Most community association board members are not experts. Rather, they are well-intentioned, dedicated volunteer-leaders who want to protect property values and ensure their community continues to be a great place to live. That’s why it’s important for new and even seasoned board members to get the training they need to govern effectively and address the issues they may face.
“An educated board member is a more effective board member,” says Edwin Lugo, vice president at FirstService Residential. “The board is best able to act as a cohesive unit and focus on important tasks for the association when everyone on the board has become educated about what they really need to do and the right way to do it.”
To that end, here are 5 tips for getting the training you need to become a more effective and knowledgeable board member:
1. Start by learning the basics of running a community association.
Every community association is a legal corporation, which means the board must follow any laws governing associations, as well as the rules laid out in its governing documents. According to Carli Gilchrist, community training and development manager for FirstService Residential, “When you become a board member, one of the things you should do within the first 90 days is become familiar with state and local laws, as well as your governing documents.” You should also seek basic training that helps you to:
- Know your roles and responsibilities. What are your fiduciary duties? What’s the best way to avoid conflicts of interest? Is your board being as transparent as it should be? Knowing the answers to these and other questions about board member responsibilities – as well as how individual responsibilities vary for the different board member roles – creates the building blocks for subsequent learning.
- Lead effective meetings. One of your board’s functions is to run association meetings. Maurice Talley, corporate trainer for FirstService Residential, says, “There’s both a science and an art to executing even the most rudimentary functions of a board, and that begins with holding effective meetings.” Aspects worth learning are the different types of association meetings, how to prepare for and conduct meetings, what to include in your agenda and how to take minutes. In addition, you need to know how to facilitate meetings to keep them on track. For example, as Gilchrist points out, “One thing most people forget to talk about is how to deal with difficult people.”
- Prepare your community association’s budget. The financial health of your association is closely tied to budgeting. Training should help you understand what you need to consider as you create your budget. “You also need to understand how to read your financials and what to look out for,” notes Gilchrist.
- Create a positive board culture. Successful communities begin with successful boards. The fundamentals of crafting a positive working environment for board members (for example, establishing trust and open communication) are elements worth studying.
- Understand insurance. According to Gilchrist, “Insurance is a hot topic lately. Although many board members understand their residential insurance, they don’t really understand their association’s commercial insurance.” It’s important to know what insurance is necessary for a community association and what coverage you may need for your specific area or needs.
2. Make learning an ongoing part of the job.
According to Gilchrist, training shouldn’t be a one-time event for board members. “Laws are always changing, and so are trends. You have to continually seek education to stay informed,” she says. “Also, if you haven’t had to apply something, a refresher is a good idea.”
One community association managed by FirstService Residential takes this advice to heart. Anytime a new member is elected to the board, the entire board – not just the new member – enrolls in the basic board member training offered by FirstService Residential. The association does this is to make sure all board members have current information and are on the same page.
3. Take advantage of various learning opportunities.
Training does not necessarily have to involve sitting in a classroom for hours. Since people have different ways in which they learn best, having a variety of formats helps address these differences.
- Online classes. Convenient online training is ideal for board members who may not have the time or flexibility to attend classes in person.
- Seminars. A seminar generally lasts no more than a couple of hours and focuses on one specific topic. These may include legal issues, legislative changes, financial concerns, budgeting or policy and compliance matters.
- Conferences and events. Conferences and other large events provide day-long or even multi-day opportunities to learn about a variety of topics. You’ll usually attend breakout sessions with industry pros and meet vendors who provide products and services to community associations. You also get to discuss your association’s concerns and issues with other board members.
4. Turn to an experienced property management company.
Your property management company should encourage board education and offer basic and ongoing board member training based on the most up-to-date information. If the company is large enough to have in-house expertise in specific areas, this knowledge should also be made available to board members through specialized training classes. Boards deal with a host of issues, from landscaping and engineering matters to legal and insurance concerns, so they need to hear from experts in these areas.
“A good expert will share their knowledge,” says Gilchrist, “and when the information is presented professionally, they can directly quote things like state law.” She warns that if a presenter gets defensive when asked a question, it may be a sign that they don’t have the depth of knowledge they claim to have.
Knowledge is not simply power. It’s also crucial for success. Proper training is the key to providing you and the other board members with the knowledge and leadership skills you need. Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to carry out your duties more effectively, keep the community’s operations running smoothly and avoid exposing your community – or yourself – to unnecessary risk.
Board member training is just one important task new board members should undertake. Find out what else your board needs to tackle in our complementary infographic, Annual Tasks for Boards . Just fill out the form to download it!