Last modified on November 30th, 2021
By Marc Frenkiel
A year ago, the team at AppFolio sat down with Lisa Wise, Chief Flockster of Flock DC, a mission-driven property management company, to discuss how she and her team create space for what matters most: building strong communities. We circle back with Lisa one year later for an update. Read on to see the conversation.
AppFolio: As it relates to Flock DC’s community engagement and outreach, what stands out the most to you this year (2021)?
Lisa: I think when the new year began, everyone was waiting to exhale and put a painful year behind them. Instead, 2021 has felt more like 2020 2.0. Our community continued to struggle with uncertainty and the disruption and pain brought on by the pandemic. In particular, we saw economic divides further widen and inequity become more and more pronounced. Although our work became even harder with the complexity of the marketplace, we knew even if business was tough, serving the community that has supported us all these years was not negotiable. We went all in on our philanthropic work and formed partnerships with nonprofit organizations and stakeholders making a real difference, particularly in the areas of health, education and housing justice. I’ve never been prouder of our wingprint.
AppFolio: birdSEED is Flock DC’s philanthropic division. What areas of impact have you and the team made with birdSED this year?
Lisa: birdSEED officially took flight in February to mark African American History month. We assembled a stellar, high profile advisory board to help us navigate and design a grant program that was accessible, intentional, and impactful. To that end, we opened up our housing justice grant application process with minimal requirements, understanding that we intended to create an opportunity for a windfall vs. a grant with substantial reporting or expectations of the recipient. Essentially, birdSEED offers no-strings funding in the amount of 5k to 15K to help Black and Brown first-time homebuyers in the DC area with down payments. Since launching, we’ve reviewed over 200 applications and awarded nine grants total. Four families have closed on their homes and the remaining grantees are in the process of finding homes.
It’s a tough market and we have done what we can to pair the award with as many support resources as possible. We’ve been able to attract an additional $70,000 in donor support to add to our own $215,000 commitment. 100% of those funds will go to grants. Flock DC, the Board of Advisors, and even the Executive Director donate 100% of their time. We’ve also underwritten the website, legal, and PR efforts to drive the work. We’re hopeful this rapid philanthropy model focused on housing justice and equity can be replicated throughout the country.
AppFolio: As you’ve likely read, the National Apartment Association (NAA) and AppFolio recently published a survey noting staffing and turnover as significant challenges in the property management industry. It’s not surprising considering the dramatic shift to remote work, technology adoption, and the general stress induced by the pandemic. While ensuring employees feel valued and have time to care for themselves and their families, providing teams meaningful work and continued opportunities to engage is also important. How has Flock DC’s focus on community engagement helped foster deeper relationships within the organization and further with customers and the broader community? How has it helped team members broaden their perspective on their own lives and daily challenges and opportunities?
Lisa: Doing business with purpose creates an environment that offers enrichment not only for our community but for our team members as well. We believe property management offers a unique opportunity to touch lives every single day. We talk about our impact constantly. We also have to consider our impact as a company on our employees’ lives, not just their work output. Our talent is central to our success and supporting them through this time with flexibility, compassion, empathy, and resources is something we’ve fully committed to as a company.
We’re also clear with our client and resident base that respect and kindness is abundant in our workplace, and it’s expected from our stakeholders as well. The scaffolding we erect to support team members is one thing. Giving them pathways to engage in meaningful work in and out of the workspace is another. But if you really want to show your team you care, elect to fire clients that are punishing and disrespectful. The loyalty return outpaces the contract value every single time.
AppFolio: Are there any tactical, day-to-day tools or tricks that enable you to focus on the community engagement aspect of your job?
Lisa: Honestly, there aren’t any tricks, it’s built into everyone’s roles. To engage the community authentically and have impact, the work can’t be tacked on or considered “extra.” It has to be part of the fabric of the company. When we started back in 2008, we knew this orientation would frame our work, differentiate us, and attract clients, residents, and staff alike.
AppFolio: What are you most proud of in 2021?
Lisa: Truly, our Flock. They showed up every day to take care of residents, their homes, and our client’s investments. We didn’t just get through the work this year, we got better at what we do. We streamlined systems, added new products, enhanced compliance support, and created new communication channels, including town hall meetings and learning sessions (our SeedPlanting series) for owners interested in maintenance, investing, insurance, and legal issues. We amplified our community presence and we supported team members caring for and welcoming new family members. I wouldn’t call the year bittersweet, but I look forward to things smoothing out for all of us as we move forward.
AppFolio: What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
Lisa: We’re in a growth mode and eager to expand our reach and impact. We’re looking at opportunities in other cities as well. This orientation toward new pursuits and growth achieves a momentum that’s inspiring for team members, while it also creates growth opportunities for Flocksters. We want people to experience career growth, but we don’t want them to have to leave the company to do that. We’re also poised and positioned as thought leaders in the industry and beyond as a company that has put people and place over profit. My forthcoming book, Self-Elected: How to Put Justice, People and Place Over Profit and Soar in Business, is a guide to making a difference with business. We expect this will do a nice job of giving us national brand recognition and help us model our methods.
For a deeper dive into Lisa’s purpose-driven philosophy, check out Flock DC’s story.