Cedar Creek to save $18k per year

I was really pleased to find out today that the Cedar Creek Homeowners Association in Olathe, KS is beginning the process of phasing out their paper newsletter to save money. The savings to the HOA are substantial and could exceed $18,000 per year.

One of the greatest benefits of eNeighbors is that you can save money by serving your communication needs online. You no longer have to bear the cost of postage, paper, printing, editing, and so forth.

According to Steve Maerz, a Cedar Creek Board Member who manages the website, the association currently budgets $1,500 per month to send 1000 newsletters, or $18,000 per year.

The savings won’t be realized immediately though as they are phasing out the monthly newsletter by printing newsletters every other month. Steve explained in an email to me that “we are telling folks that we will only mail every other month with the month that it isn’t mailed being on eNeighbors.”

The idea of sending paper newsletters every other month was not something that I’ve seen done before but I think it’s a great way to ease the community into a new process.

LionsGate Neighborhood Survey Results

The LionsGate Homeowners Association Board of Directors recently asked their residents to complete an online survey to help them to better understand what their residents are thinking. LionsGate is a community of nearly 600 homes in Overland Park, Kansas, 500 of which are registered on their eNeighbors website. The survey was distributed via eNeighbors and they received 296 responses.

From Mark Spraetz, LionsGate Board President:

“Suffice to say, we were very pleased by the level of response. Most surveys, on line or otherwise, generate a marginal response rate so achieving a 50%+ level shows a high level of on-line engagement within our community. There are many survey tools on the web that are very affordable and will generate a link that you can publicize easily with a “bulletin announcement” via your website service. We tried a variety of questioning formats and learned that some worked better than others so future surveys can yield even better results. There was an open ended option so residents gave us free-form feedback on a couple issues that we did not include [for a variety of reasons] when we published the results but many of those comments gave great perspective, too. I would encourage any Board looking to poll their community to think about this approach; easy and affordable and the tabulation and reporting was all handled by the survey service…just had to log in…”

If you are a board member on your HOA you will find the survey results interesting and perhaps even helpful.

Download full survey results (PDF)

National League of Cities on Strong Neighborhoods

I’ve always felt that strong neighborhoods are the key to affecting positive change in a community – especially in city government. My Dad, who is an Overland Park City Councilman, echoes this sentiment.

By my definition, a strong neighborhood is a local community of people that frequently communicate to socialize, pool resources, and solve problems.

eNeighbors helps neighborhoods develop stronger bonds through more efficient communication online and in many cases, our neighborhood websites are used to organize residents around important causes like reducing crime and working with the city to improve new developments.

The National League of Cities recently shared their “Lessons Learned” from community-based initiatives in collaboration with local government. (The full list of lessons is available here.)

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t provide anything actionable, but it is good food for thought. I do want to pick a bone with the last bullet point in their Lessons Learned though:

“The Internet is a powerful new tool for civic engagement. However, there is greater power in building relationships through face-to-face communication. While President Obama had a powerful Internet-connected organization, even more importantly he had a very strong on the ground organization built through individual contacts, house meetings and local actions.”

The above comment is a great example of the hesitation shown by old-line organizations fearful of how the Internet may replace face-to-face communication, but it’s exactly the opposite in my experience: the Internet increases face-to-face communication. The example that I always reference is the Nottingham Forest South Easter Egg Hunt.

The year before our website was in place, the Nottingham Forest South neighborhood relied on a paper flyer to communicate. They announced their annual Easter Egg Hunt in the April newsletter and 25 kids showed up. The next year, the website was in place and an email was sent out – 150 kids attended.

My point is that the Internet fosters face-to-face communication, it doesn’t replace it. And maybe even more importantly, when face-to-face communication is not possible, communication doesn’t stop, it can continue online.

If I’m the National League of Cities, I’m doing everything I can to research what works best in online communication and then encouraging my members to invest money in the online communication tools that make it easier for neighborhoods to interact with their elected representation and affect change. (HINT: A key component to this is real-time communication.)

Neighborhoods truly struggle with establishing good communication channels with their residents. If you send out a paper flyer, it’s costly (first class postage is now $0.44), people throw it away without reading it, and it contains information that is at least 30 days old. If you organize block captains they lose interest, or move away, or are on vacation when you need to get the word out.

But when neighborhoods can establish a real-time online communication channel that is sustainable over time, they can become organized and solve any challenge that they face. They can email and mobilize everyone in seconds, literally, in seconds. They can provide up-to-date and relevant information on a daily or weekly basis and it isn’t dependent on any single person to function so it will be sustainable.

