Many associations maintain association websites these days in order to better communicate with their members. The more sophisticated association websites provide different functionalities where boards can more easily comply with inspection requests (by posting most of the official records on the site and often under password protection) post notices of board, membership and committee meetings and even gauge community sentiment on large projects by doing an online survey before committing to costly endeavors.
Some of the more carefully thought out websites even have community events listings, community classifieds, community forums, community FAQ’s and neighborhood links. Of course, these sites can take time and money to create and there are monthly hosting fees as well. Associations who have functioning sites advise that they wouldn’t do without them for anything but they do ask if they can offset those monthly costs by allowing others to advertise on the sites.
There is nothing in the common interest ownership statutes that would prohibit advertising on association websites. Similarly, it is hard to imagine many, if any, association governing documents containing such a prohibition. As a result, boards should just use some common sense when it comes to allowing advertising on their association websites and other community forums.
Often it is people living in the community (realtors, plumbers, etc.) who will have the most interest in advertising on your website. There is nothing inherently wrong with allowing members to advertise on the site as long as you vet them the same way you would any other vendor or company wishing to advertise. A starting point is to contact the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) as well as the Better Business Bureau to find out whether or not a complaint has ever been filed against the person or entity. You can also ask for referrals and contact those referrals for more information about their performance.
Once you have determined that there are no impediments to allowing the potential advertiser on your site, you should speak with your association attorney to draft some disclaimer language you can put on the site advising your members and visitors to the site that the association makes no endorsement or guarantee of any product or service advertised. While past performance is usually a pretty good indicator of future performance, there is still no guarantee that one of your members won’t obtain a lousy result from someone they contacted off your site; thus the need for a disclaimer.
Allowing advertising on your association website is a real opportunity to offset the costs of creating and hosting a website for your members. You should, however, take the proper steps outlined above if you are considering this route. In addition, if your association does decide to allow advertisers on to your site, please check with your association accountant to be sure you are not generating revenue beyond what is allowed for not-for-profit corporations.