Quick, what springs to mind when you hear the word “meetings?” Love them or hate them, if you’re a homeowners association (HOA) board member, you know that meetings are an essential part of community association governance. What some people don’t realize is that community associations operate as businesses, so they must hold regular meetings of their officers and shareholders–in this case, board members and homeowners.
Associations conduct board meetings, annual meetings and special meetings, and each may be held for different reasons and often with different participants. Today, we’ll focus on board meetings, and watch for our follow-up article on association and special meetings.
So let’s get started with board meetings. How many board meetings must your association hold? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The number of required board meetings varies by state and by association, so check your state statutes and association bylaws. But no matter the quantity, all of your meetings should be efficient – and if you’ve ever been to a board meeting that lasted too long and accomplished too little, you’ll probably agree. Moreover, poorly run board meetings can make it difficult to achieve your association’s goals and thwart your efforts to recruit new volunteer board members in the future.
So what can you do to have better-run and more successful meetings in the future? You can ask for advice from seasoned board members or research meeting guidelines and best practices. You can also look to an experienced property management company to provide your association with valuable guidance and support. And to get you started, we’ve compiled some useful tips for effective board meetings – or as we like to call it, “Board Meeting Basics.”
1. Who can participate?
Board meetings can be closed or open, depending on your state statutes. Closed board meetings restrict attendance just to board members, while open meetings are open to all association members, aka homeowners – and in some cases non-owner residents, vendors, potential homebuyers and other interested parties. Bylaws usually require that there be a quorum in attendance – typically, the majority of the board. Meeting notices must be posted or announced to association members in advance, according to the association’s governing documents. But whether your board meetings are open or closed, they’ll be much more organized and efficient if you establish ground rules and create an agenda – and stick to them. Which leads us to…
2. Set an agenda.
Unproductive board meetings create unproductive boards, so position your meeting for success by setting an agenda. Think of your agenda as a meeting road map – a valuable tool to keep participants on topic and facilitate a successful outcome. For optimal efficiency, it should include a strict format, such as roll call, minutes, reports, motions and voting, with ample time for discussion and questions. Your agenda must be publicized in advance of the meeting, and in most cases, the board cannot discuss or act on items that are not included – that helps keep discussions focused and on point and prevents sidebars from monopolizing participants’ time and attention. According to Alan Pearlstein, a general manager in New York for property management company FirstService Residential, straying from the agenda and spending too long on the minutes distract from the proceedings – and the same goes for an over-long agenda. “If there are too many items on the agenda, schedule another meeting” he says. And along those lines…
3. Minutes count.
The board secretary is responsible for taking the minutes at each meeting and reading the minutes from the previous meeting as part of the proceedings. While not all states require that minutes be taken, they serve as an official record of meetings for the association – and most community association bylaws and/or state statutes give unit owners the right to see them. In general, the minutes are not supposed to be a verbatim transcript of everything that was said, but rather, a summary of motions made and actions taken.
4. Follow parliamentary procedure.
As its name implies, parliamentary procedure was introduced by the Parliaments of England in the 16th
century – and if you’ve attended a board meeting lately, you know that it’s still widely utilized to facilitate meetings today. Parliamentary procedure establishes rules and methods for meeting discussions and debate, thereby maintaining order and allowing all participants to be heard. While there are different types of parliamentary procedure, the most commonly used is Robert’s Rules of Order – a “how to” guide for conducting business in democratically elected organizations. Its enduring popularity is based, in part, on how well it prescribes guidelines and formalizes meeting procedures and conduct – and that helps ensure your meetings are fair, inclusive and efficient. And on a similar note …
5. Go formal.
Even if you’re friendly with your fellow board members – and if you are, lucky you! – don’t lose sight of the fact that board meetings are business meetings, not social gatherings. When gossip, off-topic conversation and other distractions veer discussions away from association business, little gets accomplished, which ultimately wastes everyone’s time. In addition, an informal tone and setting can make it challenging for the board to resolve difficult or divisive issues. “There is always at least one member who treats the board meeting as a social event, and this is compounded if the meeting is in a board member’s home,” says FirstService Residential’s Pearlstein. How can you prevent this? Go formal. Choose a business-type setting as your venue -- it doesn’t have to be an actual boardroom, but boardroom-like – a community meeting room is ideal for this purpose. As another option, if your community is professionally managed, you may be able to meet in one of the management company’s offices or conference rooms. And after you’ve accomplished all of your association business, you can socialize at the end.
As a volunteer board member, you know how critical your role is to serving your association’s needs and ensuring the smooth operations and continued viability of your community. Board meetings are a key part of this process, so it’s very important that they run as efficiently and successfully as possible. For more information, fill out the form below to receive exclusive articles like this one and other property management educational resources straight to your inbox.