A good Board member wears many hats, and can be called on to solve many problems. Condominium and homeowner associations face issues that run the gamut from construction and engineering all the way to telecommunications and social services. Sometimes, Board members need the Wisdom of Solomon. Most times, what they need is a little patience and a little understanding. Here are 10 things you can do to help be a better Board member:
1. Read the documents
Sounds like a simple concept, right? Every community association has governing documents, and everyone knows what they say, right? Everyone in a condominium or homeowner association should be familiar with their community’s governing documents, such as the Declaration (CC&R’s), the Bylaws and the Rules and Regulations. Board members should consider these documents required reading, because they will rely on them time and time again. The governing documents explain what your association is supposed to be and what it is supposed to do. They outline the duties and powers of your association, and the parameters of your authority and jurisdiction. To do his or her job properly, a Board member needs to know just how far the association’s responsibilities and authority go, and what the association is expected to accomplish. Your neighbors rely on the Board to “know the rules” better than they do, and your community will be a better place when you do. Don’t make assumptions about what your association can or can’t do, read the documents and make sure!
2. Be part of every meeting
The only way a Board member can do his or her job is by attending the meetings. You can’t learn, and you can’t make decisions if you’re not there. Make it a point to attend every meeting. Better still, make it a point to be a meaningful participant in every meeting. Inform yourself by reviewing the agenda, and preparing for the meeting. Know what’s in the financial statements, and what’s going on in the community. Take the time to understand the specs and the contracts, and when the time comes, share your views with the others on your Board. Your fiduciary duty requires you to make informed judgments. Know what you’re doing, take part in what’s going on, and you’ll feel better about the job you’re doing on your Board.
3. Leave your personal agenda at home
Anything that gets more people interested in their association should be a good thing. There are times when residents are motivated to become involved in their association because of some issue important to them. When that energy is channeled toward the common good, everyone in the community can benefit. When a Board member focuses on their personal interests and puts their private agenda ahead of the community agenda, the results are not the same. Managers and Board leaders know that “single issue” volunteers can be distracting, and often lose their enthusiasm (and productivity) once their issue has been addressed. You are on the Board because you are a leader. Remember that your agenda should always be the community’s agenda!
4. Listen and lead
You got involved in your association because you are interested and energetic, probably more so than most of your neighbors. They are still your partners in your community, and it is your shared interests that the association is intended to protect. Make it a point to talk to your neighbors. Find out what they like about your community, and what they don’t like. If your community’s agenda has some new rule or new initiative, talk to your neighbors about it and see what they think. A little communication goes a long way, and you may be surprised to learn that they have good ideas. As a leader of your community, it is your responsibility to do what’s best, not merely what’s popular. Keeping down fees at all costs may seem like a good idea, but prudent planning for the future is a better idea. Sometimes leaders are called on to make difficult decisions, and the greatest leaders are those who help their communities make those decisions for themselves. Your experience shows you what’s right and what’s best, and it is often up to the Board members to teach your neighbors to see the same things.
5. Ask for help
A good Board member needs information in order to make good judgments. You need to know what’s going on in your community in order to understand what it needs. Don’t rely on yourself or your Community Manager to be all and know all. Have a team of professionals that you have confidence in, and use them. You need to know what the “experts” say so that you can plan your maintenance, as well as your budgets, insurance and reserves. You also need to know how your neighbors can help you. There is probably a wealth of talent right under your nose, people that can help you identify and solve the community’s needs. Find out who has the kinds of expertise or interests that will help the Board, and make them part of your team as well.
6. Be a team player
Yours is a common interest community, and you have Board members and unit owners who share those interests. The best Boards share a common goal and vision for their community and work together to achieve it. No one person can run the whole show themselves. You can never have enough good volunteers for your association, and a good Board leader will always be looking for new ones. Appoint committees. Rely on others. Show your appreciation for volunteers. Strong leaders will always be on the lookout for future generations of leaders and ways to develop them. The more you can do to involve people in the things your association does, the better off all will be in the long run. You’ll have a better understanding of your neighbors, a stronger spirit for your community, and a pool of future leaders!
7. Be reasonable
Be reasonable — in everything you do. Take a considerate approach to planning your budget and reserves. Think about making rules that have real meaning to your community. Encourage people to comply with those rules, rather than enforcing them like a policeman. Listen to what others have to say about a problem, and consider their viewpoint. Think about what your association does and why, and then re-think it from time to time. Being reasonable and prudent can help make yours a “kinder and gentler” association.
8. Plan for the future
You are responsible for the property values of many other people, and the decisions you make impact all of them. Think not only about today, tomorrow and next week as you plan for your community, but next year and five years from now. Will you have the reserve money you need for capital replacements? Do you have a reserve study so that you will know what you are going to need ten years from now? What’s going to happen when your long-time Board decides to move on? It is easy to get caught up in the here and now, and lose track of the things you need to do for your community’s future. As a Board member, that future is your responsibility.
9. Put it in the Minutes
Associations are special creatures, existing separate and apart from the volunteers who man them. To maintain your organizational history and integrity, you need good records. Any action your association wants to take needs to be properly approved and documented. If it isn’t in the minutes, it didn’t happen; so make sure that all of your decisions are approved and recorded.
10. Read the documents – again!
Copyright 2015, Hal A. Barrow, Barrowlaw, All Rights Reserved
Hal A. Barrow is the founder and principal of Barrowlaw, a firm providing legal solutions to condominium and homeowner associations in Southeastern Pennsylvania. More information is available at www. pacondolaw.com