Advocate, Doer, Visionary: The 3 Essential Roles of an HOA Board Member
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Aside from attending board meetings and making policy decisions, what’s your responsibility as an HOA board member? What is your primary role?
Whether you’ve been a board member for 1 week or 1 year; whether you’re an HOA secretary or high-rise board president; and whether you have a strong association or one that’s facing challenges, your core roles and responsibilities are unchanging.
So what are these core responsibilities? They can be narrowed down to 3 essential roles:
1. Advocate: Protecting the Association’s Interests
First and foremost, as a volunteer HOA board member, you are an advocate for the community or building you serve. That means your board should act on behalf of residents and make decisions that help improve the resident experience and property values. To put it simply, a strong association board is a strong representation and supporter of the community. On the flipside, the weakest boards are out for their own self-interest and well-being. They may choose to be on the board to change a rule, add an amenity or make life easier for themselves. (Hint: Avoid this at all costs.)
Debora Stacker, an HOA treasurer, said, “You have to recognize that what you’re doing as a board needs to be based on what’s best for the community, not based on your personal opinion and preferences.”
Does that mean your board should base decisions off the general consensus (or even the squeakiest wheel)? Not necessarily.
Your decisions as a board are to keep the best interest of the association at heart. That means protecting it from liability and financial risk and maintaining a solid reputation. Sometimes you will have to make unpopular decisions in order to protect the association’s interest. For instance, you may need to hold off on investing in a much-desired amenity, because a significant and costly maintenance project will be coming up in 6 months. This is why proactive and transparent communication is essential. Residents need to understand that you are their advocate and that any decisions you make (even the unpopular ones) are designed to improve the community and the lifestyle experience. Your management company should have the expertise and resources to help you craft proactive communications that clearly, concisely and compassionately explain why a decision was made. For more tips on communicating tough decisions, read HOA Policy: Why Consistent Communication Is Key.
2. Doer: Managing the Business and Setting Policies
Of course, following local laws and governing documents and ensuring that day-to-day operations are running smoothly are keys to building a solid association. It’s also critical to know how to run an effective meeting and set goals (more on that later).
However, while your association operates as a business, it’s not your job to take on all of those tasks yourself. There are practical aspects of your role, but there are also limitations. To be clear, your role as a volunteer board member is not to enforce policies, translate detailed financials, collect assessments, hire staff or manage daily paperwork. These are responsibilities that should be taken care of by your association manager and/or staff and ideally, a professional management company. They should have the expertise and support of a larger entity, so that they can effectively support your association from a financial and operational perspective. To learn more about the value of a team-oriented management company, read the article, Is Your Association Manager Equipped for Success? 3 Questions to Ask.
If you aren’t handling the paperwork and day-to-day violation notices, what should your board be doing? Ultimately, your board should be setting policies and making decisions. After all, the primary function of a board of directors is to direct. That’s why it’s critical to partner with a management company that can take care of daily tasks with ease and provide informed feedback and guidance to assist you with important decisions.
As a board member, you should also make sure that your policies and decisions are in the best interest of your community or building (see what it means to be an Advocate above). Making decisions on behalf of a community of unique individuals is a weighty task. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that you are on the board for the right reasons. Board member Gigi Martin said, “If you go into the process understanding that you’re a board member because you want to serve the community and you have the community at the very heart of what you do, then it makes it [decision making] easier.”
3. Visionary: Creating a Plan for the Future
Are you focused on the future for your association? As a board member, this is just as important as making day-to-day decisions (and can help provide context and guidance for those daily decisions). In fact, the most successful homeowners associations (from master-planned and single-family to high-rises and mid-rises) have a strong strategic plan in place.
A strategic community plan is designed to identify strategic goals for the entire association and outlines strategies and action plans to help achieve those goals. It provides a roadmap of where you want your association to be in the next 5 to 10 years, no matter who is on the board. With a strategic plan, you create a legacy and guidelines for future boards to follow as well. A great management company will help you develop this plan with your fellow board members, by helping you form a vision, create goals and objectives and outline a strategy for accomplishing those goals.
Kirk Kowieski, executive vice president at FirstService Residential, said, “We’ve seen the significant and long-term benefits of the strategic community plan. It not only provides the board with a solid tool for daily decision making, it helps unify the existing board and all future and incoming board members with common goals and objectives.”
Your Responsibility as a Board Member
It takes a special individual to volunteer their time as an association board member. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what your core roles and responsibilities are. If you have the right mindset and act as an advocate, doer and visionary, you’ll set your association up for success – now and in the future.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.