The bottom-line: if you help neighborhoods establish better communication, you will form a stronger neighborhood.

Even simpler: better communication = stronger neighborhoods.

And just for fun: better communication, better communication, better communication.

Sharing Information: Yes we can

It seems like every day I have a conversation with at least one customer about whether or not they should post some type of information online – such as their neighborhood’s financial reports, bylaws, or meeting minutes. My answer is always absolutely yes, 100% without a doubt.

I’m always puzzled as to why this is even a hesitation, but I’m now convinced, given the breadth of the concern, that many, if not most people feel fear about sharing information on the web.

Here are some of the better “reasons” for NOT sharing information. (The quotes are paraphrased.)

  1. “If we publish our financial reports, our vendors will see what we pay and offer us less competitive rates.” Well, maybe. First, let me explain that if you use eNeighbors, only residents have access to your neighborhood website. So, unless your vendors are also residents, you don’t have to worry about this. However, why would you assume that the rates would be less competitive? You might find that they are more competitive and try to undercut your current rates. At the end of the day, you have to negotiate your rates, or allow your property manager to get you the best rate. This has nothing to do with what you’re currently paying. It has everything to do with what you’re willing to pay and what they’re willing to sell it for.
  2. “We have a resident that is filing a lawsuit against us and we don’t want him to have this information”. Sorry, but you can’t hold the information back from him anyway. You are making it a little harder on him to access it, but if he’s filing a lawsuit, it won’t really matter. One thing to consider: If you had made this type of information available in the first place, would there be a lawsuit at all? Boards that share information and operate transparently instill trust with their residents.

Here are my reasons for sharing information:

  1. Sharing information online instills trust with residents
  2. Sharing information online holds board members accountable
  3. Sharing information online provides a repository of historical knowledge for future boards to reference
  4. Sharing information online is convenient for board members, property managers, realtors, renters, and residents
  5. Sharing information online leads to unexpected results that will improve your community

As a board member you don’t really have a right to hold back information. Most of the information is publicly available (such as your HOA bylaws) and it is certainly the right of due’s paying members to have access to it.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a video of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (father of the Internet) and his perspective on sharing data. He’s way beyond sharing documents, he wants your raw data now.

eNewsletter & Local Advertising

It’s been a long time everyone… we’ve been hard at work with heads down these past couple months but wanted to let you all know about some new changes we’ve rolled out.

1. eNewsletter – NEW & IMPROVED!
If you are currently an eNeighbors user then you probably have already seen the new newsletter in your inbox this week. We have some great new features for you:

  • News and Events now have more date info
  • Events that require you to RSVP will now include the registration link
  • Groups now shows how many members are in the group
  • Classifieds now shows when they were posted as well as the photo
  • Added a Community Feedback link for easier access to communicate with your HOA board and property manager

2. Local Advertising
The other big deal that we’ve been working on is the new Sponsors section in the eNewsletter. We now offer the ability to advertise your business in eNeighbors neighborhoods.

For only $50 a month, you can place your ad in the newsletters that get emailed to our eNeighbors residents.

Here’s an example of the ad

For more details including discounted pricing options, a list of our neighborhoods, and the ad specs, please visit our Sponsors page.

If your neighborhood is not signed up with eNeighbors, find out how you can get your neighborhood online.

To Sale Or Not To Sale

A recent Facebook application launched from Buy.com called Garage Sale. I think it’s self-explanatory — sell your stuff to your friends on Facebook. Theory is that they know and trust you, so it’s like a “garage sale” at your house.

TechCrunch thinks this type of closed system of selling won’t work because in this scenario, sellers don’t have access to a large customer base (like on eBay), or for that matter like on edgeio.com (the TechCrunch-backed classifieds site).

I thought about this for a while especially considering our success with classifieds in the eNeighbors neighborhood sites. For instance, if eNeighbors grew to the point of millions of users, how effective would our inter-community classifieds be? Would we be able to truly replace the newspaper classifieds? Or would someone like eBay ultimately win out?

The offline print classifieds are still successful to this day due to their ability to give you the “local” view of what people are selling. All you have to do is drive over and get it. Additionally, I know that some people (like my mother) love to go hunt for hidden treasures at garage/estate sales. Putting this experience online just wouldn’t translate.

In the end, I think the answer will be whatever website your average “non-techie” internet user knows about will be the one he/she uses. Additionally, that website needs to be easy to use and not intimidating to newbies. We are doing everything we can to make eNeighbors.com be exactly that.