Being on your community association’s board of directors isn’t an easy job. Regardless of your level of experience, there are times when you will err simply because you’re human. There’s no need to beat yourself up if that happens. In most cases, you can correct the mistake and move on.
Learning from other board members’ experiences is a great way to avoid making some of the more common mistakes. Here, we discuss four of the common mistakes that board members make and offer recommendations for handling the issues differently.
1. Mistake: Letting personal feelings get in the way of the community association’s best interest
For the most part, board members volunteer because they want to help make their community more financially stable and a better place to live. However, emotions or a personal beef can lead some board members to forget that goal. Unfortunately, that can lead to adversarial relationships within the board or with members of the community at large. This is never in the best interest of the community.
Solution: Staying businesslike and making decisions rationally
“Being on a board means recognizing that you’re not acting as an individual, but that’s not always easy to do,” says Chris Campbell, regional director with FirstService Residential in Minnesota. “Seasoned board members know how to navigate their emotions. They accept the board’s decision – even if they don’t agree – and go on, because they’d expect the same.” Learning to prioritize the needs of the community is crucial for any board member, as is tempering your emotions when things don’t go your way.
If the board notices that a member is getting too heated during a board meeting or is contradicting the board’s decision, it’s appropriate – and necessary – to address the issue immediately. “It’s important to have one of the board members or the collective board rein in the colleague,” says Christopher L. Pappas, senior vice president of property management at FirstService Residential. “It is great for a community to see healthy discussions and disagreements, but once a decision has been made the community needs to see that the board is moving forward together. This will help reduce splits within the community.”
2. Mistake: Micromanaging the property management company
It’s understandable that many board members initially feel like they need to stay on top of everything. As a result, they either interfere in the duties assigned to their property management company or they delve too deeply into the details of their community’s operations.
Solution: Working in partnership with a trusted property management company
The board’s role is to set the strategic goals and policies of the community. The management company is there to enforce those policies and take care of managing the community’s operations. Of course, a good management company will also help the board in other ways: offering training, identifying ways to cut costs, helping to craft the annual budget and offering needed advice, among other things. Associations should make sure that the management company they hire is trustworthy, and then they need to empower it to fulfill its role.
Kristina Lebrevelec, regional director for FirstService Residential in Florida, says that in a good partnership, “Boards understand their roles and responsibilities, and community managers understand theirs, too. Each one lets the other do their job.”
3. Leaping before learning
New board members may be so enthusiastic that they jump in with both feet when they first join their community’s board. While enthusiasm is great, board members who haven’t spent time reading their governing documents, learning about their new role and understanding the history of past decisions can create problems for their community.
Solution: Getting educated
Upon first joining their board, new members should make a point of reading through their governing documents so that they fully understand the community association’s current policies and their function as a board member. If the property management company offers board training (and it should), new members should be required to enroll. The right training will cover such topics as running board meetings, preparing budgets, obtaining the right insurance coverage and understanding the value of reserve studies.
4. Mistake: Failing to keep the lines of communication open
No one wants to give bad news, and this is often true for board members as well. Perhaps the board has to make a necessary, but unpopular, decision (like raising assessment fees). Or maybe a significant number of residents have complained about a community issue, but the board has more pressing issues it plans to address this year. In either case, a common mistake is to avoid informing the community. Just as frustrating for residents is when board members are difficult to reach or don’t respond to their questions and concerns.
Solution: Communicating transparently with residents
According to Pappas, “Being transparent is often talked about, but your board has to make sure clear communications are sent out.” He recommends using a variety of channels, including email, postal mail, bulletin board postings and uploads to your website, to keep residents informed of what’s going on with the association. “Educating owners on where they can find information is also important,” he says.
Campbell says that, above all, board members shouldn’t ignore an issue that residents bring up repeatedly. “Clearly, if its being brought up over and over again, even if it’s not one of your goals, you have to address it in some way. You could say, ‘We’ve heard your concerns, and it’s not something we plan to take action on this year.’ If the issue was previously addressed by the board, you could refer the homeowner back to the documents that show how it was dealt with.”
“A best practice is if a hot topic is coming up repeatedly, send out a quick communication to the community to help reduce the questioning,” adds Pappas. Residents can also be directed to their property manager for answers.
“Everybody wants to be heard,” Campbell notes. “You can provide some parameters around that, but don’t take it personally, even if a resident gets very passionate about it.”
Serving as a board member can be very rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Follow our simple tips and you’ll be better prepared to navigate around some of the more common pitfalls. And remember that your property management company can also share unique insights to help you successfully run your community association.