Twelve Traits Every Great HOA Board of Directors Has

What differentiates a great board from just a good board? Great boards develop, maintain and value their credibility and their integrity. And they continually display, individually and as a group, the following traits:

Great Boards Focus on the Big Picture

It’s the big picture problems that count for great boards, who spend their time continually reviewing and refining their HOA’s big picture plans for the community. To do this effectively, great boards will establish a Mission Statement for their HOA along with a clear policy for all facets of community administration to follow. With both of these in place, a great board will stand back and observe if that policy is being carried out through each step of their HOA’s operations, starting with management, continuing down through the vendors, and finally reaching the community at large. 

Let’s consider a board who sets the following policy:

The objective is for the common areas to have continual esthetically pleasing landscape conditions within budgeted figures

Is this a good board policy or a great one? The policy is a broad statement that seeks a general outcome, an “esthetically pleasing landscape”, and does not concern itself with particular details, such as the type of flowers planted, number of planting beds, etc. At the same time, the policy gives management enough direction to carry out the policy administratively and financially (“within budgeted figures”). This policy therefore covers the big picture goal of the HOA’s landscaping, and is the policy of a great board of directors.

Great Boards Hold Productive Meetings

Great boards hold efficient, productive meetings while still allowing homeowners to air opinions and board members to discuss, debate and take action on various issues. There are five main elements to a successful board meeting, and great boards will do them all. In a great board meeting, board members…

  • Start off organized and stick to an agenda
  • Keep their priorities in order
  • Assign responsibility for every action decided on
  • Focus on results
  • Control homeowner input

But board members can’t just have a successful meeting; it takes a little preparation. Namely, great boards always read relevant materials before the meeting.

When a great board member comes to a meeting, he or she will have read the agenda and board packet beforehand, that way they’ll be ready to make decisions based on solid information. These board members know that time is valuable and do their best to not waste their own time or their fellow board members/ and staff’s. They know being prepared develops the community’s trust in them as leaders and gives them the ability to make decisions on the community’s behalf in a timely manner.  Any questions these prepared board members have were answered before the meeting began by staff, vendors, or another board member so the HOA’s business can be conducted efficiently and productively.

Great Boards Protect Against Liabilities

Great boards know that liabilities are a risk to the HOA and to themselves, and always face that risk head-on by dealing with potential and evident liabilities quickly and surely, according to their set policy. Great boards understand, and never shy away from, risk management. They obtain information and direction from insurance, legal and management experts to guide them on the safest path, which starts with a heads-up approach to running the HOA.

This means that great boards…

Keep Rogue Board Members in Check

Great boards don’t allow a single board member to put the entire community in jeopardy by making racial, ethnic or sexual comments at a meeting. If a board member says or does something inappropriate, a great board member will control the situation by addressing the improper behavior. Failing to reign in these types of situations can be a serious liability for the board and the community.

Hire Insure Vendors and Contractors

Great boards know they have a duty and responsibility to the community not only to hire a professional (and not, say, a brother-in-law who once did a drywall project in his house), but also to make sure they are protecting the community from liability by utilizing only licensed and insured contractors.

Great Boards Remember Their Fiduciary Duty

A fiduciary is a person who occupies a position of special trust and confidence, and board members are fiduciaries to their HOA membership. Great board members always keep this in mind when making decisions for the HOA, knowing that their decisions should work towards the community as a whole, not just their neighbors or friends.

To make decisions as fiduciaries, boards must base their decision on logic and reason, not on emotion or fear, giving the board and the community credibility and integrity for the long-term as they occupy that place of special trust and confidence.

An HOA board is a deliberative body that makes decisions based on solid input.  That solid input should include, but not be limited to, their own experience, facts, data, standard of care and standard of the industry, precedents set before them, and expert opinion. Using these information gathering tools, great boards make informed decisions that are best for the community, even when those decisions may be unpopular.

Great Boards Acknowledge Staff and Volunteers

Publicly and privately, in the newsletter or on the website, great boards continually acknowledge all contributors to the administration of the community, including other board members, committee members, management staff, etc. Cheering on or acknowledging fellow board members and volunteers creates a positive, successful image for the HOA. People like to be a part of something they find effective and worthwhile, meaning this positive image will help encourage homeowners to get involved in HOA initiatives, and foster a friendlier environment for the staff already on board.

In other words, great boards know they can’t do it alone, and embrace all the help that comes their way.

Great Boards Know They Get What They Pay For

Great boards suffer no illusions. They know that if they receive three bids for a vending contract and one of the three bids is substantially lower than the two, they should thoroughly investigate the reason why, because something could be amiss.  Maybe the contractor read the Request for Proposal wrong, or maybe he or she low-balled the bid.

