Why HOA Board Member Education is Important

Homeowners’ associations essentially function as businesses, and as such their success is rooted in knowing how to run them. The board of directors is the executive team in charge of the association’s day-to-day operations and overall well-being. Thus, the board’s education is vital.

There are many resources available for board education. For example, simply reading the governing documents is a fundamental starting point. These documents spell out the basic rules that are in place to manage the association.

Additionally, Robert’s Rules of Order serves as a playbook for effective meetings. While the book was written to discuss parliamentary procedure in general, applying the information found in it to your association will allow your association meetings to be more efficient. Another resource is your community manager. Community managers provide insight and expertise, as they are trained to handle the ins and outs of HOA industry. They are there to help your board be the best it can be.

Alongside community managers, management companies can provide guidance to boards, but HOA decisions are ultimately in the hands of board members, making board training an important, and ongoing, exercise for excellence.

Why Is It Necessary?

Learning is an important facet in any leadership role. It’s a continual practice that allows for personal growth as well as the growth of the entire team. The beauty of education is that there’s always something to discover that you didn’t know before.

Education provides board members with the skills tackle the various aspects of their role, along with any unanticipated concerns that may pop up. Educating yourself on board-specific, and even general administrative, topics prepares you, as a board member, to take on your fiduciary duties with ease. Staying educated increases your confidence in your decisions as well. Also, state and local laws are often updated, so it’s essential to stay up-to-date with legislation to make sure your association is in compliance with association-related regulations.

Furthermore, board education equips board members with the tools and knowledge to navigate the scope of board membership, with all its obligations and limitations. Education is both empowering and crucial, as it allows board members to figure out how to align the entire board’s goals and values in order to better the association overall. See below for examples of responsibilities with which board members are tasked.

Helping Homeowners:

Board members are elected officials voted in by homeowners, after an association is no longer developer-controlled. All decisions a board of directors makes will affect the homeowners in some form or fashion. Some decisions aren’t always praised by homeowners, which is why it’s important to build trust between the board and the homeowners.

Education offers ideas on how to increase communication with homeowners, specifically about the decisions the board makes and the reasoning behind them. Whether the board proposes an increase in assessments, votes to switch vendors, or enacts a violation policy, communicating with homeowners will provide transparency and foster an environment of trust.

Ultimately, the board can strengthen its relationship with homeowners via communication, encouraging homeowner participation within the association. Additionally, board members are in charge of navigating the balance between satisfying the needs of the entire community and the interests of each owner. Board education aids board members in identifying pain points of the association, maintaining a dialogue with homeowners, and finding solutions to that benefit the association as a whole.

Overseeing Operations:

In addition to helping homeowners, board members are tasked with handling the day-to-day as well as largescale operations of the association. Board education presents board members with the knowledge to navigate the operations, from improving time management to understanding the minutiae of legal jargon. Some of these operations include:

  • Since monetary terms and procedures can be confusing, it’s important to have board members undergo training to increase financial intelligence. From budgets to assessments to insurance, board members make various decisions pertaining to finance that affect the entire association. Being able to sensibly handle the finances of the association could prevent disastrous financials situations and ensure the budget is planned accordingly.
  • Risk Management. Educating board members on risk management is vital to avoiding potential legal issues. Knowing how to eliminate, mitigate, insure against, and/or budget for risks enables board members to protect themselves, the board, and the association from falling into legal complications. Board training also equips board members with the resources to assess problems and create solutions.
  • Board education provides the board of directors with the tools to effectively run meetings, as well as distinguish between the different types and know which one to call for which purpose. Understanding the requirements and limitations that encompass meetings, such as notices, meeting minutes, parliamentary procedure, actions taken in open versus executive sessions, and voting processes, allows meetings to be as efficient as possible. All board members are volunteers, and knowing how to manage time during meetings allows for board members to focus on other important aspects of their lives.
  • Considering the numerous vendors available to homeowners’ associations, it’s important that board members be capable of recognizing the reputable options. Being able to research, identify, and partner with the right vendors can save the association time, money, and even legal trouble, if the vendor is improperly insured. While some board members may believe that completing the work themselves or soliciting a volunteer from the neighborhood will save resources, if anything were to go wrong then the association is held liable.
  • Board training empowers board members in upholding the visual harmony of the community alongside maintaining the property values. In knowing how to apply the governing documents, board members can, if applicable, adopt violation enforcement policies for not only visual appeal but also safety reasons. Board education also helps board members either serve or appoint others to serve on the Architectural Control Committee, which functions as a tool to enforce the aesthetic standards of the association. Also, board members are tasked with maintaining the common areas, including the amenities, so staying educated on common area upkeep and safety measures remains a vital practice.

