Being on the board of your community association is an important job that should not be taken lightly. After all, the decisions you make impact operational effectiveness, property values and residents’ lifestyles. If you neglect to live up to your fiduciary duties or to conduct yourself professionally, you put your entire community risk.
If that sounds like a lot of responsibility, that’s because it is – but that doesn’t mean you have to live and breathe community association business to keep everything on track. Whether you’re a new or current board member, you can avoid major issues and make your term more fruitful, rewarding and, above all, effective by following the 9 tips below.
1. Work for the good of the entire community association, not your own agenda.
When making decisions as a board member, you are deciding for everyone in your community, not just for yourself. In this role, you must put aside your own interests and think about how your decisions affect everyone. “You have to take the personal agenda out of it,” says Kristina Lebrevelec, regional director at FirstService Residential. “Remember that you’re running a corporation. Having your own agenda creates staff instability, tension amongst owners and a toxic environment. Things get muddy, and that’s also when rules are broken.”
Richard Orduno, vice president at FirstService Residential, agrees. “Personal agendas have the potential to completely derail the needs of the community,” he says. “Operating outside of the board creates adversarial relationships with other board members and with the community.” Orduno further notes that your board’s overall goals can be affected as well. “You can’t have a consolidated vision or clear objectives when members have their own agenda,” he explains.
2. Work in partnership with your property management company.
Understanding the different roles
of your board and your property management company is critical to being an effective board member. Basically, the board’s role is to set policies and make policy decisions. The management company’s role is to enact and enforce those policies and take care of the community association’s operations.
“You’ll often see individual board members who want to be more involved,” says Lebrevelec, “but no one can do everything alone. You need to let the management company do what they were hired to do.
Besides reducing your workload, letting your management company handle the details may even minimize your board’s legal exposure. “We do this for a living, so we understand the consequences,” says Orduno. “We can protect board members and shield them from liability. They give us our marching orders, and then we help keep them to the various ordinances and laws, as well as make sure they are following their governing documents. But they have to trust us.”
3. Remember that your fellow board members are your friends and neighbors.
Showing respect toward the other board members is very crucial to your success, especially when you face heated disagreement about board decisions. Try to avoid getting emotional or personal if you have differences with other members. Not only do you have to work with these people, but you also live in the same community. Most importantly, “Let go once there’s a vote. Accept either side gracefully and professionally,” Orduno advises.
4. Get educated.
There’s a lot to learn as a board member. Some of it you pick up on the job, and some of it is passed on to you by more experienced members. Your management company should also contribute to your education by providing:
- A knowledgeable property manager who can offer appropriate guidance
- In-house professionals willing to share their specialized expertise in areas such as budgeting, human resources and preventative maintenance
- Basic and advanced training opportunities
A good management company offers board member training
in a variety of formats to suit a range of needs. For example, with in-person seminars and classes, you can ask questions and exchange information with board members from other community associations. Online courses allow you to learn at your convenience and at your own pace.
5. Take your responsibilities seriously.
Being a responsible board member involves many factors. For one thing, it means following through on tasks that are assigned to you. It also means reading and understanding your governing documents, as well as any relevant legislation, so that they inform each decision you make. “Consistent decisions lead to stability,” Lebrevelec points out, “even if some of the tough decisions aren’t necessarily popular.”
Hold regular board meetings, and come to them well prepared. Distribute materials far enough in advance of your meetings so that fellow board members have time to review them. Take all actions at your open board meetings, and never make decisions for your community association on your own.
6. Be a good listener.
You represent your entire community association, so it’s important to listen if residents have concerns. Provide a specific period of time during board meetings for them to ask questions and discuss issues.
7. Embrace transparency.
Board meetings should be open to homeowners, and you should encourage their attendance. The items you will discuss and about which you will make decisions affect them. “Being transparent builds trust throughout the community,” says Lebrevelec, “and it assure everyone that you have the community’s best interests at heart.”
Once a board decision is made, make a point of communicating about it in writing. “Let residents know what you’re doing and why. If they know the ‘why,’ they can understand it better and are less likely to challenge the decision,” Orduno says.
8. Organize a community event.
Whether it’s a food drive, a fundraiser or just something to bring the entire community together, events are a great way to meet the individuals you serve. They also provide an added incentive for anyone considering moving into your community, and enhance your community’s reputation.
9. Set a good example.
It might not be an official part of your role as a board member, but the way you live and carry yourself will influence how others perceive you. Take care of your property. Don’t let your pets run amuck, and always clean up after them. Keep the noise down. Lend your neighbors a hand. Welcome newcomers. Park in your own parking space(s). These are small things, but they show that you are following the rules yourself.
Following these tips will help make your tenure as a board member more successful and will increase the confidence and trust you receive from residents.