Should your Association implement a Website?

If every member within an association was completely informed on every topic, and all the members were informed of the status of various projects through completion, as well as all the board’s decisions and financial status, then there would be complete transparency. In the past, there have been many obstacles that prevented associations from reaching this state of communication.

It can be frustrating for the board and the community when the dissemination of information is delayed or omitted. Imagine that your community Board Meeting is over and now you have information that needs to get out to your residents as quickly as possible, or maybe the Board needs feedback from the residents about whether or not to proceed with an idea they have.

How do you go about getting necessary information out to the residents in a timely manner? Well, until recently, you might have had someone on the Board or a committee create a flyer of information or create a survey on paper, make a bunch of photo copies, and hand deliver one to each residence in your community (or worse yet, mail them). Both of these methods are costly in both time and money and in the end, not very effective. Days, or even weeks, may go by before the information gets out since most people have full time jobs and busy lives. Then most residents won’t return surveys because it’s a hassle for them, due to their own busy lives. Another alternative is to use the old stand-by “phone-tree” worked by the “block captains”, where various people are responsible for calling a portion of the residents on the phone. Anyone who has tried this method knows it quickly turns into an extended game of leaving messages, no answers and phone tag. Once again, this is a very inefficient way to communicate with the residents of your community.
Today, with the internet being so pervasive and extremely easy to share information, a website facilitates and streamlines information dissemination while creating a sense of community and belonging by its residents. Beyond information dissemination, a community’s website can provide multiple functions that were not previously available, such as, being able to view an account history, paying dues online with a credit card, reserving facilities for rentals, looking through lost pet postings, and more.

Associations can post announcements as well as email them out on their very own web site for residents to read, quickly and timely. Also, posting survey questions online so residents can answer at their convenience by just pointing and clicking has become a great way to get the residents access to give their opinions. There is no more filling out and returning forms. This is just the beginning of what a website can do for your community. An interactive community web site also lets your community have an online events calendar so residents can see at a glance what is going on around the neighborhood, an address book where residents can go to look-up their neighbor’s phone number on a private side accessed only with a login name and password. Communities can post garage sale listings, home for sale listings, online community documents including Bylaws, Covenants, newsletters and so much more. The community can choose to sell ads on their web site to local product and service providers and keep that money for the community.

Since privacy is a very important issue when you are talking about websites, Associations would want to make sure that only residents had access to certain information on your site (such as the address book). This is handled by having both public and private areas on your website.
The public portion is available to everyone on the Internet, but should allow access to only a few features that you choose, such as the Homes for Sale and Classified ads as well as some general information about your community including pictures, amenities and information on how individuals can reach someone in your community. This is a great way for those who are considering moving to your neighborhood to get a feel of the community. This is also a way to show if your community is highly diverse group, has lots of children, good school district, and what kind of groups are in the community. All of this can be detailed on the community home page so that those seeking your type of community can readily find it!

The private portion should be where the important information that your residents will want and need to access should be located. In order to access the important information, each resident should be assigned their own login name and password that would allow them inside so that there is anonymity on the site. Here is where the items such as the deed restrictions, by laws, newsletters, address book, forms, etc. should be stored.

Having this type of web site gives your community the power and flexibility to get information and news out to your residents at a moment’s notice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It allows your residents to keep up with community happenings, interact with their neighbors, board members, and committee members, and do all of this on their own time schedule, whether that is late at night, after putting the kids to bed or while on a lunch break at work.
The benefits of an interactive community web site range from:

• Increased Property Values – with access to the association rules and regulations on-line, there’s no more excuses for noncompliance.
• Increased awareness of community issues – information is so quickly disseminated you’ll find your-self sharing way more and way more often!
• Increased resident participation – now residents can give input more on their own time schedules.
• Residents begin to feel that the board is hearing their concerns and seeing what happens as a result – which gives the residents a voice!
• Less burden on the Board – frequently asked questions and the dissemination of information gives the residents more feeling of being informed.
• Less burden on the Property Manager – residents can have access to forms and community documents that they need instead of waiting for copies to be sent from the manager.

When searching for a web site provider there are a number of options:

A) A resident volunteer create the web site. – Sometimes a volunteer can be easily found. Items to be concerned about include: making sure the web site can be easily up-dated by many members of the community, the association has final say on content not creator of site and time-frame to completion. Longevity and maintenance of the site is usually problematic.

B) Hire a professional firm who specializes in web design. Items to be concerned about include: costs, viability of firm, time frame and its design to meet the needs of the residents. Usually these firms have limited knowledge of the intricacies of Association’s needs and desires resulting in frustrating and time consuming design time.

C) Hire a firm specializing in Association web sites. Items to be concerned with include: uniqueness , will the site portray the uniqueness of your community or does every site look exactly the same as other communities in the area, viability of firm – make sure you think their business model can endure – will they be here six months from now? How customizable is it? If I’m a condo does it have to have a Home for Sale feature or can it be a Condo for Sale? Are you trapped in a website with no flexibility or room for growth?

The important answer is that there really is no down side to a web site for any community. The website can help neighbors get to know neighbors again and help them to feel connected with their community and as if they are working together with the board to create a wonderful community for all.

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