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Condo Q & A

How to Get People to Serve on the Board

August 16, 1992|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | Hickenbottom is a past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization

QUESTION: I fear that no one in my condominium association will be willing to serve on the board of directors next year. About 15% of the units are owned by non-resident investors. Some owners are not physically capable of serving.

There is apathy on the part of some owners and hostility between "warring factions" eliminates others. Many who have previously served on the board are unwilling to subject themselves to the abuse of other owners. Board members are often the target of verbal complaints that should be submitted in writing or directed to the management company.

What happens if we are unable to find owners who are willing to serve on the board at our next annual election? We will be a rudderless ship with no one to supervise the management company, plan the budget or oversee the finances. It is a rather frightening situation.

Do you know of other condominiums that have faced this problem? What have they done? Can you make any suggestions?

ANSWER: Yes, this dilemma is common and many board members share your concern. They are afraid that if they do not serve on the board, no one else will. Sometimes they fear that new board members will not care as deeply or devote as much time to their voluntary commitment.

In some cases, these fears are unfounded, and if the "old guard" steps down, new faces will fill in the gaps. It is best for the association if the new board members have some prior knowledge of how the association has been operating and the policies and procedures that have been successful in the past. Neophytes should read the board meeting minutes from the previous year if they haven't been an active participant.

In some associations apathy is so bad that it is difficult to find people who will agree to serve. Where apathy is the problem, one-to-one contact is often required to get a quorum at the election. In this type of situation, a nominating committee should be formed. The committee members may have to go door-to-door to engender interest and find people who are wiling to serve.

Apathy is very detrimental to an association. Owners find themselves faced with just electing any "warm body" who is willing to serve, not necessarily the best man or woman for the job. In an apathetic community association, a dictator or a person with the wrong kind of hidden agenda can often gain control. Once they have the power, it is almost impossible to get them out of office if the apathy continues.

Another problem that you have cited is the "us against them" syndrome. In some associations, no matter who is elected to the board, others will go around complaining, criticizing and stirring up trouble. These troublemakers are usually the ones who refuse to run for the board, but as soon as the election is over, they become experts who have all the answers. They sometimes seem jealous of the board members and they are critical of the board's efforts at every opportunity. Someone needs to say, "Wake up! We're all on the same team here!"

Criticism will surely stifle participation. I have seen shameful examples of unfair criticism and personal vendettas in some associations. Warring factions will definitely scare everyone from serving on the board in the future. Nothing could be more unhealthy for an association.

If your association is experiencing any or all of these problems, here are some suggestions:

1--Put out a newsletter. Positive communication is a good way to boost everyone's pride in their association. A board of directors that communicates builds trust and confidence. Tell about the positive things that are happening. Don't make it like board propaganda and don't fill it with cutesy gossip and recipes. Announce the next board meeting date and location and encourage everyone to attend.

2--Plan a social event. Be creative and plan something that will appeal to a majority of the owners. Always invite renters, too. If your association does not have a large enough place for a social function, plan a trip to a baseball game or an outdoor concert or a picnic at a nearby park. Publicize the event in the newsletter before it happens and then report on it in the next issue afterwards. Even if the first event is not very successful, plan another one in three or four months.

3--Send out a survey to all owners. Find out what they like about their association and what they don't like. Ask for their suggestions for improvement. When owners feel that the board cares about what they think, they will tend to support the board and may even decide to participate more.

4--Before the next annual meeting, organize a few people who are willing to go knocking on doors to encourage participation, gather proxies and search for the owners who will be good board members or committee members in the future. Some people are too shy or too busy to volunteer unless they receive a personal invitation. Some will respond if they realize that they are really needed.

5--At the next annual meeting, recognize all of the board members and others who have volunteered their time. Publicly thank them, put a red ribbon on their name tag and present them with a rose or small memento. These volunteers need positive reinforcement and recognition. Participation is encouraged when volunteers are valued and publicly praised.

6--If a quorum for your annual meeting looks doubtful, announce that there will be door prizes and refreshments. Send out a reminder notice just a few days before the meeting. Encourage people to come early so that voter registration is well-organized and efficient. Have a greeter at the door who will make everyone feel welcome. Name tags are a good way for people to get acquainted. If the annual meeting is a positive experience, people will want to participate and attend future meetings.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful. Perhaps readers will send us other ideas that have been successful for their associations.

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