Rookies No More Veterans Helping Newcomers

Rookies No More

 Remember your first day at a new school? Most likely, you didn’t know a soul, had no idea what the students were learning and you probably felt  nervous, intimidated or maybe even afraid. In most cases, this is what it’s like to be a new board member. A newcomer walks into a meeting for the first  time, may or may not know a fellow neighbor volunteer, has no idea what is or  has been discussed and might also feel nervous, intimidated or even afraid.  Getting elected to a board is a big job and the members can also find  themselves unsure of what they've gotten themselves into.  

 New Kids on the Block

 To help a new student calm their jitters and get them up to speed with their  peers, a teacher will often appoint a current student to show the newbie  around, share books, introduce him to other students and give him the lay of  the land. The same concept works great when it comes to new members on a condo,  co-op or HOA board. “Veteran board members should mentor newcomers,” says Peter Santangelo, president of Community Advantage, a financial  organization located in Palatine. “It will assist the new member to get up to speed faster on protocol and  procedure.”  

 “Any profession, whether it’s the legal profession, finance or property management, a person can be really  good at what they do if there is a professional, experienced person guiding  them,” adds Timothy Haviland, CMCA, president of Community Associations Institute’s Illinois (CAI-IL) chapter in Roselle. “It can make the difference between someone being good at what they do and  someone being great at what they do.”  

 In addition to being mentored, Cheryl Murphy, CAI-IL’s executive director, recommends that new board members listen and observe. “Every board is different so in the beginning it is essential to just learn how  the board works together,” she says. “When I was a new board member, I didn’t receive any help or direction. It was on-the-job training.”  

 It’s standard operating procedure that every board member in an association  normally signs a code of ethics. The document states that board members will  act in a professional, ethical manner, the most important thing is the general  welfare of the association and that personal agendas are not important.  

 Know the Rules

 All of the industry pros agreed that it is necessary to familiarize yourself  with the association’s governing documents. “Every board member should read and have a basic understanding of the bylaws,  rules any amendments and other pertinent governing documents,” says Shirley Feldmann, president of Association Advocates Inc., a Chicago-based  property management consulting firm.  

 “New board members should become familiar with governing documents and start with  the legal side,” says Haviland. “They should ask themselves, ‘what’s my fiduciary responsibility as a board member?’ I say this because a lot of times in my experience, when new people get on the  board they have certain issues they are focused on, personal agendas. They are looking at making decisions on how it’s going to impact them as opposed to making decisions based on what’s best for the association.”  

 Haviland also recommends that the new kids on the block review past minutes of  meetings. The minutes of the meetings will show the newcomer, minute by minute,  what happened during each meeting. They can then take time to digest the  information and ask any questions based on what already has been discussed. “Reading the minutes will give new board members some context about the history  of the decisions that have been made and the past ideas that have been  presented to the board,” he says. “It will help them to be more engaged.”  

 Unfortunately, while some neophytes come in eager to learn and help and have no  other agenda, others start their term with major misconceptions on how the  board operates. “Lots of new board members believe that the board is only handling items that  service their needs and not the association’s needs,” says Santangelo.  

 Feldmann agrees with Santangelo on this matter. “One of the biggest misconceptions is when board members get on the board because  they have a personal agenda and their main objective is to accomplish that  goal,” says Feldmann, “If it is a project that is not in the best interest of the association that  would be a conflict of interest. For example, an owner wants to sell in the  next year so they get on the board to lower assessments or stop a special  assessment because they feel it may prohibit them from selling. Every board  member has a fiduciary duty to set their own personal agendas aside and make  decisions based on the betterment of the entire ownership that they represent.”  

 Board members should also be brought up to speed on how meetings are run. One  way to do that is to refer them to Robert’s Rules of Order, which spells out in explicit detail how to run a meeting, from  the proper way of introducing a new item of business to voting on it and  closing the floor for discussion.  

 Because new members are voted in, they also may come to the table with a  misleading sense of power. Although the board of directors acts as a governing  body for the condominium, and thanks to the Illinois Condominium Property Act  (ICPA), they have powers to control what is permitted to take place and not  take place in the individual units and the common areas, uneducated board  members may take this sense of power to a new level.  

 Other Resources

 There are many resources available to new board members to become oriented on  how the board is run. They can keep up to date on industry news and laws and  find tips on running a successful board by reading trade publications such as  The Chicagoland Cooperator and offerings from CAI and the Association of  Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners Associations (ACTHA). On the national  level, the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) gives a six-hour  course called “The 3R’s: Roles, Risks and Rewards.”  

 CAI is a particularly valuable resource for new and existing board members and  property managers. An international organization dedicated to building better  communities, CAI, with its Illinois chapter in Roselle, provides education and  resources to community association homeowner leaders, professional managers,  association management companies and other businesses and professionals who  provide products and services to community associations. “New board members should attend CAI’s course ‘Essentials of Community Association Volunteer Leadership,’” says Murphy. “This course helps new board members learn how to communicate with residents,  hire qualified service providers, implement enforceable rules, and how to read  and monitor financial statements. These essentials provide a good foundation to  being an effective board member.”  

 Serving on a board is a volunteer job and members give up a chunk of their free  time to make sure their condo or co-op association is run smoothly. They may  even take on other volunteer tasks that require more of their time, such as  president, vice president, treasurer or secretary. They have to attend  meetings, make decisions and, at times, go against the popular vote in order to  do what’s right for the association. Not everyone wants to volunteer for this thankless  job, so it’s important to make a new board member feel as welcome and informed as you can.  

 “It takes a lot of courage to be a board member. It’s not a paid position. So what would compel somebody to volunteer to be a leader  in their association when it appears that there’s not a lot of benefits?” says Haviland. “One of the benefits is that as a board member you can look around and say ‘OK, we are making progress, this is a much better place to live than it was  three years ago.’”   

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The  Chicagoland Cooperator.  

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