Read any of the major business publications or websites and you’re bound to find articles on the importance of delegating. It’s one of the most fundamental skills for a successful business owner to have. A simple Internet search finds scores of tips for CEOs and smaller entrepreneurs alike on how to delegate more effectively. Running an association isn’t quite like running a Fortune 500 company, but the concept of delegating tasks works just as well with a board of directors for a homeowners association as it does for a titan of industry or finance.
A Committed Effort
Boards of directors are small teams of volunteers with a lot of work to do. They often need help and that’s where delegating to a committee comes in. A committee is a group of volunteers that focus on a particular issue at hand. They are run as a mini-board, where a chair is elected, topics are discussed and minutes are reported. They take those minutes to the board. How many committees an association has and their responsibilities will vary from property to property, as will the committee size. Most commonly, the larger the association, the more the amount of committees the board will create. Ultimately, it’s the board’s responsibility to create the number and type of committees and help to define their purpose.
Once a board creates a committee and decides its mission, it's time for recruitment. According to Elaine Warga-Murray, managing partner of The Regency Management Group, LLC in Howell, that's when the board's selection process comes into play.
“Committees should be appointed by the board, even if volunteers are solicited,” Warga-Murray says. “The volunteers should be interviewed to identify their agenda and their willingness to participate in accordance with the intent of the committee. The entire community should know what each committee is doing and what they have accomplished. This helps other members understand how they participate and encourages members to want to be a part of a productive group.”
Strong, well-organized committees are a boon to a busy board and manager and offer residents an opportunity to get involved in their community. Aside from the usual suspects—budget, landscape and maintenance committees—committees can also include a communications committee that shares news and events with residents, nominating committee that interviews prospective residents and a neighborhood watch committee that makes sure the property stays safe and protected. While committees, by their nature, exist to assist the board, they also strive to optimize the community experience for all owners.
“A social committee is often important to foster a sense of inclusiveness and to offer various options for members to participate with like-minded neighbors,” Warga-Murray explains. “Examples [include] pet owner clubs, recreational activities – from yoga to walking groups—and event planning for trips and local venues [such as] community theater groups and choirs. Often, a social committee will also plan a few community events such as parties, dinners etc.”
According to Warga-Murray, one of the most important committees an association can have is a community standards committee. “Another important committee is a friendly covenants committee, that can do more than simply handle disputes over rules,” she says. “While enforcement is often the impression that owners have of a covenants committee, their most important function is to educate owners about compliance and to help make compliance easy to achieve. Covenants committees can also hold open meetings to hear from residents about rules that are in need of change or rules that simply cannot be enforced.”
Committees not only work to uphold community standards, they also strive set them through forming ad hoc committees, which are formed to solve community-specific problems and disband when said issue is resolved.
“Ad Hoc committees are great for interim assignments,” says Bonnie Bertan, president of Association Advisors, a property management company in Freehold. “A management company search committee is common. Decorating committees are great ad hoc committees—that is perfect for a lobby renovation or hallway project.”
We the Committee, People
Just as critical as it is to put the right people on the board of directors, it’s just as to have the right people on the right committee, although committee members are volunteers, not elected. So who makes for a great committee member?
“The best committee members are volunteers that are impartial and only motivated by the idea of making their community a better place to live,” Bertan says. “The personality of the individuals serving should be fair and reasonable. They should be confident in their inner voice so that they can bring positive ideas to the table, and should not be afraid of scrutiny, as it comes with the territory.”
While having a strong acumen and relevant experience in your committee topic is helpful, it isn't completely necessary—you don't have to exactly possess the keen financial insight of Suze Orman to be on the budget committee.
“Whatever the committee is charged with doing, let's say a budget for instance, if there are members on that committee who have backgrounds in finance or accounting, those are obvious good choices for a committee like that,” Scott Dalley, senior vice president at Access Property Management in Flemington, says. “But generally speaking, just someone who is well organized, prompt and has the desire to volunteer for the betterment of the community is a good candidate.” he says.
The size of the committee is extremely important to its success. “As committees get larger, just like any other governing body, they tend to be more unwieldy,” Dalley warns, “so I would say probably a committee of no more than five.” “It depends upon the scope of the assignment and what they are going to be doing. If it's a really big project, it's possible that you could need more, but generally speaking, five people is good. And there should always be an odd number so if you're voting on something you're not going to be dead-locked,” Dalley says.
Just like conflicts that can occur among board members and in board meetings, committees can find themselves in the midst of a conflict too. Let’s say that unit owner John Smith wants to serve on the grounds committee, yet he is the owner of the Amazing Smith Landscape Company. The landscaping committee’s job it is to present the board with new information on a landscape contractor. Is it a conflict of interest, or merely a benefit?
“It could be either, but first and foremost, disclosure is usually the first step in removing the conflict,” Dalley says. “It's a conflict of interest if the guy who owns the landscaping company doesn't disclose that he in fact has a landscaping company and, for instance, he's bidding for the contract for the association. Once he discloses that, isn't part of the voting process if his company is competing be awarded, and doesn't receive any special treatment, there is no conflict. If he's just on the committee and making a recommendation as a professional with no promise of any preferential treatment, that's perfectly fine,” Dalley assures.
If the board does not set boundaries for committees, a power struggle can ensue, in which there is a risk of them becoming counterproductive.
“One area that is always a challenge with committees is their sense that they are in charge of making decisions,” Warga-Murray says. “When a committee is formed, it should be clear what their charter is and what exactly the board expects from them. Another area that committees should steer away from is speaking to contractors. Management should be the liaison with all contractors and employees to avoid misunderstandings and conflicting directives. Only the Board can make decisions, and only managers should communicate those decisions to employees and contractors,” she says.
Committee members should stay in contact with each other and board members, as well as meet regularly, experts agree. Meeting frequency depends on the goal of the committee and the scope of its project. While maintenance and social committees tend to meet weekly, finance and welcoming committee members gather less frequently. However, regardless of the sporadicity of committee meetings, members should always keep the board updated – even if only through a short, bi-weekly email—so its activities can be tracked and recorded by the board, and ultimately shared with the rest of the association, Warga-Murray says.
“Replacements are often recruited by the evidence of accomplishments of a committee,” Warga-Murray adds. “Therefore, the entire community should know what each committee is doing and what they have accomplished. This helps other members understand how they participate and encourages members to want to be a part of a productive group.”
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New Jersey Cooperator. Editorial Assistant Enjolie Esteve contributed to this article.