Heather Graham in Board Operations
This is identified in detail in the governing documents — the co-op proprietary lease or the condo declaration, and the accompanying bylaws for both — but responsibilities typically include:
As a board member, do I have to have any prior experience?
No, but you do have to have the best interest of your cooperative or condominium association in mind. Many people volunteer for the board based upon a bad experience they have had, and now they want to change or correct that process. However, what many people quickly realize is that there is another side of the equation, and they begin to understand the responsibilities of the board or the association. Just have an open mind and be willing to listen and you will do great.
What specifically can I do to help me be "great"?
Come to meetings prepared. Read the application packages or other necessary documents prior to the monthly meeting and ask the managing agent questions so that he or she can come to the meeting prepared to answer them. Some items may require additional research and, in order to be fair and timely, it is helpful to have the questions in advance of the meeting.
Be respectful. The Golden Rule works best here: Treat people as you would want to be treated. No one wants to be treated in a hostile and disrespectful manner. Have an open mind and listen to both sides of an issue before you make up your mind, and give careful consideration to the advice of the professionals helping you.
Finally, communicate. Don't be afraid to ask questions when you don't understand, and communicate with fellow board members and with management in a thoughtful, respectful and productive manner.
How can a board of directors overall provide good leadership?
Be mindful of the tone of board meetings: Buildings develop reputations and you want to ensure a positive one for yours. While board meetings are not open to all residents except for the annual meeting and the occasional open meeting may co-ops and condos have once or twice a year, word still gets out of how meetings are run. Avoid yelling, arguing and personal insults — agree to disagree politely and professionally.
Lead with a plan. Work with each other and/or your management company to determine your goals. It is usually best to do this prior to approving the annual budget so that the plans can be incorporated into next year's expenses. Short-term, one- to three-year goals are good. But since board membership can change considerably after a few years, impacting the direction of your co-op or condo, long-term goals are best, so that current and future leaders work within the framework of a big picture.
Build an advisory team you trust and rely upon. Carefully consider the guidance and advice of the professionals you hire.
Maintain transparency. Conduct business as openly as you can, and allow the shareholders / unit-owners an opportunity to be heard. Many complaints stem from residents thinking that the board is doing something underhanded. If you keep the board's business operations as open as practicable, that helps avoids the problem.
Heather Graham is President/CEO of Associa / Community Management Corporation. She is a Community Associations Institute Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA) and Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM). This is adapted from her article at Association Times.
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