How Can We Establish Board Member Succession in Our Community?

A critical part of a successful corporate strategy is to plan for the future and think about succession: Who will lead down the road? Who has the ability and willingness to step up when the time comes? To make sure a solid plan for succession is established, team members who have the potential to lead are identified and then groomed for future, higher-level positions.

The need for a succession plan extends to your community association too! A healthy association board is always looking to the future, planning three to five years in advance. Because any owner or shareholder in a community is eligible to run for any open board position, the process isn’t as straightforward or certain as in the corporate world. Still, there are opportunities to identify prospective leaders and steps that can be taken to help those people become more involved with and learn about roles on the board. The goal is to provide future leaders with knowledge on specific responsibilities of various roles before they decide to run for election.

What can happen if your board doesn’t think about “what’s next” in terms of leadership? You could end up with board members who aren’t aligned with the vision for the community, board members who don’t know precisely what their roles are or even board members who may try to undo strides the previous board has made. They may not understand their fiduciary responsibility to their fellow homeowners or unit owners, and potentially jeopardize the financial well-being of the association.

Planning strategically and thinking long term provides the opportunity for your board to seamlessly transition from one leadership to another. Doing so will better enable your board to continue to enhance the property values in your community and improve the lifestyles of your residents. Here are some ways to help make that happen.  

1. Solicit volunteer involvement.

You never know who the next great leader might be. So, cast a wide net and engage as many owners as you can. You’ll find that many individuals want to be heard, want to make a difference, and want to be part of the process. The challenge is that most of them don’t know how. Answer that question for them! Seek input from owners, solicit their opinions and invite open participation at meetings. You’ll soon identify the big thinkers and bold achievers in your own community. Those individuals could be your future board members and community leaders.

Brandon Gant has served high-rise communities in Buckhead, Midtown Atlanta and Sandy Springs in his 10 years working in property management. “Getting people interested requires a passion project. Usually they seek out involvement when there’s something in which they are personally interested,” he explained. “We send out recruitment mailings and post signs in elevators, lobbies, by the mailboxes, etc. That can generate involvement, but usually people are inspired by wanting to improve something in their communities. The best way to recruit volunteers is to speak to people on an individual basis, when they come to pick up a package or have a concern. Use that opportunity to follow up on the larger recruitment communication.”

Gant also suggests establishing a welcome committee made up of board members. That committee should pay attention to new community members, especially those who are really thorough, have researched the community in greater depth and ask questions that most people don’t. “Those are your possible volunteers and future board members,” he said. “Solicit their involvement right away.”

2. Provide the right guidance.

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 role and responsibilities are explicitly defined. By providing this clear framework, your committee members will be able to devote their time and energy to developing innovative ideas and solutions.Sometimes, even dedicated committees with a clear mission can lose sight of their objectives, Gant said. Then the chair of the committee has the responsibility of getting the committee back on track. Gant recommends taking note of committee chairs with that ability – they may be great future board members. 

3. Express gratitude

Saying “thank you” can go a long way. When you show your appreciation, volunteers 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. If you have a great community association management company, they’ll be full of interesting ideas on how to keep volunteers feeling rewarded. 

4. Provide the right education and information.

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 training opportunities 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 ensuring a thorough understanding of the governing documents, a clear definition of the volunteer’s role and a complete briefing on ongoing projects and upcoming challenges and issues.“It’s dangerous not to provide committee members and other volunteers with the information they need, and that includes board members,” Gant explained. “Make sure that people understand their roles and responsibilities. We provide board workshops that cover their fiduciary responsibilities, how they can be more effective, legal responsibilities – how transparent they should be. Whether on the board or a committee, it’s important that people are absolutely clear about what they are allowed to discuss.”

Remember, it’s not enough to have a successful and effective board in the present. It is necessary and wise to lay the groundwork for the future, too. Establishing succession is a great way to accomplish this, and it’s essential to the health of your entire community. Cultivate volunteers and committee members, provide the guidance they need, make sure you express gratitude whenever possible and provide them the tools to do their jobs. Doing these simple things will keep them involved in your association and help provide a bench of strong board candidates for years to come.