How Can My Association Run Effective Board Meetings?
If you’re like most people, the word “meeting” conjures up less than positive feelings. But meetings are part of being on your community association board, so it’s in your best interest to make them as painless and easy as possible!
Your association is required to conduct regular meetings, but how regular those meetings are depends on your association’s governing documents, or Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
Donald Hucks is an executive director at FirstService Residential in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He explained that the number of meetings an association board must conduct isn’t a matter of state law, as it may be in other places. “There is no South Carolina law about a required number of meetings; that’s generally part of the master deed and bylaws. Some homeowner associations meet quarterly; some condominium associations meet monthly because there’s more going on in their buildings,” Hucks said. “Whether or not to meet may also be up to the board’s discretion. If nothing is going on, maybe a meeting isn’t necessary. The bylaws may say ‘May meet quarterly,’ which leaves some discretion. ‘Shall meet quarterly’ means you’re having a meeting!”
So you’re meeting – how can you make those meetings effective and efficient? Read on for some tips to make board meetings the best they can be!
1. Know who can attend and participate.
Hucks said that board meeting attendance is usually defined in the association’s CC&Rs. “We recommend that meetings be open,” he said. “There’s no reason for a board meeting not to be open to the general membership. We publicize them and sometimes no one comes; sometimes 20 people come. General association members are welcome to attend, but they may not disrupt the meeting; they need to request to be put on the agenda ahead of time. Don’t come to a meeting that’s already structured and think you’re going to disrupt it.”
As for sensitive issues like legal matters or violations, those can be handled via an executive session, which is closed to all but members of the board, and at which no minutes are taken.
2. Set an agenda and stick to it.
Unproductive board meetings create unproductive boards, so position your meeting for success by setting an agenda. Think of your agenda as a meeting road map – a valuable tool to keep participants on topic and facilitate a successful outcome. For optimal efficiency, it should include a strict format, such as roll call, minutes, reports, motions and voting, with ample time for discussion and questions.
Once the agenda is set, all board members should be provided with it and with any other information they need to be able to participate effectively in the meeting. “We like to have packets of information, including things like bid proposals, a week before the meeting,” Hucks said. “That gives the board members time to review all of the information and know how they want to vote when they walk into the meeting. If you, as the management team, present new information to them at the meeting, they need time to digest and understand it. That extends the meeting and a decision isn’t made. A good management team will have that information prepared and ready to go ahead of time to make the most of the meeting.”
How do you stick to your agenda once the meeting starts? “A lot of times, it really depends on the chair of the meeting. You need a strong chair or board president to keep the meeting on track,” Hucks said. “If you’re in a meeting for more than two hours, unless there’s a major project going on, you’re in an unproductive meeting. You shouldn’t be in a meeting for five hours.”
3. Make the most of your minutes.
Associations may vary in the way that they handle meeting minutes. Your association is required, by South Carolina law, to take minutes at all open board meetings and to provide those to the members of the association. Although the board secretary signs the minutes, after the board has voted to approve them, that secretary doesn’t necessarily have to take them during the meeting.
Hucks said his management teams include the community association manager (CAM) and an assistant CAM. The assistant CAM will take the minutes, leaving the manager free to discuss issues without distractions. Of course, the board secretary is always welcome to take them personally as well. “Our minutes meet the Community Associations Institute (CAI) guidelines for what should and shouldn’t be included. You do NOT want a word-for-word transcript of the meetings. Never put anything in the minutes that you don’t want on the front page of the morning paper.”
Even in the age of technology, Hucks said he doesn’t recommend recording meetings for later transcription into minutes. “I know some boards do it for accuracy, but it basically requires sitting through the meeting twice, and I don’t think that’s particularly efficient,” he said.
The board secretary is still legally responsible for the minutes, regardless of who takes them. The secretary must review them and make any additions, deletions or corrections. Even though the approval doesn’t happen until the next board meeting, Hucks recommends sending the draft out within a few days so that everyone can review them while the meeting is fresh in their minds.
4. Follow the rules of parliamentary procedure.
As its name implies, parliamentary procedure was introduced by the Parliaments of England in the sixteenth century – and if you’ve attended a board meeting lately, you know that it’s still widely utilized to facilitate meetings today. Parliamentary procedure establishes rules and methods for meeting discussions and debate, thereby maintaining order and allowing all participants to be heard.
While there are different types of parliamentary procedure, the most commonly used is Robert’s Rules of Order – a “how to” guide for conducting business in democratically elected organizations.
“Robert’s Rules of Order must be followed. Doing so helps give everyone a fair voice and a chance to speak,” Hucks explained. “At the end of the day, you may vote ‘yes,’ and someone else votes ‘no,’ but the majority rules.”
5. Maintain formality during meetings.
Even if you’re friendly with your fellow board members – and if you are, lucky you! – don’t lose sight of the fact that board meetings are business meetings, not social gatherings. When gossip, off-topic conversation and other distractions veer discussions away from association business, little gets accomplished, which ultimately wastes everyone’s time. In addition, an informal tone and setting can make it challenging for the board to resolve difficult or divisive issues. “Run the meeting like a business, make decisions. Time to socialize is after the meeting,” Hucks said.
Go formal. Choose a business-type setting as your venue. A community meeting room is ideal for this purpose. After you’ve accomplished all of your association business, you can socialize at the end.
As a volunteer board member, you know how critical your role is to serving your association’s needs and ensuring the smooth operations and continued viability of your community. Board meetings are a key part of this process, so it’s very important that they run as efficiently and successfully as possible. Following our board meeting basics will help keep your board on track!