The Basics of Running Board Meetings in Your Community Association
“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted,” is a quote often attributed to James T. Kirk of “Star Trek” fame. If you have found yourself feeling this way, then this article is for you.
Community associations are structured much like any other corporation with boards of directors, officers and members. They must operate as businesses whose board members aim to meet federal, state, local and association governance requirements. Holding required meetings helps ensure that the business of the association is conducted in the most effective, appropriate and transparent manner. Associations conduct board meetings, annual meetings and special meetings; each of which are held for specific purposes and with active participation intended by either the board of directors, association members or both.
Simply stated, board meetings are business meetings of the board. The governing documents for your association will specify the number of meetings that are required to be held.
“Whether your community is a condominium, homeowners or cooperative association, Virginia state statutes require that board meetings must be noticed and open to owners, in order to provide members of the association the opportunity to voice any concerns or ideas to the board and to observe the business conducted by the board,” according to Susan Manch, vice president of FirstService Residential in Virginia. “Regardless of the quantity required, efficiently run meetings are most effective and encourage new volunteers to step forward. Board meetings that are long and ineffective are discouraging for all who attend.”
1. Let your agenda drive the meeting.
“Creating and following a good agenda is the foundation for a successful board meeting,” Manch said.
Think of your agenda as a meeting road map – built to keep participants on topic and facilitate a successful outcome. For optimal efficiency, it should include a logical and regular format, such as roll call, minutes, reports, old and new business, with time set aside for owner comments. It is good practice to publicize the agenda in advance of the meeting and makes sense to include it with the meeting notice.
In most cases, it is not advisable for the board to discuss or act on items that are not included on the agenda. This keeps discussions focused and prevents spending time on topics that the board is not prepared to review. Straying from the agenda and spending too long on one agenda item detracts from the positive flow and outcome of a meeting and can result long meetings that end up being frustrating and unproductive. Making sure that board members have all of the information they need to vote (vendor quotes, or financial reports, for example) will help your meeting stay on track and get the most done in as little time as possible.
2. Know who can attend and participate.
Board meetings are business meetings of the board of directors. While meetings are open to residents, participation in the proceedings is limited to the board. Any actions of the board, including board votes, must be conducted in open session. For specific agenda topics concerning legal, personnel or contract matters the board may meet in executive (closed) sessions to conduct confidential discussions. However the board must reconvene in open session to take actions. Bylaws usually require that there be a quorum of board members in attendance – typically, a simple majority of the board, so check your governing documents or ask your association attorney. Meeting notices must be posted or announced to association members in advance per the association’s governing documents.
“Your board meetings will be much more organized and efficient if you establish ground rules, create an agenda and stick to the business at hand,” Manch explained.
3. Make your minutes count.
Minutes are the snapshot of a meeting. They are the official record of actions taken by the board. The board secretary is responsible for taking the minutes at each meeting and if desired, reading the minutes from the previous meeting as part of the proceedings.
Once they have been approved, minutes should be available for owners to review. In general, keep minutes concise and strive to make them a summary of motions made and actions taken, rather than a word-by-word replay of the meeting.
“Some boards may choose to hire a professional minute taker, thus allowing the secretary to participate more fully in the meeting. In Virginia, the minutes from the last six months are required to be included in the resale documents for an association and to be kept with the official records of the association,” Manch explained.
4. Embrace Robert’s Rules of Order.
Board members should formally adopt some form of parliamentary procedure to run their meetings. While there are different types of parliamentary procedure, the most commonly used is Robert’s Rules of Order – a “how-to” guide for conducting business in democratically elected organizations. Its enduring popularity is based, in part, on how well it prescribes guidelines and formalizes meeting procedures and conduct – and that helps ensure your meetings are fair, inclusive and efficient.
Robert’s Rules and other forms of parliamentary procedure help structure the conversations that happen during meetings, making sure that all voices are heard and that the majority rules at the end of the day.
5. Establish a sense of formality.
Board meetings are business meetings, not social gatherings. When gossip, off-topic conversation and other distractions veer discussions away from association business, little gets accomplished, which ultimately wastes everyone’s time. In addition, an informal tone and setting can make it challenging for the board to resolve difficult or divisive issues. To support the professional nature of your association and your position as a board member, keep comments and actions formal until the meeting is over. Happy hour can happen afterward!
Choose a business-type setting for your meetings and avoid meeting in someone’s home. Good meeting locations include a community meeting room, nearby libraries, schools and fire stations.
As a volunteer board member, you know how critical your role is to serving your association’s needs and ensuring the smooth operations and continued viability of your community. Board meetings are a key part of this process, so it’s very important that they run as efficiently and successfully as possible.