How to Establish Board Member Succession in Your Community

If you’ve run a business, you know that you have to plan for the future while operating in the present. Without a solid succession plan in place, your business isn’t prepared for a change in leadership, regardless of the reason. It’s important to identify people who have leadership potential and train them for the eventuality of being in charge. This is part of corporate strategy for all successful institutions, including your community association.
What happens without a good succession plan in place? The next group of board members may not be knowledgeable about what is required of them as members of the board of directors. They may not have the ability to keep your community association on sound financial footing, or maintain your community the way it should be. What about continuity in your community? If your association is involved in a large capital project, for example, what will happen if new board members with no understanding of its history take over the leadership of the community? These are all reasons to approach future generations of leadership strategically. 
Of course, it’s impossible to choose particular residents to take over any position on your association board; generally, any homeowner or unit owner is eligible to run for any open position. But there are ways to identify potential leaders and offer them the opportunity to see how they can contribute as part of the board. Homeowners and unit owners who are knowledgeable about the workings of the board and how each member fits into it are more likely to be willing to run for office – and to be successful if elected.
Ivy Montero is a regional director for FirstService Residential. In her 21 years in property management, she has worked with hundreds of association boards. “People are sometimes scared of what they don’t know. It’s the board’s responsibility to provide the information homeowners need to have about how things work within the board, so that they are more willing to get involved,” she explained. ”Once owners have the chance to gain insight about how the board works and see the opportunities that exist for them, as well as the resources FirstService Residential provides to assist them, the selection process takes care of itself.”
Planning strategically for the future provides a seamless transition for your board. Read on for information about how to make that happen.

1. Provide the right tools for the job.

Nobody is born knowing how to be a part of a committee, or even what the role of a committee member or board member is. It’s something that must be learned through observation and training. Make sure you provide this training to your volunteers, along with all of the documents they’ll need to be familiar with in order to operate effectively. And don’t forget, even veteran committee members and board members can benefit from “refresher” sessions from time to time. Part of this should include fostering a thorough understanding of the governing documents, a clear definition of the volunteer’s role, and a full update on ongoing projects and upcoming challenges and issues. Good community association management companies are adept at providing training services to board members and volunteers, so look to yours for help. 

“There are a lot of resources for people who want to become board members. Anyone interested is encouraged to take a board certification class, for educational purposes. We established a how-to workshop for interested residents to learn about what is involved with serving on the board,” Montero said. “The workshop includes an educational handbook of do’s and don’ts for board members. It includes explanations of board responsibilities, what operational processes look like (including a violation letter, delinquency notice, work order) and how different roles work together.”
“The knowledge in the handbook empowers owners to get involved on a greater scale, to be the leaders of their buildings and communities,” she explained. “The people who are educated and empowered are the ones who step up to be president, treasurer, and secretary. If you’re on the fence and don’t know about the different roles, the handbook will explain everything.”

2. Invite participation.

A variety of backgrounds and viewpoints make a great board. So, engage as many homeowners as you can. A lot of people want to help, want to contribute to the success of their communities – they just don’t know how to get started. Ask owners for their opinions, invite open participation at meetings, and before long, you’ll recognize the achievers and big thinkers in your community. The individuals actively participating and eagerly contributing could be your future board members and community leaders.  

“We always encourage sitting directors to reach out to new residents, because they could be the directors of the future. Welcome them!” Montero said. “We have developed a simple welcome letter for new owners, and it includes a schedule of board meetings. Simply posting dates by the mailboxes isn’t enough – new residents need to understand that they are welcome and invited to come to meetings. Encouraging that early participation will help generate a larger involvement and commitment down the road.”

3. Be clear with expectations and responsibilities.

It’s hard to lead if you’ve never been given the chance. Once you’ve identified volunteers with great potential, delegate important tasks to them by getting them involved in committees. Just be sure that you make your expectations clear, and that their roles and responsibilities are explicitly defined. You can do this through committee charters...these documents outline responsibilities, decision-making guidelines and examples on how to effectively assert authority, as well as the steps the committee members should take when reporting to the board at large. By providing this clear framework, your committee members will be able to devote their time and energy to developing innovative ideas and solutions.  

4. Express appreciation.

A little gratitude can go a long way. Volunteers who feel appreciated are more likely to stay engaged, and an experienced volunteer will one day make a great board member. There are many ways you can let your volunteers know how much of a difference they’re making, from formally recognizing them during meetings to making announcements in your newsletter to even putting on special events where volunteers are recognized. 

Montero suggests that the best way to thank people is to listen to them and try to accomplish what they need to address their concerns. “Every board meeting starts with a thank you. I think that’s important,” she said. “But the best way we thank people is by listening to them. When they see their ideas being valued and implemented, that’s the real thank you.”
Montero detailed a story of a board member who wanted assigned seating and name tags to identify which board members represented which buildings. The board, which consisted of 45 members, was unusually large and complex. Montero said that implementing the member’s suggestion wasn’t difficult and went a long way toward making him feel valued and appreciated.
It’s not enough to have a successful and effective board in the present. Without a succession plan in place, your board will suffer from a lack of continuity in leadership and can be gridlocked by new members who don’t have any institutional or historic knowledge of the workings of your community. A lack of action by the board will eventually impact resident lifestyles and satisfaction when none of their concerns are addressed. This can be avoided! Start laying the groundwork for a successful future today. Establishing succession is a great way to accomplish this, and it’s essential to the health of your entire community.

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