The 7 Secrets to Combat Committee Chaos
Serving on the board of a community association can be a time-consuming job. One way to address the volume of work is by delegating some of your board’s tasks to committees. At their best, committees can be tremendously valuable in helping your board fulfill its mission. On the other hand, if they are poorly conceived or not well run, committees can create more problems than they help solve.
What’s the secret to having a functioning committee that meets its goals? How can you get the most out of your committees without holding on too tightly to the reins? Here’s a look at 7 ways you can make sure your committee are a positive force for your association:
1. Adopt a committee charter.Having a written document that stipulates the committee’s goals and limitations will help keep members on track. Give every committee a crystal-clear mandate and make sure they aren’t confused by conflicting requests.
Even if your bylaws already define the committee’s mandate, a charter will more specifically identify its:
- Purpose — Why was the committee formed?
- Responsibilities — How will the committee carry out the purpose?
- Term — How long will the committee exist?
- Organization — How many people will be on the committee? Will a board member act as the chair?
- Accountability to the board — How will the committee report its findings to the board?
2. Follow your statutes and bylaws.“In some areas, committees may be regulated by statutes,” says Steve Harshman, regional director with FirstService Residential. “Be sure your committees comply if they are regulated.” Your bylaws also may address the activities of your committees, so check your governing documents as well.
3. Limit the committee size.When it comes to the appropriate number of members to have on a committee, “The more, the messier,” says Sam Beida, property manager with FirstService Residential. “In most cases, you don’t want to have more than 3 or so members.” Harshman agrees. “Landscaping committees are notorious for having too many members,” he says. “At one community, the committee members gave conflicting directives to landscaping crew, which created multiple problems.”
4. Choose the right people.Look for people who have special knowledge that will benefit the committee and who will complete tasks according to a timeline. It’s also essential to choose people who will put the community’s best interests ahead of their own personal interests. Kolleen Weber, a FirstService Residential community association manager for a single-family community, says that the right leadership is especially important. “You need a strong committee chair to lead the group,” she explains. "If you don’t have that, infighting can happen.”
5. Keep the board involved.Committees generally do not have the authority to take action. Instead, they act in an advisory role to the board. Be sure your board gets regular progress reports, including the minutes of committee meetings. This provides your board with a written record of the committee’s activities and allows you to keep an eye out for anything that may take the committee off track.
“Also consider whether it makes sense to have a board member on the committee,” says Harshman. “If your governing documents allow it, appointing a board member may help prevent disorder.” However, it’s not a good idea to have more than 3 board members appointed to committees at any one time.
6. Provide a budget.If appropriate, designate a set amount of money that the committee can spend. Be clear about how committee members can access and spend that money and if they will need pre-approval from the board. Make sure that members present receipts for reimbursements and expenses.
7. Revisit your committees every year.Community associations change, and sometimes that can alter your need for certain committees. Perhaps a committee has lost its relevance, or it’s time to form a new committee. Your board may even decide that a committee needs new members or a new chair. Doing an annual review of your committees will allow you to re-evaluate your needs.
As a board member, you don’t need to do everything yourself. Committees are there to help. Make sure they function well by following these 7 tips and seeking guidance from an experienced property management company. FirstService Residential has teamed up with thousands of boards and advised many of them on how to make their committees more effective.