MyBrandywine

Brandywine Condominium Association

The following article was copied from the February 2013 edition of “Florida Community Association Journal”.

SMALLER COMMUNITIES (Less than 400 units.)

Brandywine Condominium Association A Site Worth the Visit.

Brandywine Condominium Association of Fort Myers has been recognized as the Best Website winner amongst smaller communities in the 2012 Communities of Excellence contest. The association is enjoying the benefits of volunteer Roger Hervey's experience gained through volunteering as webmaster for various organizations through the years.

Hervey shares, "I became interested in computers at an early stage in their development and learned how to use it to make graphs of economic performance at the hospital where I was administrator. Then I got a PC at home and tried to keep up with my son!"

When his church in Illinois decided it was time to launch a website, Hervey stepped up to be webmaster. "There's a tongue-in-cheek phrase that the office expert is the first one to read the instruction manual, so that was me," Hervey comments. "I enjoyed it as a hobby, but the website was harder than I realized it would be." By 2000, Hervey was coming to Florida for vacation, and once again he became involved as his church in Ft. Myers was seeking a volunteer to help with their website. This time, though, it was already established and Hervey says, "I thought I would volunteer and pick the brain of the previous volunteer. That was successful. I had a section to be responsible for and through the website I could do it 12 months/year from wherever I was."

Before coming to Brandywine, the community Hervey was at solicited a volunteer to institute a website and Hervey again got the job. He is no longer managing that site, but did learn more about the mechanics of the program and preferences of the residents. "We put board agendas and minutes on the site and noticed attendance at meetings increasing considerably. I put out a notice at meetings and on the website for e-mail communication and made it clear that all e-mails would be sent 'blind' so we were not sharing e-mail addresses with everyone. We ended up with 80-90 percent of the residents in our address book.”

Hervey relates, "When I came to Brandywine, there was no website so I talked to the manager and president about it, and they said to go ahead. I made a sample copy, and since I had a few more years of experience, I could make it look a little better."
"The original set-up took two to three hours several times per week," Hervey recalls. "I had learned that once you have a website up, if you want to change it, it's rather difficult because there are a lot of places to adjust. I knew things that I wanted differently from the previous sites I had managed so I made those changes at the first.”

Hervey is using the same software for Brandywine that he is using for the two church websites he maintains and a railroad fan club website for which he also volunteers as webmaster. There are four websites running on the program at no cost, and Hervey states, "I've not updated since it works fine for me. I don't need all the bells and whistles, and I don't know how to use them. I'm not a graphic designer—I'm just a volunteer that was curious. When I get comments or compliments from unit owners, then I find out what they like."

"The agendas, minutes, and newsletters are the key components of the site," Hervey explains. "I've added social activities and parties also and that's proven to be very popular." Pictures are well-liked also and are easy for relatives in other states to take a peek at. "I stick my camera in my pocket and shoot pictures of groups and put that on the website using gAlbum, a program that makes slide shows at no charge for small capacity," Hervey reports. "We did exceed the free space limit, and I got permission from the board to upgrade, but it's still under $100 per year. Photos take a lot of space so I try to reduce their size so they'll download faster, especially on the home page. You don't need a lot of resolution on a computer screen to look pretty. If you copy and print it, it will look grainy, but that's not the intent."

Areas which are visited most include the front page, the board directory and minutes, documents, welcome information, building and grounds information, and party pictures. "I had a resident directory, but people thought their identity would be stolen and they complained to the board," Hervey reports. "The first attempt to satisfy concerns was to have people e-mail if they wanted to be taken out of the directory, but there were still objections so the online directory was removed." Another area that was tested was a bulletin board, but Hervey relates, "No one e-mailed any items to post so after a few months I took it off."

The site does not have a private, password-protected area, as Hervey did not find that useful for the condominium site he administered previously. "No one could remember the password, and I got permission to take it off. When I came to Brandywine, I said, 'I won't use passwords if I do this.' And, I don't have the software for individual passwords."

The cost for website hosting is about $200 per year, which includes the domain name. Since Hervey's time is volunteered, the costs are minimal. "We don't take paid ads and I don't want to get into that," Hervey states. "Even our paper newsletter doesn't take paid ads or real estate listings. Our goal is communication within the community."

Hervey's time involvement is not extensive, averaging an hour each week. Most postings, such as board minutes or party pictures, will be within a couple of days of the events. "If I see something interesting, like a flowering tree, I'll take a photo and show it for a couple of weeks," he adds. Hervey is on-site for the winter and returns to Illinois for the summer, but he continues to man the site from his Illinois location. "Occasionally, I'll put an interesting picture on the site from up North, and there have been no complaints," he recalls.

Website usage has increased each year, from 6,700 contacts in 2009 to almost 30,000 in 2012. "After the notice that we'd won the Best Website award, people started looking even more," he notes. Of the 351 homes, 74 are subscribed to the e-mail updates. Brandywine is a 55-plus community, with some original owners from its establishment in 1982, and Hervey feels that in another five years, the owners will be more likely to consider computers as a primary source of information.

According to Hervey, "The benefits of the website are subjective, but as an example, I received an e-mail this month from a new owner. He said, 'I'm still here in Texas, but I appreciate being able to keep up on activities from here.' Other snowbirds also like to know what’s going on when they're gone, and at least they can catch up on meetings and minutes. They're posted in the community room, but they're in a locked case and you can't make a copy. On the website, you can print it or look at it again."

"This is also subjective, but the website assists with the feeling of community," Hervey observes. "Seeing increasing usage tells me that, over the years, it's become an important tool for quite a few people. Some associations might replace their written newsletter with an online version to save paper and distribution costs. Newsletter distribution here is by volunteers, but if there aren't enough volunteers, online posting is a relatively quick way to put out the same information. It's easier and less expensive."

For others who are making the transition to having a website on their own, Hervey advises, "You have to experiment. It's a tired cliché, but think outside the box. Look at other websites for ideas and ask questions of your board, committees, and management. For people who say, 'I don't know how to do that,' I have to say, 'There was a time when I didn't either. Be inventive!'"

Brandywine's website is www.mybrandywine.org, so take a brief visit and gather ideas. Their welcoming and informative site shows where a little curiosity can lead you!


Association address

Brandywine Condominium Association
1398 S. Brandywine Circle
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Phone: 239-481-2326
Fax: 239-481-0744
E-Mail: brandywinecondo@embarqmail.com