Lowering Liability:

In both fulfilling the responsibilities of helping homeowners and overseeing operations, board members can be held liable for their actions if not careful. Board education allows board members to mitigate this liability. If board members understand their responsibilities and the legal limitations that surround their role on the board of directors, they can take the necessary precautions to protect not only the board but the association as a whole. Educating board members encourages them to prevent potential mistakes, quickly solve any issues that arise, and diminish the chance of lawsuits.

Additionally, adequately trained board members can address and handle conflict before it escalates, and even navigate unprecedented occurrences, e.g., a global crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Without board education, board members would be considerably less prepared to handle these trying times. Educated board members were able to adapt to remote meetings, modify the budget to account for lost income, and follow CDC recommendations and government guidelines for operating amenities.

Board education also instructs board members on how to live up to their fiduciary duties, which include the duties of care, loyalty, and acting within the scope of authority. With this comes the responsibility of keeping sensitive data secure, which board education provides the measures to take in order to do so. Educating board members allows for the safety, security, and protection of homeowners. Furthermore, board training informs board members about how to remain in compliance with legally required accommodations, such as the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Topics to Consider

So, what specific topics should board education discuss? There’s a seemingly endless amount of ideas. From training in reading legal documents to understanding basic terms every board member should know to learning how budget for reserve funds, board training has a lot of ground to cover. Below are just a few examples of fundamental topics for board education.

Leadership: Board members serve as the leaders of the association and should act as such. Knowing how to communicate effectively with your fellow board members, homeowners, and vendors is crucial in making sure HOA business is conducted efficiently. It’s important to maintain transparency with homeowners in decisions that affect them. Additionally, being able deescalate conflict as well as listen to the ideas of others and value those contributions sets up your board for success. Also, recognizing different personality types and strengths on the board and utilizing those personality types and strengths to distribute responsibilities is key in maintaining efficiency. For example, if a board member works as an accountant, they would thrive in spearheading the creation of budget whereas another board member who has a passion for graphic design would excel in sending out communications to the community.

Ethics: Running the association honestly and fairly is an important aspect of running it effectively. If your board of directors practices trustworthy behavior, homeowners and vendors will notice and respect that. Enacting ethical behavior upholds your fiduciary duties, which is mandatory in serving as a board member. Learning about ethics allows you as a board member to ensure that your actions are made with the association’s best interest at heart and not only your own personal interest. Setting aside bias and keeping a level head makes sure that your board is acting just and fair in its day-to-day operations.

Risk Management: Board members make many legal decisions and must protect themselves and the association from potential repercussions. Being able to identify potential risks and either avoid, mitigate, or budget for them is important in keeping the community safe. Whether its deciding on insurance policies, setting up security measures, or installing safety equipment in amenities, knowing how to account for and potentially eliminate risks helps keep your board and association protected. For example, say there’s a broken swing in the association park. The first step would be to identify that as a risk, and then decide how to proceed. By removing and replacing the swing, you can eliminate the risk entirely.

Meetings and Elections: Conducting regular board meetings, calling special meetings, holding town hall meetings, and preparing for annual meetings are important tasks. Each meeting type has its own meeting requirements. For example, a board member needs to be able to recognize the minimum and maximum number of days allowed to properly notice a meeting, what details must be included on the formal notice sent to homeowners, and what mediums are acceptable to use to distribute the notice. If a meeting is not properly noticed, any decisions and actions taken in that meeting could be invalid. Additionally, there is certain information that must be discussed in an open session, such as imposing fines, while there is other information, such as enforcement actions taken against homeowner accounts, that must be discussed in executive session. Board members also need to learn about their terms and the elections that determine them. Knowing how often and what methods are acceptable for board elections is important in making sure the elections run smoothly and fairly.

