HOA Board Blunders: 4 Mistakes to Avoid

Posted on Friday January 19, 2018

Fact: We all make mistakes. The most important part is learning from them so you can avoid potential issues going forward.

As a volunteer board member, it’s important to understand your role and what you should and should not do as part of your homeowner’s association. By avoiding common blunders, you can help position your board for success, which will flow into the greater community. An experienced community management company can help guide your board to success by offering tools and strategies to mitigate these mistakes. They will also handle day-to-day tasks, so your board can focus its attention on building your community’s brand, which will ultimately increase property values and enhance resident life.

To further set you and your association up for success, we’ve pulled together a list of four common board blunders and included some practical tips for avoiding them. If you can identify these early, you may save yourself (and your board) from a lot of frustration.

Blunder #1: You don’t understand your role   
Often, individuals will join a board with the best intentions, but without knowledge of their role or insight into how decisions are made. They may jump headfirst into “solving” community issues without a desire to learn more about how these matters are resolved. Additionally, they may criticize the outgoing board or immediately think that their way is the right way. Every board member should begin with a basic understanding of what their role is and what is expected of them, including knowledge of documents, operations and what it takes to be successful. And the same mindset needs to extend to veteran board members as well. In order to stay relevant, it’s important to stay up to date on all of the latest technologies, legislation and community trends.

Avoiding the blunder: Educate yourself
Whether you are a brand new board member or have been on the board for 10+ years, it’s important to learn what it takes to be a successful board member. That includes an initial orientation program and additional board training sessions outside of your first exposure. The best community management companies will offer ongoing training opportunities, including in-person sessions and online classes for busy board members. In addition to in-person classes, FirstService Residential offers supplementary BoardAdvantage® online courses that are designed to support the growth and effectiveness of board members at a time that’s convenient for them. If they have the opportunity, new board members should also get in touch with the outgoing board or existing members and learn more about community-specific issues that are most important moving forward. Reviewing past minutes can also be helpful in your understanding of your role and the community. Your community management company can help facilitate this step.

Blunder #2: You communicate about important issues outside of the board meeting
In the age of technology, personal communication is easier than ever – you can send a message to someone via text, email or social media in a matter of seconds. But when it comes to your association, board members shouldn’t be communicating about any association-related business outside of board meetings. In fact, there is California legislation in place that forbids this communication. The Open Meeting Act, which is part of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, states: “The board shall not take action on any item of business outside of a board meeting.”

Avoiding the blunder: Follow California’s communication policies
To start, limit all of your communication on community matters to board meetings. If this feels too restricting, Jillian Fiske, community manager of the SF Shipyard in San Francisco, said that there is a positive side: It can be a tool to manage resident expectations. She said, “A board member can say, ‘I have your email, but civil code requires that such matters be discussed during a noticed board meeting. In the meantime, I can forward your email to our community manager, who can review the matter with you.’” By abiding by the Open Meeting Act, the board member can avoid getting tangled up in multiple issues outside of “business hours.”
 
To get more helpful tips related to online communication with your board (or residents), complete the form on this page to download our free resource “Best Practices for Association Board Email.”
 
Blunder #3: You have to micromanage every role
There’s a fine line between having a healthy concern and passion for your association and managing every role and decision yourself. This may happen because a board member is eager to do all the heavy-lifting themselves. But far more often, it occurs because a community management company isn’t handling enough of the day-to-day work. Ultimately, your board’s primary role should be partnering with your community management company to develop a strategic community plan and stay relevant in the future. In addition to helping you plan for the future, your community management company should be handling all of the day-to-day details (e.g., managing vendors, maintaining the property, enforcing policies, etc.).
 
Avoiding the blunder: Depend on your community management company
First, acknowledge your role and the areas that require your involvement. Then, get up to speed on what you need from your community management company and partner with them as needed. This approach will help build trust and a great working relationship between your board and your community management company. Conversely, if your community management company isn’t handling the day-to-day details in addition to helping you develop a strategic plan, that’s a huge red flag. You may want to sit down with them to discuss the areas that they should be taking on so that your board can focus on building up the community’s reputation and enhancing resident lifestyles.
 
Blunder #4: You make it too personal
As the old saying goes, “It’s not personal. It’s business.” Board members need to approach their role as they would any job, with professionalism and accountability. When it comes down to it, the association is a business before anything else. As a board member, it is not your job to make it a personal battleground. That means avoiding emotional responses and reactions to resident and board-related issues, both in person and via email.
 
Avoiding the blunder: Stick to policies and professionalism
Board members can work together to become more professional and effective. If a board member sees a colleague becoming emotional about an issue, they should ask for a break to let them cool off. Sharing your opinions in a respectful and professional way is vital for creating a healthy atmosphere for your board. It’s important to respect everyone’s right to contribute and have an opinion about an issue. Additionally, all of your communication outside of board meetings should reflect this level of professionalism and respect. As mentioned previously, you should not be communicating about business matters outside of board meetings. And this same professionalism should extend to resident communications as well, especially in the digital realm. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t say it over email. To learn more best practices for dealing with uncomfortable situations over email, complete the form on this page to download “Best Practices for Association Board Email.
 
Tackling board blunders, together
While mistakes may seem unavoidable, you can help avoid future frustrations by addressing potential issues now. One of the best ways to do this is by partnering with seasoned board members and an experienced community management company. Ultimately, your HOA management company should provide you with the resources and support to help you do a better job and tackle blunders before they occur.

Want to avoid making mistakes in your board and resident communications?

Fill out the form below to download our helpful resource, “Best Practices for Association Board Email”: