PDS’ Interview with Sarah Patterson, Executive Director of the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of Community Associations Institute (WMCCAI)

  • Posted on Apr 20, 2012

Community Associations Institute (CAI) is a non-profit trade organization that provides information and education to community associations and the professionals who support them.  The Professional Documents Service (PDS) interviewed the Executive Director of the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of Community Associations Institute (WMCCAI), Sarah Patterson, to get her feedback on CAI’s 2012 Conference & Expo; to learn how CAI can benefit small businesses and associations; and, among other things, how Sarah became a leader for one of CAI’s largest chapters.


PDS: What feedback have you gotten concerning the 2012 WMCCAI Conference & Expo?

PATTERSON: The feedback that I’ve gotten so far has been mostly informal. I’ve been hearing that traffic at the event was good.  People seemed to enjoy the educational seminars.  I haven’t heard any major complaints about anything, which is always a good thing.  If something went drastically wrong, of course I would know about it right away.  Luckily we didn’t have any of that this year.

One piece that we continue to hear and continue to work on is that of increasing homeowner attendance.  Our largest percentage of our organization’s members is homeowners, but it’s a struggle to get them to come out.  This is the event where we see the most of them and probably see around 300 or so of them.  But we’d really like to find a way to increase their attendance, so that’s the one piece so far that I know we’re going to continue to work on for 2013.


PDS: You are the Executive Director for one of CAI’s largest chapters.  What steps did you take to get where you are today?

PATTERSON: I actually worked in the community association industry; moved here from New York State around 2003 and found a job with Greenbriar Condominiums in Greenbelt, Maryland as their Community Affairs Director.  And with them I did events, programs, their newsletters, and things of that nature.  I eventually moved from that position to be the Administrative Manager of Hillandale Homeowners Association in Georgetown where I managed their clubhouse and office; and at that point, joined CAI and served on one of our 10 committees and was quiet as a mouse.  The committee I worked on produced WMCCAI’s monthly magazine, and eventually the staff member charged with overseeing that committee moved on to CAI’s national office which is also in Virginia.  I applied for that job and came on board as WMCCAI’s Communications Manager in April 2006.  So, I’m coming on my six-year anniversary with the organization!  I was in that role for about a year-and-a-half when WMCCAI’s Executive Director also moved on to the national organization to become their Vice President of Membership & Chapter Relations.  I sort of applied for her job thinking that I would not get it, and truth be told I turned out to be the best candidate for the job.  I’ve been working as WMCCAI’s Executive Director since August 2007.


PDS: Very interesting!  What would you say to small businesses and smaller associations that are a bit reluctant, for whatever reasons, to join CAI?


PATTERSON: For small businesses, I think that CAI is really a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck.  Annual membership dues for a business are under $600.  We offer a ton of different sponsorship opportunities ranging anywhere from $100 to $10,000.  For those businesses that can’t afford the sponsorships, they can take advantage of other means of marketing.  They can come and participate on committees.  They can attend free networking events and really foster those relationships with people, which, I think for a small business, is invaluable to really spread by word of mouth, and social networking, and volunteering and all of that.  I think it provides a really great opportunity for those things.

For homeowners, individual homeowner dues are $124 a year, which, again, I can appreciate is an investment for some people.  I would strongly encourage any community association to include the fees for at least one homeowner to join the organization.  The efficiency afforded by having WMCCAI’s resources at your fingertips will hopefully pay off in the long run, making it easier for organizations to do their job.  I think with homeowners, outside of paying the fee, they need to take a moment to figure out what it is that we do so they can take advantage of all of our resources.  As I mentioned before, we have a huge number of homeowner members.  We have about 2,800 members here in the Washington Metro Area, and about 1,500 of them are homeowner members.  Those people, though, don’t take the time to come out to our events and programs; and I can appreciate that, you know, time is a valuable commodity.  But I would encourage homeowners to try to make an investment of their time – be it an hour a month – to read our magazine, or surf our web site, or attend a meeting just to be sure they are taking advantage of the opportunities.


