In the Same Boat

Collaboration helps keep REALTOR® associations in sync with member needs.

Any association executive who has been around for a minute or two has likely mastered the art of collaboration. Some of the most fruitful collaborations happen between local and state REALTOR® associations.

Someone once told me that the difference between collaboration and cooperation is that collaboration is the art of getting the right team in the boat, while cooperation is getting everyone on that team to row in the same direction and at the same speed. The relationship between the two skills is a symbiotic one, and AEs need to practice them frequently to become proficient.

Christine Windle, director of community outreach for the National Association of REALTORS®, says AEs can build collaborations by establishing robust local association networks and connecting with state associations. “No association is an island,” she says. “Even though each one serves a specific region, we share common goals. AEs of REALTOR® associations large and small must keep in mind that collaboration is key in maximizing value back to members.”

Partnership Is Key

One association that has done so successfully is the 220-member Harlingen Board of REALTORS® in southeast Texas. HBR is one of a group of four small- to medium-sized associations in the region that leverage shared services, programs, and some events.

Whether the Harlingen association is running an Aristotle virtual campaign to raise money for a food bank, staging Habitat for Humanity casino nights, filing for NAR grants, or cost-sharing on educational events, partnering with other REALTOR® associations and colleagues has been key to HBR’s success.

AE Ana Becerra says HBR relies heavily on the state association. Texas REALTORS® does an excellent job of communicating in spite of the state’s sheer size, she says, and has been great at “meeting the local associations where they are.”

Long before the pandemic, HBR worked with Texas REALTORS® and other associations in the Grand Valley area to recruit local instructors and to broadcast seminars across the state. “I’ve been with the association since I was 16 years old, and I learned collaboration by watching and learning from others,” Becerra says.

Prioritize Local Connections

Angela Shields, CEO of the 33,000-member Tennessee REALTORS® in Nashville, says the bulk of TR’s work is legislative. But having been a local AE for many years, she believes in helping local organizations whenever possible.

Before COVID-19, TR did state association leadership “roadshows,” supporting local events with leadership meet-and-greets and RPAC events such as the PAC-a-Thon. Shields says these activities will resume as the pandemic abates. TR has met with local boards every other week on Zoom to find out how it can be of assistance.

Not every local association needs the same level of attention. With those capable of handling things on their own, the state association tries not to come across as a competitor. For example, TR won’t use a local association’s sponsors when it comes to events or fundraising unless there is a noninvasive partnership. “We focus on bigger projects to bring members together,” Shields says. “We like to collaborate on all projects. The locals keep us grounded with the members.”

Look for Mutual Benefits

Already substantial before the pandemic, reciprocity between the Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS® and Carolina REALTORS® has expanded in the last 18 months, says CCAR CEO Laura Crowther. Meetings between the state association’s CEO and local associations increased in frequency and in content value, she says.

Having served as a senior vice president at CR, Crowther has a great relationship with the state association. She says local associations shouldn’t view their role as subservient to the state organization, but instead view it as a partnership with great potential for reciprocity. “With 4,600 members, the grassroots information we bring to the table is vital to our state association,” she says. “There are so many local issues, we really have to sing from the same sheet of music.”

Collaboration doesn’t stop at the state line, however. CCAR engages with REALTOR® associations in Canada to enhance economic development in her region through participation in the annual CanAm Days event in Myrtle Beach. Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, and many Canadians look to coastal South Carolina for vacation and retirement homes.

CCAR has also participated in the International Real Estate Conference (MIPIM) in Cannes, France, partnering with David Bennett, CEO of the Pinellas REALTOR® organization in Florida. Such high-level collaborations deliver innovative member services and make both regions and their states more visible to emerging global markets, Crowther says.

Build Grassroots Strength

Working with local government affairs directors is a reciprocal effort in Pennsylvania, where the state REALTOR® association acknowledges that grassroots efforts are the best indicator of business health. While local associations in the state employ eight or nine GADs themselves, Pennsylvania REALTORS® contracts government affairs services to 25 local associations with small memberships.

Working with local associations on grants is another big part of Pennsylvania REALTORS®’ collaborative efforts, says Field Operations and Grassroots Manager Chuck Liedike. One recent win at the state level was a grant that covers costs related to sewer lateral service, the result of cooperation with multiple stakeholders. An infrastructure accomplishment for property owners like this really shows off REALTOR® value, Liedike says.

Liedike is big on building the REALTOR® brand. “We’re pushing strong on getting REALTORS® to get involved, and we’re working with local associations, especially in the rural regions, to find and develop fresh new talent among REALTORS® for new community leadership at the local level,” he says.

Local and state REALTOR® associations around the country are getting more of the right people in the boat and getting them all to row in sync. Even through the choppy waters of the pandemic, that willingness to work together has helped more REALTOR® associations advance toward their goals.

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