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Getting the Facts How Are Board Members Trained?

 Congratulations. You have been chosen to help lead your community on a small  governing body that will determine the major policy decisions affecting  everyone who lives in your community. From finances to rules enforcement to  selection of personnel and services, your voice will be a major factor in the  way things are done. Although an unpaid office, being on the board of a  community association can be a position of esteem, responsibility and  leadership. Are you ready for this?  

 Step One: Do Your Homework

 If you are feeling a bit unprepared for what lies ahead, you have just stepped  into a pool that includes a vast majority of people who have never served on a  community association board. It’s likely that Co-op/Condo Board Fundamentals was left out of the curriculum at  most high schools.  

 Although the three “R’s” do not include “Rules,” as in community association governing documents, there are ways to get up to  speed on your new responsibilities—including what they are and what they aren’t.  

 The first step is to return to the governing documents themselves. You should  have received them upon buying into the community, and even if you gave them  the once-over back then, it is imperative that you read them again.  

 Exactly, just what do board members need to know? They need to have a firm grasp  of the basics, says Lori E. Burger, CPM, PCAM, CCAM, CAM, who is the senior  vice president of California-based Eugene Burger Management Corp.  

 Here is a good primer of their duties: an understanding of the governing  documents which govern the association; a general understanding of the laws  which impact the governance of the association; an understanding of  parliamentary procedures including how to conduct and plan a board meeting;  conflict resolution; how to prepare minutes and their importance; the roles of  association officers; the ability to read financial statements and reserve  studies; the ability to read a budget and understand what variance from the  budget really means; the ability to instill a sense of community and being able  to keep personal agendas aside from corporate decisions; an understanding how  to make the best use of committees; an understanding the relationship between  the management firm and the board and how to foster a good working  relationship; learning the rights and responsibilities of the unit owner and  that of the board; and skills relating to collections, landscaping, roofing,  taxes, and accounting, asphalt and concrete, contracting, painting, pest control, or whatever.  

 “All of these skills at one time or another come into play,” states Burger. “I am just waiting for bedbug problems to hit HOAs...fun, fun,” she says with a laugh.  

 Both the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) offer many training options from  coursework to webinars. One avenue to try is an online CAI series called “Board Member Basics,” a program to provide training for members of common-interest communities. The  information in this program is ideal for current association board and  committee members, those who aspire to community leadership positions and  residents who want to understand how associations can and should function.  

 By studying the elements of this program, you will get the information, guidance  and perspective you need to help create and maintain the kind of community  people want to call home. Once you’ve gone through the basics, your local chapter is a good place to start on  gaining some fundamental knowledge.  

 The “Essentials of Community Association Volunteer Leadership” program, formally called “The ABCs” is an excellent refresher course for professionals and experienced volunteers  and provides students with comprehensive information about association  communications, community-building policies, and association problem-solving  skills, according to CAI. For more information on how to register for an  upcoming Essentials course, contact your local CAI chapter. The New England  chapter of CAI (CAI-NE) represents membership in Massachusetts, Rhode Island,  Vermont and Maine. Claudette Carini is its executive director, and Beth Tramontozzi is the 2011 president. New Hampshire has a separate CAI chapter  managed by executive director Cassandra Vorisek-Creto and presided over by  Jeffrey Robinson, CMCA, for 2011.  

 Connecticut has formed its own chapter (CAI-CT) as well, headed by executive  director Kim McClain. The 2011 president is N. Lynne McCarron, AMS.  

 McClain said CAI stresses “best practices” in its training curriculum. “Key skills involve communication and leadership development. Healthy associations typically have board members who are well-informed, e.g.  attend education programs and keep the channels of communication as open as  possible. They also seek to develop a network of volunteers and future board members,” she says.  

 Step Two: In-House Training

 The next step is to contact the property’s management company to find out if they have any training materials or  protocols for interacting with the board as a whole. This will also open a line  of communication and may serve as an introduction to the organization that will  be carrying out the day-to-day operations of the board’s decisions.  

 One of the reasons that you may find a lack of resources on how to be trained  for board service is that each particular community has its own particular way  of governing itself. The only way to know the details for sure is to consult  the paperwork, and as a new authority and administrator, it will behoove you to  have solid, first-hand knowledge of what they say.  

 “Each set of governing documents is different,” says Curt Macysyn, who is the executive vice president of the Community  Associations Institute (CAI) chapter in New Jersey, “so there might be additional responsibilities. Each board operates in a manner  that is tailored to its community. For example, some boards may have a liaison  to the local government, while others may not.”  

 Many property management companies in New England offer training as a  value-added service for the communities that they represent. One New York  City-based accountant and management consultant even suggests implementing a  training or procedures manual. “If your board doesn't have a procedures manual, it would be a worthwhile  investment to create one,” says Mindy Eisenberg Stark, CPA, CFE. “Board member training should also be considered as a way to reduce time spent at  board meetings and avoid reinventing the wheel every time there is a changeover  on the board. Many boards discuss the same issues year in and year out with no  resolution, or new members of the board revisit old issues time and again.”  