PDS: Tell me about WMCCAI’s charity work.


PATTERSON: We’ve had a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House at Inova Fairfax Hospital for, gosh, 14 or 15 years whereby each spring we go and we do a landscaping project.  We have an Honor Garden at the Ronald McDonald House and go and spruce up the grounds and exterior of the building, and also assist with any small projects they might have going on inside.  It’s really another great networking opportunity.  We have probably about 20 or 30 volunteers who show up for that each May.  They not only feel good about the work that they’re doing, but they’re also strengthening their relationship with their CAI peers.

In addition to that, we do some work for Habitat for Humanity.  Habitat around this area has started building and renovating common interest communities, condominiums, and town homes.  We’ve participated in build days for them and also provided resources to help educate those homeowners.

And then another thing that I think sometimes goes unnoticed, we are a non-profit organization ourselves.  We’re a 501(c)(6) trade organization.  We do a lot of public advocacy work for the community association industry, and CAI accepts donations to help support our own legislative committees in their efforts.

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PDS: What are you most proud of since becoming the Executive Director of WMCCAI?

PATTERSON: I’m probably most proud of just the manner in which I’ve grown with my knowledge of association management.  I told you how I ended up here, and it’s something that I had never really thought of or knew of as a career.  I feel that I’ve really taken advantage of the opportunity to learn.  I’ve become very familiar with the community association industry, and also with the non-profit management industry which hopefully will open doors for me throughout the rest of my career.

Another thing that I’m proud of is maintaining our organization throughout a down economic time.  Things haven’t been so great [economically] since I’ve assumed a leadership role here, but we’ve managed to really reach out to our members and keep them engaged and involved.  We had a retention rate of 92% last year and have continued to see people coming out to our events; continued to see people sponsoring.  So that’s been great!  We must be doing something right to keep those people involved.


PDS: You’re doing plenty right, believe me!  What would CAI members and partners be surprised to learn about you – Sarah Patterson the person?

PATTERSON: Well I live in a community association myself and try to fly under the radar.  But I’m actually going to submit my statement of interest for my own Board of Directors.  I don’t know how I’m going to find the time to do it, but I’ve noticed some things in my own community that I think could be better.  And when people call me at my office to complain about those things within their own communities, I say, “Well have you considered running for the Board?” So I’m going to take my own medicine and run for the Board and see if I can make a difference in my own community.


PDS: So, I want to be very clear: Is the surprising thing that you’re not on your community association’s Board?  What’s the surprising part, exactly?

PATTERSON: I think some people who are involved professionally would say, “Really? Why would you want to do that?”  And some homeowners who hear me say, “You should be on your Board,” would say, “I can’t believe you’re not on your Board.”  So I think it depends on the perspective.


PDS: Got it!  Okay, and the final question is, what can all of us who are waiting with baited breath expect from the 2013 WMCCAI Conference & Expo?

PATTERSON: I think there is always room for growth.  We were talking about it as a staff in terms of, “At what point is too much growth a bad thing?”  You know, “When will it get too big for us to manage?”  We’re just a staff of five here, so we really rely heavily on our volunteers to execute what you saw at the 2012 conference and expo.  That being said, I think we’ll probably grow a little bit in 2013.  We had 187 booths filled in 2012.  We had a goal of filling our floor with 190 booths, so I think we’ll have that same goal for next year and hopefully fill those three booths that were empty at the 2012 event.  We’ll continue to strive to provide great educational sessions.  There are a lot of things going on in the legislature that regards community associations, so we’re striving to keep our homeowners and managers aware of those things to really just provide fulfilling educational programs.  I know the committee has been talking about the possibility of a treasure hunt theme, so that’s just one of the ideas that’s been thrown out there.   We have a volunteer committee that works hard on that event with our Programs Manager, and they’ll reconvene in April to start looking at feedback and planning ahead.


PDS: That sounds very exciting!  Well thank you so much for interviewing with us today.

PATTERSON: You’re so welcome.



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