HOA 101 – Being a board member is hard work, but it can be very rewarding. Volunteering as an association board member is one way to give back and make your community better. By carrying industry knowledge, you can help preserve property values through thoughtful perspective work with other volunteers on projects that appeal for both commercial properties and residential homes.

But what are some things they didn't tell you about being a board member? 

As we all know, good things don't come easy, and being on the board of a thriving association will require some patience, effort, and tough skin on your part! Continue reading to learn four lesser-known tips for brand-new or seasoned board members. 

Tip #1: Understand Your Role on the Board to Avoid Blunder

You may have thought that a board member's duties are limited to their title. However, it's important to note that you share equal responsibility when it comes to your fiduciary duty and commitment to acting in the best interest of your association. Below are five general titles and responsibilities of a board and committee member to give you an idea of where to start.

  • President

    • The president is the head of the board, and as such must have a handle on everything that goes down. He/she facilitates meetings between officers from different areas within your organization and finalizes legal documents, such as by-laws, before they're published so there are no discrepancies. The president also represents their group when necessary (e.g., if someone files suit against them).
  • Vice President

    • The vice president is second-in command to the president. They provide advice and guidance for decision making, often serving as an alternate representative of their organization when needed most by governing bodies or committees within its own company structure. Additionally, they often serve as liaisons between the board, committees, and management company.   
  • Secretary

    • The secretary is responsible for managing association documents and is often the point person in newsletters or communication pieces.
      • NOTE: It is important for your management company to have a robust solution when it comes time to recording meeting minutes and drafting agendas. Your board should be reviewing these documents instead of creating them from scratch. FirstService Residential uses its proprietary Meeting Management System to create meeting packets, agendas, and minutes in a 100% digital and interactive format. 
  • Treasurer

    • The treasurer is responsible for managing the association's finances. They work closely with the association's CPA and management company's accounting department, keeping them up to date on all transactions that happen within your community organization.
  • Committee Members

    • Committee members support the board of directors by providing input and volunteering their time for specific areas such as finance, architecture, landscape, maintenance, and events.

Did you know? Seeking counsel from your spouses or family members regarding official board business can be a serious violation. 

The people on yor board are the only ones who shoul be involved in any official business. This means that your spouses or family members (who are not on the board) cannot and should not be involved in any official business. Please have them follow any suggestion or feedback protocol put in place by your board or community manager. This will help maintain integrity and avoid discomfort for everyone else by making sure that nobody steps on anyone's toes. 

Tip #2: Lead by Example, Fairness, and Transparency

You may have thought that being a volunteer board member involved making decisions for the benefit of your community, and that is absolutely true! But it’s also important to recognize that not everyone in your community (or even on your board) will be 100% happy all the time – an important lesson of HOA 101.
An effective board member should lead by example, exercise fairness, and communicate transparently (and regularly). When it comes to making important decisions for your association, they are best aligned with one another. Real "board alignment" isn't about agreeing all the time or having identical thoughts, but rather understanding that this is what's right for the community while effectively communicating these views clearly amongst fellow owners - which will result in more adherence from residents too!

"The challenge of alignment is that you're not going to keep everyone happy. Instead, you want to act in the best interest of your community – that's the key."

- Gary Turner, Board President of Trilogy La Quinta Maintenance Association  

It's crucial for board members (yes, including you) to follow all the rules set forth by your association and management company to avoid animosity among residents. While there will be special cases where the board must meet and discuss alternative solutions, this process should be free of favoritism and bribery. It should also be well-documented and communicated to residents with full transparency. 

Tip #3: How to Tackle Social Media Woes

"Some board members face ongoing challenges on social media from individuals who have their own opinions of what's going on behind the scenes or may not understand the decision process. Some people will go as far as knocking on the board member's door to make themselves feel heard."

- Christina Brown, Regional Director, FirstService Residential 

You may have thought that being a board member meant posting an event on social media occasionally. What you may not have expected was fielding or responding to unhappy comments (and even personal ones at times) on community sanctioned and unsanctioned social media sites.

One of the biggest board burnout factors that doesn't get much attention is dealing with feedback from unhappy residents. This can occur on social media platforms and in-person around your community or high-rise. Although it's tempting to engage in and respond to these confrontations, it's crucial to know that your responses will represent the entire board and association, not just yourself.

Effective board members can rise above potentially negative feedback by communicating proactively and transparently to the entire community. Although being proactive will not stop unhappy residents from voicing their opinions, it will put the board and community in a better light when responding publicly with honesty about why certain decisions were made or what was done for that particular situation at hand. An aligned board and a cohesive message with a focus on the “why” and benefit to the community helps when responding to potential criticism from those that don’t see eye-to-eye. As board member Gary Turner stated above, the key is to act in the best interest of your community, which doesn't always keep everybody happy, and that is okay. 

If any situation gets out of hand, involve your community manager and management company and consult with your association management attorney on how to best handle these situations. FirstService Residential has a communication cadence and best practices in place to help board members navigate negative feedback.

Tip #4: Find Strength and Support in Your Team

"It takes a village! Our community managers, general managers and board members have access to a full range of HR support and resources from our in-house accounting and finance department, legal and risk team to take their association to the next level."

- Ivana Komljenovic, General Manager, FirstService Residential 

A common HOA 101 misconception is the thought that being a board member means doing everything by yourself. This is not true! Your community manager or general manager is your partner to help execute board decisions and make sure that you're meeting the needs of both current members, as well as potential ones. They'll wear many hats - including setting overall vision/long-term plans for their organization alongside other responsibilities such accounting or risk management services if needed. They may even want an 'accounting village' made up of accounting, IT, human resources, legal and risk to help them do their job more effectively.

As board members, it's important to assess whether your association or community manager has adequate support or not. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What's the general response time for any questions or requests?
  • Does your manager have additional administrative support?
  • Are homeowner statements arriving on time with footnotes from accountants?
  • Does your manager have access to training and technologies that allow them to do their job more effectively?

The truth is, supported managers equal successful communities. To that end, FirstService Residential arms community managers and associates with specialized training and extensive support in all departments because we know that a supported manager means a successful board and association.   

Final Thoughts

The board and staff are the backbone of any flourishing association. They work hard to ensure that residents have everything they need from management, maintenance services with a smile on their face. If you're a newcomer, don't be afraid to ask for help, familiarize yourself with the industry and keep an eye out for opportunities to improve your association's processes. If you're a seasoned board member, don't limit yourself to what you already know. Keeping an open mind and striving to make continuous improvements for the benefit of your community is HOA 101.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult your association attorney.

Thursday August 17, 2023