For decades, HOA Boards have communicated news and events to their members using a method developed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 – the hardcopy newsletter. Often delivered monthly to the doorstep of every resident, the paper newsletter has reliably provided a snapshot of information for your neighborhood. But we aren’t in 1439 anymore, and there’s an alternative delivery system that is more timely, interactive, and modern – email newsletters.
Why Email Newsletters?
In my community of more than 1,000 single-family homes, a monthly, eight-page newsletter is delivered to every home doorstep. While a convenient delivery method for residents, the information may already be as much as two weeks old! Consider our publication timeline for a typical issue:
Your production process may be slightly different but the timeline should look familiar: long. In our community, a cadre of volunteers delivers newsletters when time allows, often a week after the issues are given to them. One week for editing and one week for printing/distribution yields a two-week-old newsletter. These baked-in delays can make the newsletter useless for meeting notices, community events, and RSVP requests.
No matter the size of your HOA, emailing your newsletter or placing it online can eliminate most of the delays in your publishing schedule and reduce your costs at the same time.
Less Design Required
An email newsletter is typically built using a simple vertical template (like ECHO’s email newsletter) with article placeholders that ask for a headline, article text, and an optional picture or graphic. Time consuming layout work is virtually eliminated because you are not hamstrung to 8.5x11” paper; instead one article simply follows another in a vertical list. The template also formats the headline and article font too. This also allows less computer-savvy community members to assist with design and production – instead of the local MS Publisher, Adobe, or Quark expert shouldering the burden.
No Printing Necessary
When the editor has finished adding and editing newsletter content, production is complete. Gone is the delay that stems from sending it to the printer, waiting for copies to be made, and having it delivered to your HOA office. The editor simply presses the send button and off it goes!
The removal of printing time means if there’s an error in the issue, say the wrong date for a Board meeting, you can instantly email a correction to the community. Also, because you are not tied to a paper format, there’s no minimum article requirements for any issue. For example, if a newsletter is emailed on Monday and then you discover there will be emergency tree trimming on Wednesday, you simply send another newsletter that only discusses tree trimming and voila! – Your community is informed by a one-article newsletter.
Instant Delivery...With a Catch
With a finished newsletter in hand, the editor emails it to everyone in the community and everyone is informed instantly. Almost. While a hardcopy lands on every doorstep or appears in every building’s bulletin board, not everyone will see an email newsletter at first. The greatest challenge in adopting email newsletters is gathering residents’ email addresses.
Encourage your HOA’s members to share their email addresses using a few techniques:
- Emphasize how current this newsletter format is, and that it will eventually replace the hardcopy edition entirely.
- Remind residents that their email addresses will not be shared or sold to any outside organization; addresses are solely used for HOA information and emergency notifications.
- Provide easy means for signing up such as a form on your HOA’s website or allowing residents to call the newsletter editor to add their addresses for them.
Some residents may refuse to share their email addresses, so it is a best practice to also post the newsletter on your website. Publishing online removes hardcopy design and delivery delays, but also removes the easy notification of email. If residents are hesitant to go online at all, you could allow them to ask for mailed copies of the newsletter noting the added delay and cost this brings.
The benefits of publishing an online newsletter go beyond the convenience of quicker editing and faster delivery. An online newsletter allows you to provide hyperlinks for members to make their experience interactive. For example, members could click links to get more information about an event or take them directly to a cited rule. Members may also click the HOA manager’s email address to instantly compose a message instead of having to type out the address printed in a hardcopy version; even the smallest steps may stop someone from otherwise sending a message.
Depending on your electronic newsletter provider, you may also learn a lot of information about who is viewing the newsletter, what links are clicked, and what methods members are using to get their information. For example, we found members were clicking the HOA manager’s email link at the newsletter’s footer often so we added it to the header for their convenience. We also added links to meeting minutes, our community calendar, emergency services, and annual reports. The amount of feedback about information placement is simply not possible with a hardcopy.
When choosing a template, find one that is mobile-friendly. Doing so ensures the information will format to fit on a smartphone’s screen, making all phone numbers and mailing addresses automatically tap-enabled for dialing or mapping directions. We have found that 52% of all electronic newsletter views in our community are done through mobile devices; a number that has grown since changing to a mobile-friendly template.
What Will This Cost?
Your savings or costs will vary by the systems already in place for your community. If you already have a website that is updated regularly, you could create your newsletter and post it there in PDF in the hope that members will check it on occasion. If you also collected email addresses, you could attach the newsletter to a regular email and send it to a very long list of addresses, being sure they are in a mailing group listed in the BCC line; however, this is tedious to manage in the long run.
The most cost and time effective method is to work with an email newsletter provider (Constant Contact and Mail Chimp are popular choices). Professional newsletter sites enable HOA members to add their addresses through any number of methods, and you simply create and send the newsletter. These sites take care of all distribution needs, allow you to schedule send times, and can provide readership statistics. After a free introductory period, these sites cost about $20 per month and may increase in cost based on your readership size, file storage needs, advanced design requirements, social media integration features, and improved technical support.
An Association is not required by law to send a newsletter to homeowners, but newsletters do help members stay informed of events, remind them of community rules, and offer neighborhood updates that can’t be found in the meeting minutes. Plus, most people view newsletters as friendly and more accessible than dry meeting minutes or long Board meetings.
Do not automatically rely only your email newsletter to provide notices required by the Davis-Stirling Act. Meeting notices and annual disclosures may be provided by email only if the recipient consents in writing.
Long-term Communications Plan
Using an electronic newsletter instead of a hardcopy edition is one of several steps you can take to improve and update communications between the HOA Board and homeowners. Other avenues to explore include social media (and necessary best practices), improving your website design and use, offering official Board member email addresses, online posting of meeting minutes and agendas (not to replace legally required public posting), and establishing publication and advertisement policies.
Improved HOA communication yields greater Board transparency that results in a more involved and aware community. And a more involved and aware community is best for everyone.
Rich Ellenson is an ECHO Member and both the Communications Chairperson and Board member for an HOA with more than 1,000 homes in Concord, CA. He consults and advises HOAs on improving communications between their Boards, management, and residents. Rich can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.