An HOA will only reach its full potential if everyone is on the same page. Owners, board members and staff need to be informed and engaged so that they can all make decisions and take actions that will benefit the community as a whole. Effective communication is important for every HOA, but it is absolutely critical for HOAs with 1000+ units.
Members belonging to large HOAs expect professionalism, transparency, and efficiency; the community needs to operate more like a large business or small town than a casual neighborhood. Community leaders, therefore, need a communication system that is fast, reliable, and effective. If your large community still struggles with communication, you’re not alone. The good news is there are steps you can take to improve communications (and they aren’t very complicated or costly).
You are as far from owners as your nearest mobile device
When a board or association member needs to get a message or notice to thousands of recipients, physical letters aren’t going to cut it. It simply takes too much time to deliver all of them (and print costs can really add up). Plus, some people won’t bother to read the letter, especially if it’s not personally addressed to them. Furthermore, not all of your members are going to be home at the time the message is delivered. As a result, they might miss out on something important.
That’s not to say that physical letters aren’t helpful; some owners still rely exclusively on paper messages. But this communication strategy cannot be your only way of reaching people.
Messages that can be accessed through a mobile device are becoming the default for most people and organizations. That’s because most of us are near our phones for most of the day. Mass text messaging is one very popular option. But in order to do this for a community of thousands, the sender would likely need some type of HOA management software system or special communication system. That’s because it would take far too long to manually enter or select the phone number of every member.
Condo Control, for example, allows senders to create messages and deliver them to individuals, specific groups, or the entire community. Messages can be scheduled for a later date or time, and delivered via text message, voice message, or email.
Email is another great option because it’s convenient; that’s how most people get their mail. People can check their inboxes from their phones whenever they have a few extra minutes. Email tends to feel more personal and is more likely to be opened. Senders can also include links, photos, reports, and more in an email.
Finally, websites and social networks can act as useful communication tools for big HOAs. Having a familiar platform available makes it easy for members to check up on upcoming events, maintenance notices, and other relevant association business. Think of these platforms as digital bulletin boards.
Boards are encouraged to use social media platforms wisely. They are discouraged from engaging in debates or posting opinions here. Private or sensitive information, such as gate codes, should never be shared here, even if it is in a closed group. It is very hard to ensure that every member in the group is still a current member of the association which is why contributors should all be mindful of what they share here.
Get owners to come to you
With a good communication system, the number of owners a board must reach becomes less problematic. This is particularly true if owners are actively seeking information or are interested in the messages you’re sending out. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the information that boards are sharing and what owners are looking for. People may actually want more details about association business, for example. When possible, ask members what they want to hear more about during a member meeting or through a community survey.
Owners are also more likely to engage if the information being shared is presented in a clear, concise and attractive manner. How your message looks matters. A relevant and specific email headline is guaranteed to get more opens than a message with a generic headline. Photos and charts are always helpful when trying to engage residents.
Establish a process that allows for two-way communication
The best way to get owners to care about communications from the board is to show them that the board cares about them. That doesn’t mean the board must have a one-on-one meeting with every single resident, but it does mean giving people a way to voice their concerns and thoughts.
So much of HOA communication strategies are focused on one-way communication, and it’s understandable why that’s the case. In most instances, owners will be receiving information from community leaders. But there are certainly times when input from owners is needed.
With thousands of people in the development, it’s best not to invite them to have a casual conversation with board members or the property manager. Instead, create a specific system for members to communicate. This could involve a “communication committee” where the committee chair talks with owners and then makes reports to either specific board members or the board as a whole. Having a designated contact person can improve efficiency and prevent conflict from occurring.
It becomes a bit harder to give everyone a chance to speak during the open forum portion of a meeting, but owners should have the opportunity to weigh in on issues. They don’t need to “win” every time, and their ideas and opinions won’t always change a plan or project. But every member has a stake in the community, so they should be able to voice their opinions about how money is spent and what takes priority.
How to know your communication strategy is working
Sometimes, the strategy you thought would work ends up being less impactful than you had hoped. And that’s okay. Sometimes large HOAs will need to try a few different things in order to figure out what works best for their members.
If you are seeing higher turnout rates at community events, more people showing up to vote, a greater number of amenity bookings, etc., chances are good that your communication strategy is working. If your property manager tells you people are saying that they’re not seeing the information they need, then you know there’s still room for improvement. You may also be able to measure success by analyzing certain metrics:
Email open rates – this metric allows you to see which emails owners care about the most. If your community newsletters are getting high open rates, try to replicate content used in the newsletter and incorporate it in future emails.
Email unsubscribe rates – if you notice that lots of residents are unsubscribing after you sent out an email, that could be an indicator that the message or content isn’t right.
Resident satisfaction survey – it’s possible to include a basic resident satisfaction survey in emails or newsletters. From time to time, consider adding this survey in emails and ask owners what they like about communications from the association, and what can be improved.
Deep dive surveys – consider sending your residents a longer survey once or twice a year. Ask about their experiences, whether they feel like the information they need is being provided to them in a convenient manner, how they feel about any recent changes made to communication strategies, etc. It’s important to not only ask for feedback, but respond to common suggestions or questions after surveys have been assessed. Let owners know what is and isn’t possible based on feedback presented in the surveys.
Effective communication is vital to large HOA communities. Even small communication issues can throw operations off track. A communication strategy will help ensure everyone is on the same page. Keep in mind that no single method of communication will agree with every member. But that’s not the goal. Provide multiple options that cater to different preferences to achieve the best results.