5 Ways to Boost Your Volunteer Recruitment

The ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to frustration and even burnout for many community association board members and other volunteers. As a result, some associations are struggling to fill more openings than typical. “It’s getting harder and harder, it really is,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc. In February 2021, the entire board of one of his clients was leaving, creating five open seats. “An hour before the meeting, we had no candidates,” Grucza says. “I had to ask them to dig into their souls and volunteer. I got five, but I had to pull teeth.” Here are some tips from Grucza and other managers on how to keep the positions in your clients’ associations filled with effective volunteers.

1. Always be recruiting.

“Recruiting is a year-round activity,” Grucza says. “It’s not static and only at annual meetings.” That means that you and your board members should keep your eyes out for those owners who might have the motivation and the commitment to volunteer. “Anytime I talk to an owner, I ask about their interests and their concerns about the building, and then I use that information to get them to commit when the time is right,” Grucza says. Don’t just jump on anyone with a heartbeat, though. It’s worth your time to try to suss out the reasons behind an owner’s interest. “We’ve had a fair amount of people who’ve chosen to get involved over the last year for the wrong reasons — because they were mad that pools weren’t open, for example,” says Katie Anderson, CEO of Aperion Management Group, LLC, which manages around 65 associations in Central Oregon. You might not want these people to gain a position of power. “You want to look for volunteers who are volunteering for the right reasons, because they genuinely care about the community,” says Brad van Rooyen, president of HomeRiver Group-Florida, the management company for about 160 associations in the state.

2. Don’t fear the fussy.

Almost every association has those owners who the board and the manager hear from … a LOT. Instead of regarding them as pests, think of them as resources. “Sometimes, we can grow frustrated with owners who overly communicate or ask a lot of questions, but try to channel that energy into getting them on a committee or to run for the board,” van Rooyen says. “It can seem like you don’t want those vocal owners because they’re constantly complaining,” Anderson says, “but sometimes having them involved can change that dynamic. When they get involved, they’re privy to new information that can change their attitude.”

3. Be upfront.

When you come across strong prospects, you should start off on the right foot by explaining exactly what the potential job will require. People are less likely to step down prematurely if they know what they’re getting into from the start. “Take the time to explain and educate what it means to be on the board,” van Rooyen says. “Make sure they know that they don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting, that that’s what the manager is for.” Grucza agrees: “It’s the manager who make and break whether board members are willing to stay. If too much gets deflected back to the board, that’s when they don’t want to continue.” Set clear expectations for committee volunteers, too. “When we have committee positions, we’ll send out email requesting volunteers and explain what the position entails,” van Rooyen says. “For example, for the Architectural Review Committee, you could review one to 10 proposals per month, have open dialogues, check out the property where the change is requested, and vote. We try to spell out what the expectation is.” Committee members also need to understand that they have limited authority. “They can make recommendations to the board, but it’s up to the board to accept or reject,” van Rooyen says. “When a committee member says ‘well, why do we even have a committee?’ we have to explain that the board wants to share responsibility and have input from the community.”

4. Use your committees for succession planning.

Formal succession planning is seen as aspirational for many associations. “We talk about succession planning, but, in reality, it just doesn’t play out in the day-to-day practice,” van Rooyen says. “You see it more in big associations with big budgets.” But smaller associations can use their committees as a more informal succession planning tool. “Committees are generally the best source of volunteers to run for the board,” Anderson says. Grucza urges associations that lack a committee structure to set one up, apart from the board. “I’m a huge proponent of committees because it takes the pressure off the board and gives us an opportunity to cultivate owners from one level to the next,” he says.

5. A little guilt never hurts.

You can do all of the above and still find yourself in the awkward spot that Grucza faced in February — open positions with zero volunteers. That’s when you might have to play the guilt card. “I sell it this way: that part of the obligation that’s unspoken in an association is each owner volunteering of your time, capabilities, and expertise for the benefit of your community,” Grucza says.

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