How To Avoid 6 Common Board Member Mistakes

Being on the board of your homeowners association (HOA) isn’t an easy job. No matter what your level of experience, mistakes can happen. Although some of these can probably be corrected easily, why not avoid them altogether by learning from other board members’ experiences? Check out these recommendations for handling 6 common board member mistakes.

1. Mistake: Letting personal feelings override your HOA’s best interest
Most of the time, residents volunteer to serve as board members so they can improve the association’s financial health and residents’ enjoyment of their community. However, emotions or a personal beef can sometimes get in the way. That can create rifts within the board or with members of the community at large. This is never good for the association.

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. 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.

Want more board tips? Download our infographic, 6 Principles for a Better Board Meeting.

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 HOA management company or they delve too deeply into the details of their community’s operations.

Solution: Working in partnership with a trusted HOA 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. HOAs should make sure that the management company they hire is trustworthy, and then they need to empower it to fulfill its role.

In a good partnership, boards understand their roles and responsibilities, and association 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 HOA’s current policies and their function as a board member. If the 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: Adhering to the status quo when it no longer works
In contrast to a board member who is eager to change everything is the board member who is unwilling to make any changes. This can range from keeping reserve funds in a bank account that doesn’t yield interest to holding onto an HOA management company that isn’t providing the level of service the community needs.

Solution: Re-evaluating the HOA’s needs and opportunities each year
The first thing you should assess is whether your management company is giving you enough value. So much of your community’s success depends on the company you work with. A large company will have the depth of resources to keep up with new developments in the industry and provide you with innovative approaches to generating income, saving money and running your day-to-day operations.
 
5. Mistake: Failing to keep the lines of communication open
No one wants to give bad news, and this is also true for board members. 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 neglecting to inform 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
Being transparent is often talked about, but your board has to make sure clear communications are sent out. Use 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.

Campbell says that, above all, board members shouldn’t ignore an issue that residents bring up repeatedly. “Clearly, if it’s 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.”

TIP: If a hot topic is coming up repeatedly, send out a quick communication to the community to help reduce the questioning. Residents can also be directed to their association 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.”

6. Mistake: Using a personal or work email account for HOA business
Board members often forget that their HOA is a legal entity, so they don’t think twice about discussing HOA business using their personal or work email account. However, this can be a liability because it opens up all your emails on that account to potential scrutiny in the event of legal action against the HOA.

Solution: Creating dedicated email addresses for board members
If your HOA has its own website domain, set up board member accounts on that. Otherwise, use a free email resource. Set up your email address to include the HOA name and your board title, and only use this account for HOA-related correspondence. If someone contacts you on your work or personal email account to discuss HOA business, respond only by providing the appropriate HOA email address.

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 HOA management company can also share unique insights to help you successfully run your association.