Veteran community association leaders say whipping up a plan to recruit, educate, and retain volunteers is essential to volunteer success and is a delicate mix that includes patience, flexibility, solid coaching, and listening skills—plus a dash of strong commitment to community.
Volunteers are essential to the functioning of community associations, and April is National Volunteer Month—a perfect time to recognize the hard work, dedication, and time volunteers give to various organizations, including community associations, nationwide.
At a fundamental level, volunteering is about building relationships, providing consistent and transparent communication, and giving people the opportunity to accomplish their personal goals, observers say. Follow some of the ideas below to perfect the recipe for volunteer success.
Recruit volunteers with a customer service attitude and a desire to serve. For Michael Traidman, apathy is the biggest issue he confronts in the volunteer recipe. Traidman, president of the Mira Vista at Mission Hills Homeowners Association in Rancho Mirage, Calif., says part of the problem in his community are the large number of part-time residents who aren’t invested in the neighborhood.
Even though it is preferable to be local, technological changes such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have made volunteering from a distance possible, he adds.
Train volunteers. Carolyn Haack, president of the master board of the Orchard Glen Condominiums in Glenview, Ill., relies on CAI education materials to train volunteers. Having an orientation or onboarding program for volunteers is crucial and includes going over governing documents and fiduciary responsibilities.
Provide volunteers with task ownership, support, and resources. Jonathan Stehle, former director and past president of the Oxford Row Townhome Condominium Board of Directors in Fairfax, Va., believes volunteering is all about having an open, positive attitude and giving people opportunities to learn and serve their neighbors. Once a task has been assigned, give them ownership and support.
“Remember the human aspect,” says Stehle, a councilmember for the City of Fairfax, located in the Washington, D.C., area. “It’s your responsibility to set them up to be successful.”
Keeping good records and making notes also is helpful for current and future committee members. “Oral histories aren’t sustainable,” Stehle says. “Documents tell the story. Blank sheets of paper are volunteer kryptonite.”
Thank your volunteers. Warren Geller, president of the board of directors for Sun City Aliante, a 55-and-older community with 2,000 units in North Las Vegas, Nev., emphasizes considerate behavior. “You want to treat (volunteers) with respect, thank them, and let them know that their opinion matters,” he says. “You never put them down.”
Publicly recognize volunteers for all they do and how they contribute to the community. Haack says, “Thank them warmly and give them credit.”
Despite the difficulties, volunteering can be a skillful but low-key way to educate the public and burnish the general image of community associations and the common interest housing model. And there’s the joy that contributing to one’s community can provide.
“Don’t lose sight that volunteering is fun,” Stehle says. “It’s hard but enjoyable and energizing.”
>>Find more tips to improve volunteer success in your community in “A Recipe for Success” from CAI’s Common Ground magazine.