Communications does not mean just a conversation, newsletter or even a website- It is how you react to what the owners think? Knowing what they think is the challenge.
From a practical standpoint homeowners associations look at communications as a way of informing homeowners about issues going on in the community. Most communities think that if they publish a newsletter periodically they are fulfilling their communications obligation to the homeowners. This has been the accepted practice for decades, and for the most part newsletters give the homeowners a snippet of what is going on, which is better than nothing. However, these publications are not designed to engage in a “conversation” with homeowners. From a management standpoint you want to minimize the open engagement with homeowners on a day to day basis, as a practical a time management standpoint. This in hopes that any inquiries about the details of the HOA operation will be reserved to the board meeting (managers know that few people will venture into a board meeting). Most HOAs would be overwhelmed if anyone with a question called in or emailed and expected to receive additional details or discuss the merits of one thing or another. So, homeowners are directed to attend the next board meeting to ask their questions. Fine, but most homeowners will not show up, unless the newsletter announces a proposed dues increase or other equally important issue, and even then few will attend. Most homeowners conclude that they have very little influence over the board and will opt to just accept whatever is decided. Consequently, Boards of Directors and management receive very little input from the general membership and therefore apply their “best guess” as to what is the appropriate direction for running the community. Makes sense right? Yes and No. Boards are elected officials and are charged with the responsibility to make the appropriate decisions. They want to do the best for the community and after all they have all the details, right? What can individuals homeowners offer when they are looking from the outside? However, every decision that is made, or policy or rule that is enacted, impacts the entire community and without knowing the general consensus of the members it is only a well intended “guess”. Worse is when it is an intended draconian maneuver, to increase control.
Again, from a practical standpoint, the system that prevails in association management does not allow for an open discussion of everything. It would be chaos, and no decision would ever be made. So, the newsletter or whatever communications is sent out is very general and does not prompt a response or input. That is the way all political systems work.
The question is how would a board decide if they did know how the members generally felt about various issues. Two things could happen; they would feel validated that the direction they are taking has the support or the homeowners, or they would discover that the homeowners object to the issue. This input does not usually exist, so the Board goes forward and then waits for the homeowners to object or become so agitated that they show up at the board meeting.
I believe that if Boards of Directors had more input from the membership the decisions that are made would be more often accepted and complied with. In order to do this, associations need to implement a policy that solicits input. Polling the community would work, but if you mail a poll to all the homeowners you will probably not get the response you want. It takes too much effort by the homeowners to respond. However, just the request alone indicates the board’s willingness to hear from the community and if no one responds, at least you tried and that is a form of validation. The conclusion by most Boards is that “polling” is a waste of time and expensive, so why do it. So we have a conundrum.
I created hoahomepage.com so Boards and Managers can get a sense of how homeowners view the community.
Usually a board will be considering a issue over several months of internal discussion before it is voted on and enacted. When it is first proposed, it would be wise for the board to immediately inform the community (in the newsletter) and invite them to comment at hoahomepage.com.