Peek behind the curtains at strong, connected condominium and homeowners associations, and you’ll find leaders who believe in frequent and open communication. A longstanding—and effective—means to that end is an association newsletter.
A condo/HOA newsletter is a simple tool for circulating critical association information and building bridges between neighbors that will strengthen the whole association. The more informed owners are about your community and the more connected they feel to fellow residents, the more likely they’ll participate in a positive way. That improves all owners’ property values, according to studies by Dennis P. Rosenbaum, director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
If you’re ready to become your association’s resident scrivener, consider whether you’ll publish your newsletter on paper or online. Attaching a document to a standard email costs nothing. Signing up for an email newsletter service starts at about $15/month with services like AWeber or ConstantContact. For both options, however, you’ll need homeowners to share their personal email addresses, which some may resist.
When residents are unwilling to share email information, a paper newsletter will better achieve your communications goals. “It costs about $60 per year for the ink and paper for all of our newsletters,” says Keely Killpack, board chair of the Gentry Place Homeowners Association in Beaverton, Ore., which publishes three to four times annually. “We have 32 homes, so it’s about $2 per house annually from dues.”
You can accept advertising to offset the costs, but there are pitfalls. “Make sure it’s appropriate,” advises Duane McPherson, division president at RealManage, an association management firm in San Rafael, Calif. “There are adult-oriented businesses you wouldn’t want to promote in a family-friendly newsletter.”
Even if you opt for an online format, scatter hard copies throughout your common areas. “We’ve taken to posting it by our elevators and highlighting important items,” says Sue Walton, who serves on her 40-unit condo association’s communications committee in Evanston, Ill. Also send copies via snail mail to owners who request it.
What to put in a community newsletter
Iris J. Salsman, a homeowner at the Maryland Walk condo association in Clayton, Mo., spends about four hours creating the content for each quarterly newsletter. She includes information about new amenities and services, meeting notices and other reminders, profiles and photos of new management staff, features on board and committee members, information on coming events, and recaps and photos of past events. The newsletter also includes a lighthearted quiz—how many dogs live in Maryland Walk?—with a free car wash to the winner.
In addition to association-specific materials, you can also land free content. “If there’s a legal issue affecting your community, request to reprint an informative article from a reputable source,” suggests McPherson. “We also check with the police department, local nonprofits, and waste-removal services because they’ll often contribute for free.” Don’t forget contact information for services your neighbors often use, such as animal control, your management company, utilities, drug tips lines, or the local cooperative extension service.
Finally, be careful the newsletter isn’t perceived solely as an association mouthpiece. “Publish letters to the editor to allow people to offer dissenting opinions,” advises McPherson. “Don’t edit the letters, but reserve the right to reject them if they’re inappropriate or could involve the association in legal trouble. By allowing both sides of an argument to be aired, you can diffuse potentially tense situations.”