The Germans had a plan. They were going to attack France. Their best military minds had worked out the best way to do it to avoid getting major world powers involved (such as Russia) was to go through Belgium. The Kaiser wasn't worried about Belgian troops - Belgium's army was one tenth the size of Germany's. The Germans thought the Belgian army was so laughable, they called them "Chocolate Soldiers". They even sent word to the Belgians that they would just be passing their armies through to Paris, and as long as the Belgians didn't resist, no harm would come to them.
What a surprise then when this tiny army of chocolate soldiers fought back. Blowing up their own bridges and infrastructure to impede the massive German army, and holding off the behemoth for more than a month while nearby countries gathered up armies to come and assist. The German army simply wasn't prepared for a Belgian resistance, and thus took the first major misstep of World War One.
It was because of this incident that one German soldier learned the value of propaganda.
Negative propaganda is something that every community management professional has to deal with on a regular basis. News media loves to point out all of the negatives of community association living, and a few bad apples can spoil the bunch for all of us. That said, the Community Association Research Foundation reports that the vast majority of homeowners in a community association are content.
So how can you overcome bad propaganda and get to the truth with new homeowners joining your association? One of the best tools in your arsenal is one that you have probably overlooked: your welcome packet.
Many times when a new homeowner joins the association, they either know nothing of community association living, or they have been burned by a poor experience they or someone they know has had in the past. To overcome that perception, you need to show that living in a community association can be a positive experience that enhances their neighborhood and ultimately makes their lives better for living there.
Your welcome packet provides new owners with an overview of how the community is governed, provides them with an understanding of the rules that they will be living under in the community, gives them plenty of useful information to help them get settled in their new home, and presents them with productive ways to contribute to the community.
Here is what your welcome packet should include:
- The Welcome Letter (complete with an introduction to community living, contact information, details on paying assessments, important details like parking spaces or trash pickup, and volunteer opportunities.)
- A copy of the CC&Rs, Bylaws, and any other relevant community legal documents
- Payment coupons, direct debit form, online payment connection instructions or other remittance forms for payment of assessments.
- Any forms residents may need to fill in, such as a service request form, architectural application, pool pass application, vehicle registration, or a release for the telephone directory.
- A flier showcasing the various ammenities the community has to offer.
- The Property Manager's business card
- A copy of the latest community newsletter
In addition to the above items, consider one or more of these optional items to make your welcome package even more warmly received:
- Contact sheet for Utilities (Phone numbers for the electric company, water and sewage, cable, etc. Be sure to include the management company and community numbers on the list as well! This one pairs well with a magnet - they can stick it immediately to their fridge.)
- Coupons, gift cards and/or samples from local businesses (Contact them - many are happy to get the free exposure to new residents)
- Information on the area surrounding the community (map of businesses in walking distance, directions to local parks, gyms, walking or biking trails, schools, public transportation access)
- Swag from the management company (such as a magnet or pen with the management company's logo and phone numbers printed on them)
- Copy of "How and Why Community Associations Work" from CAI
If your welcome package is feeling a little stale, It's time to update it. Remember that this is your first line of defense against negative propaganda. Let the naysayers overlook your association's welcome package as a "chocolate soldier". Then prove them right.