize attendance but at the end of the day what works for one association will not necessarily work for another.
3. Include Proxies
Even with the best of incentives and announcements some neighbors will have unavoidable conflicts. Proxies should go out with all notices so that neighbors who have an unavoidable conflict can ensure their voices are heard. Be sure to make clear that proxies can be turned in to your property management company, a Board member or a neighbor.
Sending reminders for proxies to be turned in is a great way to make a run at reaching quorum – something all associations struggle with.
4. Be Available
Utilize these meetings as a way to get to know your neighbors.
Require board members and property management associates to arrive early. Make use of that time by chatting with neighbors as they arrive. Serve coffee or a light snack and set aside the first few minutes to mingle. This is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors and to let them get familiar with who is running the association. Difficult discussions are made easier when people know each other.
Another great suggestion – use name tags, especially in larger associations. This helps neighbors direct their concerns and compliments to the correct people.
5. Plan and Maintain Order
Running an orderly meeting is imperative. No one wants their time wasted so it’s important to have your agenda set and be sure to cover all topics relevant to the subdivision. Often times the Association’s governing documents set out minimums to be covered during the meeting. Utilize you property management company to ensure that all hot topics are addressed.
Be sure to build in time for Q&A at the end and at times where you know discussion will be needed. This is key to maintaining order and respecting the time of everyone in attendance.
If we had to pick a topic as most important, transparency would win every time, hands down.
Often times we hear (or observe on social media platforms) horror stories of fighting and discourse in associations. That always perplexes us because, in the context of HOA business – there’s nothing to fight about.
While a neighbor may not like or understand the Board’s decision on a particular topic, the bottom line is, as long as they have not exceeded their given authority, the Board’s decision carries.
Transparency in the “how” “why” and “what was done to arrive at a particular decision” are key to avoiding unnecessary conflict in an association. You will never be able to solve for every homeowner who may be hell bent on being disagreeable but practicing full transparency will satisfy 99% of your membership.
Regarding general HOA information (i.e. balances, budget sheets, reserves etc.) be sure that all information is presented clearly. Keep in mind that the majority of homeowners will not be familiar with the inner workings of your association. Board members deal with these things on a monthly or more frequent basis so they can unintentionally move too quickly through these very important documents.
It’s important to realize this will be the one time a year that most neighbors see these projections and balance sheets. Give them time to digest, understand and ask questions about them to avoid the appearance of impropriety. This is also a great way to educate neighbors on where their money is going.
Use this time to educate homeowners on what the Board does and how they keep your association running smoothly. Explaining Board decisions and the thought process that went into making those decisions is a great way to address the concerns of neighbors who may have concerns over certain actions of the Board. It’s also a great way to highlight the successes of the association and your vision for the upcoming year.
At the end of the day HOAs are non-profit entities. That means there is only so much money to go around. Similar to your own individual households – while you may want to re-landscape the front yard or install a new saltwater pool – sometimes you have to save for those improvements while keeping the lights on or addressing other unforeseen expenses. Use this analogy to explain to neighbors why some imperative improvements (drainage issues, electricity) were prioritized over more visual improvements such as new landscape, lighting or signage.
While there is usually a lot of ground to be covered in a relatively short amount of time during an annual meeting, we encourage our clients to make use of the brainpower in the room and brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! Whether there’s an unexpected expense to be addressed, a problem with local governing entities that impacts the association or simply figuring out how to prioritize the improvements for the upcoming year your neighbors are a great source of often untapped resources.
Often times board members leave saying things like, “I had no idea Sally worked for the Parish, maybe she can help with our drainage concerns!” You’ll be surprised at how many people have ideas and avenues that can be pursued to better your association.
8. Thank You!!
Use this time to highlight and thank those neighbors who have volunteered their time serving on the Board of Directors or on a committee. Offering a small token of appreciation or simply acknowledging those who have given their free time to serve is great way to keep people offering up their valuable time.
At the end of the day annual meetings are an often overlooked opportunity to spread the news of all the association has accomplished and your vision for the upcoming year. These meetings are important to the association and homeowners alike – after all, you’re all rowing in the same direction – preserving your biggest investment, your home.
If your association struggles with hosting effective annual meetings, give us a call today. Annual meetings are our favorite time of the year. We at Gulf South Property Management would love to help your association make the most of your annual meeting.