In early 2022, CINC conducted a survey of community managers, management company executives, and board members throughout the country, with the goal of determining the State of the Community Association Management Industry. The feedback and responses indicated several common goals shared by community association trustees, such as rising concerns about maintaining business continuity throughout board member turnover.
Few, if any, homeowners who join their community’s board of directors expect to remain on that board forever. Whether they’re intending to sell their home in a few years or plan to spend their upcoming retirement traveling the world, board members anticipate the conclusion of their volunteering days.
What even fewer board members plan for is how their absence will impact the remaining board and future board members, let alone the community as a whole. Business continuity is not the first thing on their mind.
Same Song, Different Verse
Similar to the sweeping deferred maintenance problems hitting condo associations across the country, deferred decisions are impacting those same communities in a different way. The mentality of, “the next board can handle this instead” creates a cycle where “the next board” is always left holding the bag, and at a certain point, they don’t even know what that bag they’ve taken hold of contains.
Responsibilities and objectives are relatively straightforward (hire vendors, don’t blow all the money, don’t let the community go bankrupt, easy peasy), but the execution of those objectives loses a lot of clarity the longer information is passed down without intention or direction. Verbal directions handed down from Treasurer to Treasurer, passwords scribbled down on coffee-stained napkins, digital copies of insurance information buried in obscure, indeterminate file folders–all of it adds up to a massive amount of confusion and misunderstanding somewhere not so far down the line. And it’s always “the next board” who has been tasked with righting the wrong.
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Actionable Preparation for Board Member Turnover
Taking just a few necessary steps and building a business continuity plan for your community can be the biggest difference between streamlined success and mad scrambling in the face of a crisis. Here are some key objectives to consider when starting your that planning process:
- Strategize for the unexpected loss of knowledge. Term limitations and elections are all well and good, but not all situations are predictable. Volunteer-based work means that at any time, someone can simply decide to vacate the post. Maybe they suddenly choose to sell their home and travel the country in an RV, or they snag a fancy new job ten states away. And of course, there’s always the possibility of more tragic, health-related situations. In any event, it’s important to be aware of siloed information, aka the kind of knowledge that someone has because they were either the only person trained, or they’ve simply been around so long they know the right tricks. This exists everywhere–in every business, in every industry, in every home, even. And really, the first step in this process is recognizing that. Once you’ve started to peel back the layers of knowledge and determine what information lives where, you can begin the process of allocating all of it and getting it into the hands of the board as a whole rather than the board member at the time.
- Document everything, then document it again.This isn’t an exaggeration, or a task designed to shock you. It’s just a reality for many associations that they need to be documenting and appropriately saving those documents as much as possible. And it is this way in large part because of the previous recommendation: siloed information. But that info isn’t all you need to worry about. From generic responsibility matrices for board members and funds, to “steps of service” as it were for tasks like elections, vendor bid aggregation, payment schedules, and more. Then once all of that has been documented and saved, ensuring that it is correctly saved somewhere accessible to all board members, and can be found with little hassle (which of course, means more documentation) will make all the difference. Using a community association management tool to help organize and maintain those documents, and help keep them available to everyone, is a great way to simplify this step without compromising on functionality.
- Create a plan for the interim. Awareness of the problems caused by board member turnover is half of the battle in addressing those problems. Even though it will seem insurmountable at first (especially if you’re new to the board and thus far, no planning or organizing has been started or well-maintained), it is completely achievable to want to fix those problems in your term as a community trustee. Part of that plan is establishing a different plan–one that kicks in in the event of a sudden, unexpected absence. Beyond accounting for their siloed knowledge, it’s important to have a plan of action for any of their ongoing responsibilities, and potentially have a curated list of residents who have expressed interest in joining the board, just to have a pool of people to approach when talks of replacement begin. While many governing documents will have some of this information, ensuring that it exists is important, and enhancing it as needed might be necessary.
Bottom Line: Planning is Key.
At the end of it all, the common thread is simply to have a plan. Any plan–any decisions made in advance, any knowledge stored with intention, any kind of structure in place. There is a lot riding on a board of directors in a community association, and staying aware and informed can make all the difference.