One of the most important aspects of being on the board of your community association, aside from carrying out the business functions of the association, is adhering to a set of ethical standards. As a board member, you are entrusted with the overall care of the association and are always called to act reasonably and use good faith judgement. While terms like "reasonably" and "good faith judgement" can be subjective, if board members have a set of ethical standards to which they hold themselves, making decisions and maintaining harmony within the community will be easier tasks.
Coming Up with a List of Ethical Standards
So, where should board members find a set of ethical standards? Of course there are ethics in the general sense that we all think about - The Golden Rule, for example - but when you're a volunteer leader in your community, having a specific set of ethical standards that you and your fellow board members agree to use when making decisions and taking actions will allow you to rest easy that you're doing the right thing and keeping the community's best interest in mind at all times.
The Community Associations Institute (CAI) has a set of ethical standards to which its members should adhere. These standards have been carefully crafted by experienced industry professionals and are put forth to guide you through your tenure as a board member.
Some of the provisions set forth in CAI’s code of ethics dictate that board members should:
Dealing with Conflict and Doing the Right Thing
- Always serve in the best interest of the association regardless of personal interests
- Act within the boundaries of their scope of authority as laid out by state and federal laws as well as governing documents
- Perform duties without bias for or against any person or group of people
- Represent only known facts in association business issues
- Refrain from personal attacks, threats, or harassment with colleagues, staff, and members
- Conduct open, fair, and well-publicized elections
- Keep confidential any information disclosed in closed board meetings or meetings held in executive session unless this information is subpoenaed
- Provide residents opportunities to attend meetings and comment on association decisions
- Use sound judgement and always make the best possible decisions for the association, taking all available information into consideration
- Always present a united front, supporting all adopted board decisions even if one or more members disagreed
- Disclose personal or professional relationships with anyone who seeks to have a business relationship with the association
Just as in other areas of life, the difference between right and wrong isn't always crystal clear - there's usually what is often called a "gray area". And, your idea of right or wrong may differ from that of your neighbor or fellow board member. It is important to remember that people come from different backgrounds and have had different life experiences and that those things have shaped each person's ideologies. However, by and large, people seek to do the right thing - it's how they arrive at the right thing that may cause friction.
When there is conflict, and there will be at times, it is important to address it properly, remain calm, and allow each board member to express their thoughts. If the conflict continues, especially when it centers around provisions of governing documents or even perhaps poor conduct of a specific board member, it's best to consult your association's attorney. Making missteps in these situations can invite litigation
and that is something that should be avoided at all cost.
Though making association decisions is paramount and requires the consideration of many facts, when it comes to board ethics, there's also something to be said about that "gut feeling". If you're considering an action that makes you question your ethical standards, think to yourself "Should I or shouldn't I do this?". If you have even a twinge of doubt, you probably have your answer.
Like we said in the beginning, CAI has a great standard of ethics which can serve as a guideline for boards. Some boards have even gone a step beyond that and created their own set of ethical standards - if you're interested in doing something like this, speak to your attorney to find out more.
At the end of the day, most people are trying to do the right thing. However, if board members commit to working as a team and remaining ethical, their time serving their communities will be more effective and result in a satisfied membership that trusts their leaders.
CAMS has a code of ethics available to our board members that can be found in your board portal under documents. You can also visit your Board Member Toolbox
for access to additional board member resources.
Is your community getting the trusted guidance it deserves? If not, maybe it’s time to make a change. Reach out to CAMS today at 888.798.2624 or via our website to learn more.
Mike Stonestreet, CMCA, PCAM, AMS, is Founder/Co-Owner of CAMS (Community Association Management Services). CAMS began in 1991 with Stonestreet and a few employees in a small office in Wilmington but has since grown to over 300 employees serving eight regions across North and South Carolina.
His current role at CAMS focuses on mergers and acquisitions, culture alignment and high-level business relationships. Stonestreet is an active member of the NC Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and has spent time on their board of directors, serving as the chapter President in 2019.