The Benefits of Being on a Board Pressure and the Perks

The Benefits of Being on a Board

The drawbacks of being on a board are legion. For one thing, it's a lot of work. Hours and hours and hours of work, of poring over spreadsheets, of talking to property managers and vendors and residents and tenants when you could be watching the game. And what compensation do you get for all your blood, sweat and tears? Not a penny. Up front, that's a lousy trade—labor and emotional investment for free.

Then there's the social aspects. You're on the board, so you have power—or, at least, you're perceived to have power. People treat you differently. Some of them recoil, like you're Darth Vader. Others polish your apple, in hopes of future as-yet-unnamed favors or special treatment. And some, upon seeing you in the lobby, innocently retrieving your mail (not even good mail; catalogs and bills), seize the opportunity to grouse, complain and bellyache over any and everything that might be wrong about the property—or what they perceive is so.

And then there are the risks. While insurance does insulate a board member from most sticky situations, short of fraud or gross negligence, serving as a board member does expose you to litigation more than, say, not serving as a board member would. The less subpoenas in your life, the better.

Serving on the board is a job for masochists and martyrs. And yet people all over New Jersey, in every co-op and condo association in the state, populate the boards of their HOAs. Why do they do it? Has Luca Brasi put them up to it, made them an unrefuseable offer? Are they doing penance, atoning for some fiduciary sin? What possible benefits can there be to taking such a thankless job?

When board members are asked about the benefits of being on the board, their first response will invariably be a joke. "There are none!" you'll hear, or words to that effect. Or the person will just laugh. Certainly it's not a subject that lends itself well to an article of 1,500 words. But after the initial humorous reaction has worn off, people come clean. There arebenefits to being on the board, as it turns out. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

Good Karma

Every major religion in the world stresses the importance of charitable works. New Age writers preach likewise, albeit in different terms. What the Pope would call charity, the Hindus call karma, and others call "outflow." It's all the same thing: you give because, on a cosmic scale, it benefits you to do so. In short, it's good for the soul.

"With all the things I've done, you've got to give something back," says Charles Remlinger, board president of The Pointe at Galloping Hill in Union. "You can't just be a taker in this world."

Remlinger, who is 87 years old, has been president of the board for the last 16 or so years. He decided to run because he'd served on the planning committee for the Town of Springfield, and felt his knowledge of government would be put to good use on the board.

"Life's been good to me," he says. "You have to stop looking at what the world owes you and look at what you can give back to it."

Protecting the Investment

OK, so you're not into New Age gobbledygook. Fine. Here's a more mercenary reason for serving on the board: you've invested a big chunk of change in your residence, and you'd like to protect your investment. What better way to do that than by getting intimately acquainted with every decision that could affect your home?

"There are no perks," says Jack McGrath, treasurer for the last seven-plus years of The Grande at Colts Neck Condo Association, "aside from the satisfaction of knowing that your condo is being handled the way you'd expect it to be handled, and that your property value is protected."

A lackadaisical board can let things go, potentially. And that sort of thing shows up everywhere —a lobby in need of new paint, a lawn in need of mowing, a common area in need of landscaping, and so forth. All this can have a negative impact on property values.

"When you're on the board, you can keep the look, approve the way you think it should be, and protect the value," says McGrath.

Elaine Warga-Murray CMCA, AMC, PCAM, CPO, and managing partner/CEO of Regency Management Group LLC in Howell—concurs. "The most important benefit is the idea of protecting your personal investment," she says.

Yet another bottom-line reason: serving on a board looks fabulous on your resume.

"Any type of community service, whether volunteering for the board or committee" is good for the resume "because it shows organization, team-player ability, and a sense of responsibility," says Warga-Murray.

Sense of Duty and Accomplishment

To some, nothing is more important than feeling needed, and being able to contribute positively to the community at large.

Whether a learned societal response, or a deep-seated aspect of our DNA, the idea of duty, utility and accomplishment is a prime motivator. (Even couch potatoes like the idea of accomplishment, although they may find it by watching all eight NFL games on Sunday.) This, then, is another benefit of being on the board: sense of accomplishment.

"There is satisfaction, knowing that the board is on top of what's taking place there," says Remlinger, "and knowing that you're doing something productive."

Conversely, it is the work involved in generating this sense of accomplishment that turns many potential members from running for the board.

"Because it's non-paying, because it's meeting-overloaded, because there are too many time requirements, the unofficial common impression is that you have to live, breathe and make the association your business," says Warga-Murray. "I think that needs to change."

Some board members play into this perception by not sharing information, and sequestering themselves like cardinals at a conclave. This repels would-be participants from the process.

"The best board member is the board member who makes it look easy," she says. And the best way to make it look easy is to be transparent. This generates more interest in serving, and promotes a healthy turnover on the board.

The consensus among the interviewees is that term limits, by in effect compelling new people to serve on the board, are good for the community.

"There comes a point in time where you need new blood," says McGrath.

Friendship and Fellowship

Is serving on the board fun? Yes and no. But one of the benefits is getting to know people you might not otherwise get to spend time with.

"It's a pleasure to be on the board, particularly when you have a good board—each of the members having their own thoughts and impressions," says Remlinger. "It's stimulating. We learn a lot."

Remlinger, for one, enjoys the process of learning through debate.

"We don't all agree, and that's a healthy thing," he says. "Like my father used to tell me, if you don't learn something new every day, you close your mind to education."

McGrath also finds fellowship among his colleagues on the board. He serves as an unofficial mentor to two younger and newer board members, and he's close with the board president.

"The president and I have become very, very good friends," McGrath says. "I'm glad I had the opportunity to get to know him."

Out of school and college, working the same job for years or retired, it gets harder to get to know new people, and make new friends as you get older. That may not be a reason to volunteer for the board, but it's certainly one of the perquisites.

And it's not true that there is no compensation of any kind.

"Our complete pay is, we go out to dinner once a year, in January," says Remlinger.

Jokes aside, it would seem that there are benefits to serving on one's board. Some—like improving property values and personally seeing to it that the grass is cut regularly and the residents don't put large, burnt-out appliances on their front porches—are tangible. Others are less so. The sense of purpose, accomplishment and solidarity that one can get from working with a committed board of directors can often make up for what the position lacks in glamour or monetary compensation.

Greg Olear is a freelance writer, editor, web designer, astrologer and stay-at-home dad living in Highland, New York.

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