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Residential Real Estate
Sep 21, 2021

Heading Back To Class: The Importance Of Board Member Education

Sponsored Content provided by Mike Stonestreet - Founder, CAMS (Community Association Management Services)

There’s no doubt that Board members are well-educated people who have spent years devoted to their various professions. And most likely, the education you received specifically prepared you for whatever career path you chose. But, now you’re on your HOA’s board and perhaps finding you don’t know everything about your role as a volunteer community leader. So, what should you do? Time to get a new notebook and some fresh pencils (or more likely a laptop) and head to class!

Community association management companies like CAMS offer an array of educational opportunities for board members, each presented by industry experts and focused on specific topics that will teach you everything you need to know to serve a successful term on your community’s board. 

Topic: Association Funds

Understanding how to properly maintain your community’s finances is critical to the health of the association. Board members must plan and approve annual budgets, approve expenditures, determine assessments, and maintain reserve accounts, just to name a few important financial responsibilities. And, unless you’re a banker or a CPA, you probably don’t know how to do this without proper training.

Attending educational events on these topics will explain why these things are important, show you how to properly execute these tasks, and help you learn about the consequences of not paying attention to them. A good class, webinar, or seminar will feature experts in these fields, provide board members with thorough explanations of each of these financial matters, and help you rest easy that you know what you’re doing when it comes to caring for the association’s finances.

Topic: Handling Architectural Requests

ARC issues are one of the most common reasons community associations end up being taken to court. Problems with ARC requests can stem from the vague language in the governing documents, arbitrary enforcement, the board overstepping its authority, or if a member feels they’ve been singled out with their denial. Attorneys who are well-versed in community associations have a lot of experience in this area and can not only explain what boards should and should not do when faced with ARC disagreements but also provide real-life examples of things they’ve faced in court. Being armed with this information will help prepare your board for the next time a questionable ARC request comes in.

Topic: Meetings

Throughout 2020 and 2021, meetings became a rather confusing topic due to the sudden need for primarily virtual meetings. Board member education on this topic is critical not only to ensure that state laws are being followed but also to ensure that the provisions within the governing documents are being adhered to. However, it goes a step further than that.

If your board has never held a virtual meeting, where do you begin? What if you don’t know how to use Zoom? Educational opportunities to learn about technology options, how to use them, and best practices for conducting remote meetings will ensure that your board is still productively conducting the association’s business in the absence of in-person meetings.

But what about regular meetings? Education is important here too. If you don’t know about proper meeting procedures, both board and membership meetings can easily get out of hand and turn into a free-for-all of people talking over each other, not showing up on time, and having separate conversations. Robert’s Rules of Order, considered to be the “bible” of proper meeting order (often called parliamentary procedure), is a great resource for board members to learn how to conduct efficient meetings which will allow the business at hand to be addressed quickly and appropriately as well as give tips on taking meeting minutes.

Topic: Legal Issues

The last thing you want is to end up being summoned to court over a decision you’ve made as a board member, especially if it’s something you had no idea would be considered wrong. Webinars presented by experienced attorneys will provide you with valuable information based on real-life examples of what board members should and shouldn’t do.

These can include inadvertent FHA and ADA violations, communication mistakes, failure to consult outside experts, and breaches of fiduciary duties. Knowing how to protect both the association and yourselves as board members from litigation is key to maintaining a healthy, well-run association. Taking the opportunity to learn about the various areas in which board members can find themselves in trouble as well as learning about ways to avoid such situations will allow you to be confident in your role as a volunteer community leader.

Topic: Communications

You may be thinking “Communications? What does it matter if I email someone or make a Facebook post?”. Well, sometimes it’s a big deal for board members. One of the important things board members must remember is that they can only act as a group and that no single board member speaks for the board as a whole. And, even if you have a conversation with someone with no intention of representing the entire board, it sure could come off that way and lead to a world of trouble.

What if you just tell one neighbor about a motion the board is considering? That’s a big no-no too. Sharing confidential board information with members can cause trouble, especially if your neighbor tells three other neighbors and the information gets misconstrued along the way.

Another sensitive communication area is, of course, social media. If you view or attend a seminar on this topic, attorneys will almost always advise that the board never maintain a social media page for the association. This can lead to back-and-forth argumentative posts, nasty comments, and members going against the board. What if someone in your community has started their own page for the community? Though there isn’t much you can do about that, you’ll learn in an educational session how to handle posts on those types of pages as well.

Further, you’ll learn the importance of written communications, how they should be sent, what they should and shouldn’t say, how to abide by laws regarding when you send them, timelines for responses, things like that.

Topic: Fiduciary Duties & The Business Judgement Rule
As a board member, you’re called to act reasonably, use good business judgment, and carry out your fiduciary duties. But to whom are these duties owed? What is the business judgment rule? If you can’t answer these questions, it may be time to head to class. Breaching fiduciary duties and acting unreasonably can encompass just about anything we’ve discussed above but it is important to have a general understanding of what this means and how to avoid it.

A big factor in ensuring you’re keeping your fiduciary duties and abiding by the business judgment rule is avoiding conflicts of interest. What could be a conflict of interest? An example would be hiring your son-in-law’s landscaping company to handle the common areas of the community without telling anyone that he’s your son-in-law. If someone found out, you can be accused of having a conflict of interest, not getting proper bids, or agreeing to pay him an overly inflated price.

Fiduciary duties largely surround the fact that as a board member you’re being entrusted with other people’s money, so you have an obligation to handle and spend that money appropriately and in the best interest of the association. If you fail to do this, you could be heading to court, and you probably would rather not do that, right? Educating yourself on fiduciary duties, the business judgment rule, and what happens when these things are not done will help you be the best board member you can be. 

This, of course, is just an overview of the topics you may encounter when pursuing education as a board member. However, it’s great to know that there are resources and support systems out there specifically intended to assist you in navigating your role as a community leader. With all the educational opportunities offered to board members, you, alongside your fellow directors, will come out feeling like you’re the experts, ready to tackle your duties and care for your community. 

CAMS offers a variety of educational opportunities for our board members - monthly “Ask the Experts” webinars, CAMS Connects Portal Training, Board 101 Seminars, a Board Member Toolbox, a blog, case studies, and much more. All of these are free to our board members and regularly announced so please join us, you won’t regret it! 

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.

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