Volunteers are the heart and soul of common interest communities.
While some especially small communities lack the scale necessary for formal and/or effective volunteer structures beyond a board of directors, engaging volunteers should be a priority for many CICs. Some communities have abundant volunteers while others are challenged to identify enough people to consistently fill their Board positions. Regardless of your specific situation, solving for how to support your volunteers is critical, but so is establishing minimum criteria for volunteering. Resigning yourself to accepting "anyone that raises their hand" is sometimes the reality, but is by no means ideal. Read Decision-Making 101 to learn more about good governance.
"...good governance, whether in the public or private sector, depends on the initiative and leadership of good people. Having the time and the desire to serve is not the same as having the common sense, judgment, and character to serve well...- Paula A. Franzese's Privatization and Its Discontents: Common Interest Communities and the Rise of Government for "the Nice."
Even a single volunteer can have an outsized impact on your community. Steps for community success:
encourage volunteering (view engagement tips below and the Volunteer Involvement Survey for additional context)
survey the community on a regular basis (consider an annual satisfaction survey)
coordinate activities that bring the community together (for free or at a cost):
> educational classes - people like to learn
> guest speakers - consider representatives from you local government (police, sheriff and/or fire departments, etc.)
> group activities like book clubs, yoga, ikebana and so many others
> N.B. Keen on BINGO? Just make sure that you're not illegally gambling. View example statutes from WA and FL.
> social events - potlucks, music, movies, pizza, scavenger hunts and more. Your creativity is the only limit!
CIC VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT TIPS - PART I
Understand the ask
WHAT does your CIC need from volunteers?
Time is money. Volunteer contributions have saved some CICs tens of thousands of dollars, but volunteers should never be enlisted simply because your organization wants to "save money" accomplishing certain goals. Volunteer time is human capital. Think rationally about volunteer value.
"Cooperative living" enlists volunteers to consistently manage many aspects of day-to-day operations, but most CICs rely on collecting assessment dollars to pay third parties to help with the vast majority of operations.
Be especially careful HOW you deploy volunteers. Treating human capital as a free and endless resource is inappropriate at best and at worse can lead to substantially negative outcomes for your CIC.
Consider that Maslow's Hierarchy begins with a foundation of basic, physiological needs and graduates to self-actualization. Volunteer engagement should reflect your CIC's growth and development.
WHO is available to serve?
Can your committees accommodate both homeowners and non-owner residents?
HOW can your volunteers serve?
Board of Directors
Annual events (decorating, food drives, etc.)
Unique non-recurring, time-limited activities (less than 4 hours on a specific day)
CIC VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT TIPS - PART II
Survey your audience! View this example satisfaction survey that includes questions about engagement.
Design sustainable, repeatable engagement programs
Volunteering within your community is hopefully not "one-and-done"
Striving for equal contributions is idealistic, not realistic. Not everyone will contribute the same amount of time and energy to every endeavor. That's OK to a point, but your CIC should strive for sustainability.
Volunteering is not a competition, nor is it designed to replace the reasonable use of compensated resources.
Volunteers need support from: your Board, operations management, and from other volunteers
Are your volunteers serving on a committee? Learn about specific committee requirements.
Communicate efficiently and often
Don't make assumptions
Ask for feedback
Plan to make changes based on the feedback you receive
Express gratitude and acknowledge the value of volunteer contributions
Expressions of gratitude and acknowledgement can take many forms:
thanks during a meeting
a handwritten note
a THANK YOU letter disseminated with your annual meeting materials
a token gift of appreciation
a celebration party to recognize volunteers
Private acknowledgement is never sufficient. Public praise for volunteer contributions is crucial!
Create an environment that allows your volunteers to undertake additional roles over time
Many CICs carry General Liability, Directors and Officers (D&O) and Workers' Compensation insurance coverage, but few realize that their volunteers not covered for bodily injuries incurred during the course of performing service for the community. Many General Liability policies include $5,000 of no-fault liability coverage meaning that the insurance carrier pays up to $5,000 without the need for litigation. All other coverage and payments would arise out of a settlement or award of the Court following a lawsuit.
Strategies to avoid volunteer injuries becoming a lawsuit:
understand whether your CIC has insurance coverage for volunteers and exactly how it works
outline volunteer responsibilities in writing (such as within a committee charter)
reserve potentially dangerous activities -- even shoveling sidewalks -- for employees and vendors
have your volunteers sign a waiver of liability for all activities that involve a risk of serious injury or death