The volunteers who occupy seats on an HOA board are in a unique position. Although they’re skilled in their professional fields and possess a deep love for their community, few have experience serving on the board of a multi-million-dollar corporation like a homeowners association. As a volunteer with a fiduciary duty to the corporation, this undertaking is a big responsibility.
Since each board seat is an elected position, it can feel like once the board gets into the collective swing of things, a new election rolls around and a handful of new board members cycle in. This “changing of the guard” doesn’t have to set your board back.
Here are a few tips to ensure a smooth transition when one board member leaves and another steps in.
Tip #1: Become familiar with the realities of board membership
If you’re a newly-elected board member—or are thinking of running for a seat on your HOA board—it’s a good idea to get a sense of the duties and responsibilities that you’ll be tasked with once in the position.
Speak with current or past board members to gain a deeper understanding of the job and how it impacts your community. Pull aside your property manager to ask questions, raise concerns, determine how much time you’ll be expected to contribute, and learn more about the board’s scope of authority. When you know what to expect, you’ll have an easier time stepping into the role.
Tip #2: Thoroughly review the previous board member’s files
The day-to-day management of your HOA won’t slow down simply because there’s a new face on the board. You’ll need to get up to speed fast. Your property management company will provide you with a new board member welcome package that contains all the relevant files for the governing of the association. This package will include your association’s governing documents, current contracts, action items and the previous month’s board package. These baseline documents will provide context for association issues and ensure you are prepared to make informed decisions at your next board meeting.
Tip #3: Attend training sessions
Your property management company plays an important role in facilitating a smooth transition between board members. After a general election, ask your management company to provide a soup-to-nuts board member orientation that covers key topics like fiduciary responsibility, what constitutes good business judgement, the role of the board/membership/management company and how these positions work together.
You’ll also get a more detailed understanding of the laws and regulations that apply to property management, including California’s Davis-Stirling Act and the difference between CC&Rs, Bylaws and Rules & Regulations. These courses are great for returning board members. Refresher courses from your property management company will make sure you’re aware of new changes, as new laws take effect.
Another great resource for education are the classes and webinars offered online or in-person at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), an advocacy and education organization specifically for HOAs. Learning more about HOA management in general will provide you with valuable strategies that you can apply to your own association.
Tip #4: Ask for treasurer-specific training
This one’s a must if you’re set to occupy a new seat as the association’s treasurer. Your property management company will walk you through the association’s current financials, drawing your attention to the current budget and reserve requirements. They’ll show you how to read the association’s balance sheet, check register and journal entries. Remember, your management company is there to provide support, but the board makes all of the association’s financial decisions. It’s up to you and your fellow board members to act in the best financial interest of your HOA.
Tip #5: Avoid all-or-nothing thinking
Sometimes there’s a tendency to dismiss everything the previous board did as unbeneficial to the community. Remember that the previous board was managing the community to the best of their ability and faced the same challenges you’ll soon face. Refrain from criticizing previous board members and showcase an optimistic attitude moving forward.
Tip #6: Don’t take anything personally
When it comes to deciding how an HOA should operate, passions can rise. Put aside personal feelings and continue to ask yourself, “Which actions can I take and which decisions should I make to protect or increase property values and make this community a more enjoyable place to live?” When you filter everything through that lens, you can be confident that your decisions will reflect what’s best for the community.
Tip #7: Put aside pet projects
Some members run for a seat on the board on a single-issue platform. While that matter might be a pressing need for the community, when you start to evaluate it in context with the rest of the challenges facing the community, the issue might not jump straight to the top of the association’s to-do list. Your concern WILL be addressed—but evaluate its importance in the overall slate of issues facing your community and assign it the appropriate priority. Getting hung up on a single subject will only stall other official business.
Tip #8: Adopt a board member mentality
When you occupy a seat on the board, it’s your responsibility to represent the entirety of the membership. However, keep in mind that just because you’re a board member doesn’t mean you’re the community sheriff. Set aside your own interest in your property and look at the overall wellbeing of the corporation.
Tip #9: Maintain personal boundaries
Remember that your authority to enact change in your community comes from collective decision-making as a board of directors, not as an individual. As a board member, you have no special authority, nor can you grant any special privileges to other association members. Don’t get caught up in petty neighbor-to-neighbor squabbles. Direct specific complaints or disputes to your property management company to put on the agenda for the next board meeting or general membership meeting.
Tip #10: Ask for help
Remember, no one expects you to know the ins and outs of HOA governance when you are elected. There will be a learning curve as you become more comfortable with your role and responsibilities. Ask for an explanation from other board members or your property management company if there is anything you are unclear about, no matter how small. They’ll be happy to clear things up and you might help others who are too shy to speak up.
Serving on the HOA board of your association can be a deeply rewarding experience. However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you take the plunge with no foresight or preparation. Familiarize yourself with what to expect before you are elected and make the effort to get up to speed as quickly as possible once your term begins. By being proactive about your role and asking your fellow board members and your property management company for help, you’ll get into the swing of things in no time.