 Stark says that most board members are professionals in their own fields, but  many don’t know the first thing about running a large residential building or  development. This is where a manager can come in to orient new trustees,  refresh veteran board members and even offer training to help the board as a  whole become more cohesive and knowledgeable. By training trustees and keeping  track of a building community’s institutional memory, managers enable boards to move forward without  perpetually rehashing the same handful of issues.  

 Step Three: Be Responsible

 The next step is to attend board meetings, and begin interacting with other  board members in a way that will allow you to glean insights into board  operations.  

 “The benefits are endless,” says Burger. “When a board understands thegoverning documents, financial and state law,  governance and conflict resolution and how to interact with their management  company, there is a better working relationship and far greater performance of  the management company, there is owner satisfaction as well as vendor  productivity. Additionally, serving on the board gives greater pleasure and less frustration  and confusion.”  

 Newer board members also have the ability to see things differently, experts  say. Fresh eyes are also better able to see gaps in communication and perhaps  offer new solutions to old problems.  

 Educational Opportunities

 Fortunately, there are several options available for people who wish to further  their knowledge of community association government, and continuing education  will strengthen any board. Burger says that groups such as IREM and CAI will  help.  

 “It's just a plain fact,” says Burger. “If you are going to serve on a board you need to further your education. There  are great resources online, whether through the state or other organizations. Sites like: IREM.org, HOAmanagement.com, caionline.org, caine.org, or caict.org,  are useful, as well as offering courses or information from each individual  state. IREM’s Boston chapter represents Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont  and Maine. However, they have also formed separate IREM chapters in the region  (IREM Connecticut Chapter 51 and IREM Greater Rhode Island Chapter 88.)  Non-management professionals—including HOA board members—can join IREM as “associate members,” which gives them access to the same curriculum offered to managers looking to  gain professional credentials.  

 CAI also offers a variety of courses that address many areas of interest and  levels of experience. These include: Level 1: Primer, an introduction to community associations; Level 2:  Fundamentals, which covers basic operations and practical needs; Level 3:  Essentials, which is designed to strengthen leadership skills and general  knowledge; and Level 4: Selected Topics in Community Association Leadership,  which provides in-depth study for people who wish to master certain community  association skills, including building a community, conflict resolution and  deed restrictions.  

 McClain noted that CAI-CT offers its “ABCs: A Basic Course for Association Operations” several times throughout the year and in different locations throughout the  state. This program provides the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals  and network with peers from a variety of associations, she says. “These types of interactions help to reduce the reinventing of wheels for many  associations,” McClain adds.  

 “We also provide other training programs including multiple sessions at our  annual conference, members only workshops and key issues seminars. Our national  organization provides a plethora of options for webinars and an excellent free  online course entitled "Board Member Basics." Also, a multitude of printed materials are available through national CAI in the  form of guidebooks, pamphlets, news articles for reprint in association  newsletters and more. Details about all these resources can be found on the CAI  website: www.caict.org and on the national CAI website: www.caionline.org. There are many resources available for conscientious boards members.”  

 And don’t forget about trade shows. Most professional organizations have them complete  with exhibitors, informative seminars, and opportunities to network with the  trade professionals and board decision-makers in the condominium community. The  New England Condominium sponsored its third New England Condo Expo in May at  Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center, and is looking forward to its next  information-packed event on May 22, 2012. IREM’s Fall Leadership Conference is set for October 11-15, 2011 in San Diego,  California.  

 Some states like Florida and Nevada require board member training and the  association would pay for board member attendance, Burger says. Some management  companies also provide training at no cost.  

 Online Resources

 Remember to go online for more resources as well. The CAI and IREM websites are  a good place to start. The CAI bookstore contains a complete library of titles  that pertain to living in an association. One topic of frequent debate is the  enforcement of rules. People move to communities for a variety of reasons, and  often what attracts them is the list of laws governing conduct. Noise  complaints are a common issue in some communities, and when tempers flare, the  board becomes a sounding board, as residents vent their frustrations to the  governing authority. CAI has many guidebooks, including Be Reasonable, which  covers various aspects of rules enforcement.  

 Board members must also keep up to speed on new developments, says McClain, and  CAI is there to help. “Association governance is a very dynamic process. Laws are being changed, in particular new amendments to the Common Interest  Ownership Act passed by the Connecticut General Assembly on June 8, 2011. New products and technologies are continually changing. It is imperative that those associations aspiring towards best practices ensure  that they stay informed. A high level of commitment to best practices should ultimately lead to fewer  problems with the management and governance of a thriving community.”  

 Advice from the Professionals

 Keeping things in perspective is one of the best ways to make sure that the  responsibility of being on a board does not become overwhelming. As for the  best way to train to serve on a board, “There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” says Macysyn. “Everybody runs for the board for a different reason, but there are areas where  at least understanding and following other people’s experiences will help along the way. The best teacher is experience, so the  longer that you sit on the board and the more materials that you read, the  better you will be at serving the community.”      

 Denton Tarver is a New York City-based freelance writer. Editorial Assistant  David Chiu contributed to this article.  

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