Board Member Roles: What Does My Title Mean?
“What does our association’s vice president really do?”
“I’m the secretary; can I lead a board meeting?”
“How skilled at financials does our treasurer need to be?”
Whether you’ve served on your association’s board for 1 month or 1 year, the specific roles of board members can feel uncertain at times. Your management company should provide you with an orientation and brief overview of your roles and responsibilities, but for the very basics, read on.
The board of directors of your association is tasked with creating and communicating a vision for the community, for its direction and goals. But they have far greater responsibility than that. The board must protect the interests of the association, especially financial, maintain common structures and areas, and enhance the lifestyle of all residents. For this to happen, the board must set goals, adhere to governing documents and conduct meetings.
Keep in mind that while there are specific titles within a board of directors (e.g., president, secretary, etc.), your core roles and responsibilities are unchanging. No matter what title you hold, it’s imperative that you keep the community vision, residents’ interest and big picture in mind with every decision you make. A dedicated board of directors, engaged residents and a clear understanding of all roles and responsibilities are just a few critical ingredients for a thriving community.
Start with alignment
Before you dig deeper into your unique role on the board, make sure you first understand the value and necessity of strong board alignment. While you don’t need to agree on every decision with your fellow board members, it is critical that you provide a united front to the community.
What can happen if you don’t have that sense of cooperation and unity? Nothing good. Boards that aren’t united around a common purpose aren’t able to function effectively, fulfill their responsibilities, maintain the association’s financial health or improve resident lifestyles. Having the right people in key roles on the board will help develop that unity and keep your community moving in the right direction.
To help maintain unity, board members need to understand the roles and responsibilities of each member of the board – to both the board and the community at large. This understanding will make the board more effective and cohesive, leading to a more enjoyable community with greater resident satisfaction. Your property management company should provide board education and training resources, helping you cultivate the qualities of great board members.
Remember that no role on your board holds more “voting power” than another. While there are certain officer roles that are universal and necessary, board members should focus on unifying with one another. To that end, here are the four main titles and their respective responsibilities.
What does a board president do?
The president’s responsibilities include important procedural roles as well as essential leadership functions. For instance, the president may appoint committees if dictated by the bylaws and they often operate as an authority on the rules and documents governing the association. During meetings, the president maintains order, proposes questions, calls votes, announces outcomes and recognizes those who are about to speak on the floor. The president also calls the meeting to order, announces the agenda and ensures that everyone adheres to it.
What does the board vice president do?
The vice president shares many of the responsibilities as the president and serves in the leadership capacity when the president is absent. They are tasked with helping to maintain order during parliamentary procedures, keeping the flow of business moving efficiently and acting as a knowledgeable source when it comes to the rules of the association.
What does the board secretary do?
Think of the secretary as the association historian. The secretary’s role is to record all of the actions of the board so they can be referenced later. The secretary’s functions eliminate those “Oh, I thought you meant...” scenarios by keeping accurate minutes during meetings. The secretary will also sign the minutes of all meetings and other important community documents.
How the minutes are taken can vary from association to association. Sometimes, an onsite staff member can take the minutes and the secretary can approve and sign them. Sometimes the secretary takes the minutes during the meeting. Regardless of who is doing the job, it’s easy to take the meeting agenda and turn it into the minutes. Bring a laptop or tablet and under each agenda item, write the motion being made and what was discussed. That makes it really easy to get them sent out while the meeting is fresh in everyone’s minds. Remember, the minutes should be a summary of the motions made and actions taken, not a verbatim transcript of the meeting.
It is important that the secretary be detail-oriented and concerned with both accuracy and consistency to ensure that all reviewed and signed minutes are correct.
What does the board treasurer do?
The effectiveness of your board depends in part on the effectiveness of your budget. The treasurer will be the keeper of financial records, ensuring they are both accurate and thorough. The treasurer will apprise the board of the association’s financial health through regular reports of income and expenses and will also produce an annual treasurer’s report to all members. Look to the treasurer to submit financial records in the case of an audit, and to authorize any disbursement of funds. The treasurer is also the primary check signer for community payables.
“The treasurer is one of the most critical roles on an association board,” said Bobby Knuth, senior regional director at FirstService Residential in Tampa. An understanding of accounting practices, specifically accrual accounting, is a great asset to a community association treasurer.
Sometimes, board members get pushed into a treasurer position without the background or experience to be successful in that role. It’s very important that the treasurer be someone with the background and experience to interpret a financial statement and convey the information in it with confidence. Your management company should also be a primary resource for your board when dealing with financials. FirstService Residential provides association partners with budget resources and training as well as a robust accounting team that board members can turn to for complex budget questions.
What other qualities should your board of directors have?
No matter the type or size of association, the most effective boards include a diverse group of people with a variety of skillsets and qualities. “The essential part of getting the right people on your board is to utilize the skills of each person for each position. Look at their skills, history and background,” said Knuth. “If, for example, you have significant renovations planned in the community, it can be helpful to have a board member who has a background in architecture, construction or engineering. Their expertise allows them to challenge hired professionals and can make a huge difference in how those renovation projects will go.” As mentioned, someone with a background in finance and accounting may be an excellent fit for the position of board treasurer.
Knuth said that people with experience running businesses of any size can also come to the board with skills that will make it operate more smoothly. “For instance, if the board president handles the association as a business, focusing on community goals, more will be accomplished. They understand the need to accomplish tasks, but they are also fair and amicable in their dealings,” Knuth explained.
What about our community manager?
While not a member of your board, your manager is an outside party bound to your association by contract. It’s important that your manager comes from a reputable property management company. This means that your manager has the knowledge and expertise, along with the management company’s resources and support, to deliver the best service to your community and board. Though the specifics of their duties vary by contract, managers typically execute the policies dictated by the board and administer all of the services, operations and programs of the association. Your manager should also be an important source of information and insight. In fact, many boards become more effective through training provided by an experienced manager.
“The manager’s role can fluctuate, depending on the strength of the board members,” Knuth said. “If board leadership is uncertain or inexperienced, the manager should step in to help run meetings if necessary. The manager must be able to fill any gaps the board may have and complement its strengths.”
Do you have what it takes to be an engaged and effective leader in your association?
On any board, the individuals elected to their roles will bring strengths and talents all their own. “I’ve seen some boards that stick rigidly to titles, and others that function more as a unit in which everyone plays to their specific strengths,” Knuth said. It’s important to allow those strengths to come to the forefront – your board will benefit from it. While the list of duties associated with each role is important, it’s even more important that your board is focused on leading with integrity, aligning with one another on key decisions and being an advocate for the community you serve.
Watch the full video!
Becoming an association board member can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Watch our video to learn more about the role you’re stepping into.