Main revewing a stack of papers taking notesHas serving on the board of your community association taken over your life? Does managing your community feel a little overwhelming from time to time? Do you spend too much time managing your community? You’re not alone. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen a major uptick in board burnout across the industry as a whole,” said Robert G. Smith, president of FirstService Residential, South Region. “As association board members face vocal residents, personal liability, unexpected emergencies (like the pandemic) and challenging decisions, many have become overwhelmed and frustrated and want to leave their volunteer positions.” He added, “This is particularly the case for board members who don’t have sufficient support in their role. Some start with an optimistic outlook, only to face unending to-do lists and unexpected responsibilities (that go beyond making policies and running meetings).”

“Board burden does not discriminate,” says Jake Howse, director of business development at FirstService Residential. “Whether it’s a community of 18 units or 1,800 units, a high-rise or a gated HOA community, board burden and burnout are real. I’ve met so many board members who say, ‘We didn’t sign up for this. We want to set the vision, delegate tasks and enjoy our lives.’”

Beyond causing frustration and resignations among your volunteer board members, board burden and overload can cause your community significant problems. “Things fall through the cracks, projects get dropped, maybe the insurance policy doesn’t get renewed,” Howse explains. “This can result in higher costs (if important maintenance projects are ignored) or even liability and legal penalties. None of that is good for the community as a whole. It doesn’t have to be that way, but a lot of people think they don’t have options, and this is just the way things are.”

How can board burden and burnout be alleviated? Howse says it all comes down to having the right management company in place, and just as importantly, the right management model, which is critical to alleviating stress for board members. “You can have the best management company in the world, but if you don’t invest in the right level of staff and service for your community, your load is never going to lighten,” he says. “You will always be stuck picking up the slack created by an inadequate service model.”

Donna Moffitt is the secretary at Condo on the Bay. She serves on the board of her tower's association and is also the secretary of the master association. She says that moving to professional management after 30 years of self-management brought about tremendous change to the board. “Before we partnered with FirstService Residential, we really had to think about what company would be best suited to work with us, to do some of the tasks that we’d been doing, including hiring staff, contracting vendors, reviewing bids, overseeing maintenance and more. Prior to working with FirstService, I put in at least 10 hours every week on board work, and I know our president put in a lot more than that.” The work was more than they expected and negatively affected their quality of life.

How can a property management company help you reduce those hours and lighten your load? The two most important elements are clarifying your roles (who owns what) and building trust in the property management company. So how do you make that happen?

Clarify board and management roles to prevent burnout

As a board member, it's important to understand your role and avoid taking on too much responsibility. It is common to see murkiness around the roles and responsibilities of the property management company and the board of directors in communities that are self-managed or under-managed. This type of confusion is to be expected if the board is involved in the granular details of managing the community. Clarifying those roles can help alleviate stress and burden for board members.

Your most important responsibility as a board member is to set the vision for your community association. And to support that vision for your community, the board creates policies and makes decisions that are based on the big picture. Board members also need to understand their governing documents and set clear expectations and priorities for the management team to help accomplish those big-picture goals.

What’s the role of your management partner? Your property management team executes your vision, enforces your policies, and manages the day-to-day operations of your community. You don't have to worry about emergency phone calls and problems because they handle them for you. The management company also keeps everyone in the community on the same page, communicating clearly and responsively with residents and the board.

The right property management company will also help your community maximize its budget, leveraging buying power and vendor relationships to save money and increase value. They will help your board anticipate and plan for issues that may arise – rather than reacting to them when they occur. “At the beginning of the year, we ask board members the top 3 things they want to accomplish this year, then we create a business plan and an annual budget that covers community, financials and other areas of the property,” Lugo explains.

Alleviate board burden by building trust with your management partner

If you are currently self-managed, partnering with a professional property management company is a big step – but one sure to reduce board burden. Successful boards should not be burdened by day-to-day tasks, even if they already work with a management company. Their management partner should oversee vendors, manage resident calls and handle maintenance projects while relying on the board to make major decisions and direct policies. Because they have been doing the work for so long, boards eager to share the burden of running their communities may have difficulty letting go.

“It’s quite a journey for a community to transition to professional management or even to another management company,” says Edwin Lugo, vice president of property management at FirstService Residential. “Boards feel confident they’re making the right decision when a management company has a good reputation and provides references from board members who can confirm that we can take on the hard stuff so they can live more relaxed, better lives. Our boards find the change is absolutely worth it.”

Board members can let go of the day-to-day work of running their communities when they have that trust. “They want to be very involved, sometimes too involved, at the beginning. Many are leaving a management company that didn’t deliver, one they were not happy with, and they had to be very involved to pick up the slack,” Lugo says.

“FirstService Residential was the most transparent of the companies we interviewed, more the style we were looking for,” Moffitt said. “Their honesty and transparency won me over immediately.”

In a short time, having a professional manager has taken a lot off the board's plate, according to Moffitt. “My stress level is definitely lower. It’s always going to be a process because things are always changing, but we know that progress is being made,” she says. The board members receive regular updates on the work being done, easing their concerns that things might slip through the cracks. A good place to start is with weekly updates from your manager.

In contrast, Lugo said the boards he has had the hardest time winning over have been let down by other management companies. “When a board entrusts their community to a management company, they’ve bought into promises made. When that management company doesn’t live up to its promises, it’s harmful,” he explains. “Broken promises damage the relationship between the board and current management as well as any future property management partner.”

Volunteering for your community association board is a generous use of your time and resources. While board service requires commitment and dedication, it should also be manageable. The right property management company will handle the day-to-day operations of your community so you can focus on meeting big-picture goals and achieving your vision for the community.

Ask the Experts Video: Roles & Responsibilities

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Becoming an association board member can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Watch our video to learn more about the role you’re stepping into.



Thursday September 01, 2022