December 2012 – Tis the season to get to know your neighbors better and strengthen your community. What’s the best way to do that? In the spirit of the season, our experts explain how their clients spread goodwill during the holidays.

HOAs Get Their Party On

Duane McPherson says HOA holiday parties are less frequent than in the past, and he thinks that’s a shame.

“There have probably been fewer HOAs having holiday parties through the years,” says the Carrollton, Texas—based division president at RealManage, an association management firm that oversees properties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Texas.

“There are still associations out there that’ll do things like a Christmas lighting contest. Those are similar to a yard–of–the–month type event. The owner with the most elaborate or best lighting will win a prize, and usually the HOA awards something like a certificate to Lowe’s. Some still have a Christmas party, and they budget for it. You find that more in condos that have an area where members can congregate and have a party. I also have one association that doesn’t have a lot of members, but they pool their money and go to dinner at a fancy restaurant for the holiday. What associations are doing is all over the place. But I’d say that only 30–40 percent of the associations have some sort of get together.”

A “select few” of Kristen L. Rosenbeck‘s clients also do holiday events. “I have a couple of lake–community that do things like lighted boat parades and others that have an actual holiday party with Santa available for photos with children,” says the partner at the Mulcahy Law Firm PC in Phoenix, who advises many associations. “It’s all about getting neighbors together and building that sense of community by getting them personally involved and invested.”

Like McPherson, Rosenbeck’s clients also sponsor lighting contests. “Owners can submit their vote for the best display, and the winner gets some sort of gift,” she says. “However, to avoid conflict with neighbors who might not approve, I usually recommend that my clients don’t use association assessments for the contest. Some try to say that the winner gets a free month of assessments. But I recommend they go to local vendors, like a landscape vendor, and get donations.”

McPherson, on the other hand, has some clients that specifically budget association money for community events. “There are lots of associations that will allocate some funds for social gatherings,” he says. “Maybe they’ll have a July 4 picnic or a holiday party. Most are pot lucks, but the association will pick up the cost of things like beverages or some food. It’s usually something that’s open to all, and everybody’s notified and has a choice of coming. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It helps build community, and that should be done more often than not. In today’s society, it’s harder to have those kinds of functions.”

A Lack of Charity

McPherson is also seeing very few clients get involved in charitable activities during the holidays. “I’ve seen it, but it’s usually not driven by the association sponsoring a specific charity,” he explains. “It’s usually driven by an individual within the association. In one case, a lady went out and gathered things for a charity. Her HOA’s board sort of de facto backed her efforts, but they didn’t formally sponsor the event. They helped her get the word out and lent their personal support, but not necessarily the support of the association itself.”

What could make associations so uncharitable? It’s hard to get people to agree on worthy causes, says McPherson, who learned that lesson personally. “As an onsite manager years ago, I managed a large association,” he explains. “I was passionate about a charity that benefitted families during hard times. We approached the association to sponsor and do things for the charity. That’s when I really found that when you’ve got a collective like that, you may have a board of directors who all have different viewpoints. One may donate to this charity, and another donates to the other. In the end, we made some minor contributions to a lot of minor charities. When it got into specific issues like supporting a charity for a disease, the HOA tried to stay away from that.”

The sobering lesson? “The charitable organization that one person’s passionate about isn’t necessarily the one that the person down the street is passionate about,” says McPherson. “That does make it hard to do charitable giving and sponsorships. So it’s sort of politically correct to not do too much of that today, and that’s a shame. It would be great for HOAs to do more, but it is what it is.”

HOA Leader

Matt Humphrey is president of the Alameda, California-based, from which this article was adapted.

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