And if a board accepts the low bid despite the contractor’s shortcomings, a great board will know there’s a cost to managing that low bid. Great boards realized that accepting the lowest of qualified bidders may mean a cost to themselves, whether it be it in their own time, staff time or having to have another contractor come in and finish the job or clean up the mess.

Whatever choice a great board makes, they’ll know they get what they paid for.

Great Boards Speak with One Voice

Boards are like a family: different (and sometimes conflicting) personalities thrown together to try to accomplish one main goal: help the community thrive. What sets great boards apart from the pack is that they know there will be disagreements, they know they don’t each think alike; yet, once the votes are cast they move forward together—speaking with one voice to the membership.

This is crucial for any board, but particularly those who have seriously disgruntled folks in their midst. Any chink in the armor of the board will be exploited by those with agendas that are not within the current board’s policies, goals and objectives.  Great boards stick together and show a united front to their members, creating credibility and integrity. 

Great Boards Put Aside Personal Agendas

A great board member will release his or her personal agenda, even if it’s what got him or her elected in the first place, to become a functioning and contributing member of the board. Oftentimes board members are elected for promises they may or may not be able make, such as lowering the dues dramatically or switching management companies overnight. After the election, that board member often finds out the platform, or agenda, on which they ran is based upon misinformation, or maybe just can’t be done in the way he or she envisioned. A great board member realizes quickly things were not as he or she thought and will put aside their agenda for the good of the community.  

This means that when new members are added to the board, great boards know how to handle personal, contrary agendas. The great board brings the new board members up to speed through corporate memory, helping them recognize what Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Policy has been set in place. This gives the new board member a foothold on established process so they may embrace the big picture (which great boards focus on) rather than their personal agendas.   

Great Boards are Proactive with Information

Great boards seek out information and education on all aspects of community administration and maintenance as it applies to their community. Sometimes, it’s information they don’t want to hear, such as learning that the most recent legislation calls for all boards to hold their meetings on Tuesdays when the moon is full and for all members to receive written (engraved) invitations to attend.  But great board members listen anyway because they know as a board member it is part of their duty to always gather information. Sometimes they learn valuable information on ways to run their meetings, paint the decks or collect dues in a more efficient manner.

Whether by reading websites and industry publications or by attending workshops and forums and networking with other board members,  great boards know they do their jobs best by being informed, and they strive to stay that way.

Great Boards Communicate Positively and Regularly with Members

Much of the job as a board member entails having to tell members “No,” as the board is trusted with enforcing the CC&Rs for the continuity of the community. “No parking in that spot,” “No leaving pool towels on the balcony,” “No dogs without a leash”. Great boards know there are ways to say no, but in a positive fashion.

For example: “No walking dogs in the park from 8 am to 12 noon,” can be couched as “Dog walkers are encouraged to take their pets to the park from 12 noon to 6 pm for sunshine and fresh air seven days a week.”  Or, “No parking on Snowy Palms Dr. during Easter Break,” can be turned in to “Owners are encouraged to park their vehicles on Warm Alaska Dr. during the Easter Break so as to create less congestion for all residents entering the community.” .

Great boards also know the importance of regular (monthly or bi-monthly), upbeat, professional-looking newsletters, updated websites and other forms of communication.

These forms of communication create a sense of openness and allow for the outflow of positive communication about the community. They also create board credibility, and they do so by fostering a positive attitude while still giving the membership needed information and reminders.  Because people want to be a part of something successful, upbeat and positive, a community with this image is one that fosters volunteerism.

Great Boards Have a Sense of Humor

Great boards see the all the problems and challenges as something with which to be dealt with a healthy sense of reality and a big dose of humor. Why? Great boards know three things:

  • It’s not IBM, it’s an HOA.
  • The smaller the stakes, the pettier the politics.
  • It’s not personal. 

Great boards have a sense of humor because they maintain perspective, giving much of what we do a very humorous aspect.

Great Boards Value Integrity and Credibility Above All Else

Integrity and credibility is what we all look for and respect in friends, family, school, church, work, business and what we want to see in board members and in any board as a whole—boards that don’t get mired in minor details, that are consistent in their decisions, assist new members in adjusting to their roles and create a polite atmosphere in which to volunteer, to be serious but not take themselves too seriously, and demonstrate they are mature and responsible in their actions. These board members are Credible. They have Integrity. And they are the best of the best. They are what make great boards. 

Is Your Board Great?

All boards are potentially great boards. By determining which of the top traits can be incorporated in to your board, you can achieve outstanding service for the community and a satisfying experience for each board member.   Taking your board from good to great takes true vision, and the will to serve yourselves and the community at the highest level.

Adapted from an article by Julie Adamen, president of Adamen Inc., a consulting and placement firm specializing in the community management industry.