Attracting and Keeping New Board Members We Want You!

Attracting and Keeping New Board Members

Boards of directors in co-op and condo buildings are generally elected volunteers who live in the community themselves and have a vested interest in preserving its quality of life while protecting the investment that the building or development represents to residents and board members alike.

With such a significant responsibility—and largely intangible compensation—attracting new board members is a challenging task for many boards. Keeping board members can be tough as well.

Who Makes a Good Board Member?

Finding good board members may prove a daunting task, especially if your community is a small one. With hectic work schedules and limited family time allotments, leaving room to serve on their HOA board is not very high on most peoples' priority list.

Bruce Anglin, president of the board at Canterbury Woods Condominiums in Old Bridge, says that getting people to serve on the board can be a real challenge. "We're a small community; we only have 28 units. We're supposed to have five board members, but last year we were down to two—so we had to appoint one in order to comply with state regulations. We had an annual meeting, but only 12 people showed up, so it seems that people are content to 'let the other guy do it,' so to speak."

A good candidate for the board is usually someone who attends the community meetings and seems to have a genuine interest in the maintenance of the community. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as a board member is that the board is in service of the community—and that is the primary responsibility.

"The next thing," says Paul Santoriello of Taylor Management in Cedar Knolls, "which may be the most critical thing, is that as a board member you should want to work within an organization that is a body, and look to make decisions that are for the betterment of the community. You have to agree to disagree—and respect the board and the process."

According to Anglin, there are some people who become interested in the board only for certain issues, or for a certain amount of time. "We have had people on the board who had their pet projects, who then left when that issue was dealt with," he says.

There really are no standard pre-requisites for someone to serve on an association board. While it may seem like a good idea for the people on the board to have some knowledge of how buildings and grounds are maintained and what the relationships are between the management company and staff, most pros feel that these details can be learned on the job. "Everybody comes on the board with a different knowledge base," says Santoriello. "We have attorneys, truck drivers, accountants, machinists - all kinds of people."

"We do have a couple of gentlemen who know about construction or engineering, which is handy if something comes up in the building, we can get advice and they can handle it," says Anglin. "They understand what the problems are and can give recommendations. If someone knows about finances, it empowers the board to follow along with what is being done and they can report to the rest of the board. They do have to be a homeowner in good standing."

Attracting New Board Members

"It is true," says Santoriello of the position of a board member. "It's not only thankless, but it's not financially compensated. You see people [who might be good for the board] in the community, or interact with them at board meetings or local meetings. You don't just make a general appeal to the audience for people to volunteer for committees—which is a very good place for people to develop directorial skills—but to see if they might be interested in learning the skills for serving on a board. That's a good stepping stone, but you also can identify individuals that have some knowledge base or seem interested in serving the community."

Board members are usually nominated or, if interested, may send a letter to the management company expressing their interest. Then they are accepted by nomination.

"We have our quarterly meetings, and occasionally we put up a flyer. Believe it or not, we had two presidents who bought homes in other places and had to leave in the middle of their terms. Then we would put something out that when the annual meeting came, that we would need more people because we were short on the board," says Anglin.

"Typically, the people that you see coming to meetings, or that you or the manager interact with, can give you an idea who would be good for the community," says Santoriello. "And you encourage them. That's what you do, you encourage them."

Serving on the Board

Once board members are elected to panel, the members of the board will select among themselves who will serve in each various office. Often new board members will need to be caught up on the goings-on of the building and community and will need a crash course in how the board operates. The task of "welcome wagon" can fall to senior board members or to the HOA's management company.

At Canterbury Woods, the original owners of each unit were given a copy of the bylaws and regulations—but that copy does not always get handed down to subsequent owners. "We put something together called the association's 'Q and A,' or the 'Frequently Asked Questions' of new board members, and we have someone on the board introduce the new member and give them the packet of information," says Anglin.

Santoriello cites a similar process: "You typically have board members who have been on the board for a time and have a good knowledge base. They can take new members under their wing. What we recommend is that new members sit down with the manager or management company and board president and review the last six to 12 months of board packages—which includes management reports and so on. As a new board member you can get up to speed rather quickly on that because essentially what you are doing is looking at what the board has been dealing with for the last year with the physical, financial, and administrative aspects of maintaining the association. Then, really, we look to the boards to deal not with the micro aspects of running the building, but the policy decisions as well."

When dealing with clarification issues, new board members have the option of consulting the senior board members, the managing agent or company, or consulting the bylaws of the community.

In addition to the time commitment of serving on the board, there can arise other issues that make it challenging, such as liability, mismanagement, or conflict between personalities and agendas. Since the board operates on the democratic principles of majority rule, those in the minority may voice their dissent in ways that are less than professional.

"But someone has to do it," says Anglin. "We don't want our community to be turned over to management by the state," which may happen if the board is not filled to its required capacity.

On the plus side, being on the board means having a hand in the maintenance of the community in which you live, which can be a source of pride and fulfillment. Features like newsletters and beautiful landscaping can be the reward of a board whose members take the energy to make a nicer place to live. Often retaining good board members can be as simple as giving them respect or thanks for a job well done.

Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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