Insurance: Researching and selecting the best insurance for the association is an important task. Board members should be able to determine what insurance is mandatory for the association to have in addition to deciding what recommended insurance is right for the association. In selecting insurance policies, board members should be aware of the cost and figure out the best course of action in paying for the policies. Does it make more sense for the association to go the route of premium financing or pay for the policy up front? Board members should take into account their association’s budget and financial health when answering this question.

Conflict Resolution: Sometimes conflict is inevitable, but it can be mitigated and solved with the right tools. Board members will not always agree on everything, so it’s important to be able to listen to all sides and reach a compromise without escalating the situation. If a tense situation does happen to arise, board members with conflict resolution skills can deescalate the situation quickly and effectively. Additionally, if a homeowner is involved in a dispute, conflict resolution can help avoid trouble. Knowing how to handle conflict is important in keeping board-board and board-homeowner relationships intact.

Governing Documents: Reading and amending the governing documents can seem intimidating, but understanding the language allows for an easier process. Every board member should be able to understand the governing documents that shape the association, so making sure everyone on that board has familiarized themselves with the language should be a top priority. Board members also need to know the extent of their authority in amending the documents, as well as the hierarchy of the documents. For example, board members should recognize that CC&Rs have a higher jurisdiction than the bylaws, but that state law is above both of them.

What Boardline Has to Offer

While training from your management is important in staying up-to-date with HOA law and best practices, supplemental training programs, like Boardline Academy, provide hands-on experience for board members that allows for your own pacing.

Along with the topics discussed in the above section, additional topics that Boardline covers include, but are not limited to:

  • The history of HOAs
    • It’s not only important but also fascinating to know the evolutions of homeowners’ associations. Seeing the growth of associations and how they continue to change allows you to better understand your own HOA.
  • The basics of HOAs
    • Learning the terminology and personnel involved in an HOA is important in understanding how it functions. Without this foundational knowledge of your association, you’d be lost in trying to navigate the more complex facets of HOAs.
  • Reading and amending governing documents
    • It’s crucial for incoming board members to know how to approach the governing documents. You can become a pro in just a short amount of time by familiarizing yourselves with key terms and the process involved in amending the documents.
  • How to approach lot improvement
    • Understanding your association’s design guidelines and ACC process allows for less confusion for both your board and homeowners. Making sure the lot improvement process is followed, and amended if necessary, can help homeowners avoid violations.
  • Collecting and modifying assessments
    • It’s important to understand how and what assessments are collected and what limitations are in place for your association. After all, assessments serve as the revenue that allows your association to perform necessary maintenance and provide amenities.
  • Handling the reserve funds
    • Making sure the reserve funds are building rather than diminishing is an important task. Knowing how to manage your association’s money will help ensure that major projects can be funded down the line and provide your association with a cushion in case any emergencies pop up.
  • And many more!

Boardline prides itself on its user-friendliness. The lessons feature instruction that’s both accessible and professional, with easily digestible language, captivating videos, downloadable reference guides, and interactive quizzes. Its online presence allows for remote learning that fosters an individualized experience and also encourages safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Boardline staff is always working on new modules for you, the board member, to utilize.

With six fully fleshed out courses at your disposal and at least five more underway, Boardline is here to prepare you for everything you need to know to bring your best to your board of directors. Boardline offers expertise from former community managers, learning management system specialists, attorneys, trained educators, and experienced video production staff to provide you a quality service at a competitive price.

Should It Be Mandatory?

There is debate about whether or not board training should be mandated. Some states have passed legislation to make board education mandatory while other states just highly encourage it. Even if your state has no current mandatory training program, every board member in your HOA should pursue board education. See it as not only a rite of passage to board membership, but also a continuing process during your term.

You may consider including board member training in your board’s Code of Conduct, if you have one. This way, incoming board members are given at least a foundational understanding of their responsibilities. However, board education shouldn’t just be a one-off occurrence. Education is most effective as a repetitive practice and refreshing yourself on topics will allow you to stay at the top of your board member game.

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