Overcoming Apathy Getting Residents Interested in Board Service

While residents generally like the idea of community that living in a condominium or co-op provides (that’s why many opt for this type of ownership), few are as excited about the idea of serving on their community’s governing board, or on any of the various committees their board may set up to oversee special projects. As important as long-term supervision of many specific aspects of community life may be, it’s often very difficult to find volunteers willing to do their part. Among the factors that influence volunteering for board service are the time commitment (real or perceived), discomfort with potentially being the focus of resident anger and antipathy, and plain old apathy.

On the other hand, for those who overcome those obstacles and hesitations, board service can provide a feeling of accomplishment, a level of prestige within the community, and a way to have a personal hand in maintaining the security and safety of what is likely their biggest financial investment.

The Value of Time

Board service is completely voluntary, and the most common reason both co-op shareholders and condominium owners cite for not volunteering is lack of time. It’s not hard to understand why this is; board and resident meetings are generally held in the evening, and while those meetings could (and should) be run in a quick, efficient way and be done within an hour or so, they very often run longer—sometimes much longer. Most residents work long hours and aren’t especially keen to add multiple additional hours to the end of their day. Additionally, board members who agree to serve as an officer—president or treasurer, for example—often have to allocate additional time during their otherwise busy days for conversations with management agents about everything from ongoing conflicts between neighbors to the date of the next virtual social event. If the manager needs authorization for something major, it may require immediate attention. That can’t wait for one meeting once a month.

Ray is a board member of a mid-sized cooperative building in upper Manhattan. He has served on the board of his building for several years and says that “the major challenge to board service is the perception of how much time board members must give to service on a board. In a mid-size building, though, people are invested. Many of them are willing to make a time investment. Sometimes, whether we are talking about full board service or serving on a committee, we have to think about how to present it. We have a private community garden in the rear of our building. We don’t have a gardener. Admittedly, it’s hard to get people to manage and maintain the garden on a long-term commitment, but easy to get people to participate for a day. So, we ask for volunteers on a day basis. We try to assign things in ways that people will feel they have the time.”

Roberta is a long-time resident of a 96-unit townhouse-style complex of condominiums in suburban Boston. She has lived there for nearly 30 years and has served on the board for 26 of those years, some of them as treasurer. She agrees that time constraints are the biggest impediment to board or committee service for most owners. “They don’t want to make a commitment they can’t keep,” she says. “We are a mixed-age community. Most people work—even our older residents. They’re concerned that they will not be able to keep up with their board service commitment. Many residents have jobs where they travel, which can interfere with board meetings. That’s changing a little now, since we meet via Zoom. There’s also a hesitation on the part of people with children, which is understandable, but in the end, it cuts down on the number of people who can volunteer.”


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