Avoid Board Burnout: Ease Your Workload and Keep Your Sanity
Is serving on the board of your community association taking over your life? Does managing your community feel a little overwhelming from time to time? Are you spending way too much time managing your community? You’re not alone. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen a major uptick in board burnout across the industry as a whole,” said Robert G. Smith, president of FirstService Residential, South Region. “As association board members face vocal residents, personal liability, unexpected emergencies (like the pandemic) and challenging decisions, many have become overwhelmed and frustrated and want to leave their volunteer positions.” He added, “This is particularly the case for board members who don’t have sufficient support in their role. Some start with an optimistic outlook, only to face unending to-do lists and unexpected responsibilities (that go beyond making policies and running meetings).”
“Board burden does not discriminate,” says Jake Howse, director of business development at FirstService Residential. “Whether it’s a community of 18 units or 1,800 units, a high-rise or a gated HOA community, board burden and burnout are real. I’ve met so many board members who say ‘We didn’t sign up for this. We want to set the vision, delegate tasks and enjoy our lives.’”
Beyond causing volunteer board members to become frustrated or quit, board burden and overload can cause significant problems for your community. “Things fall through the cracks, projects get dropped, maybe the insurance policy doesn’t get renewed,” Howse explains. “This can result in higher costs (if important maintenance projects are ignored) or even liability and legal penalties. None of that is good for the community as a whole. It doesn’t have to be that way, but a lot of people think they don’t have options, and this is just the way things are.”
What’s the best solution to alleviate board burden and prevent board burnout? Howse says that it always comes down to having the right management company – and more importantly, the right management model – in place. This is critical to alleviating stress for board members. “You can have the best management company in the world, but if you don’t invest in the right level of staff and service for your community, your load is never going to lighten,” he says. “You will always be stuck picking up the slack created by an inadequate service model.”
Donna Moffitt is the secretary at Condo on the Bay in Sarasota, Florida. In addition to serving on the board of her tower’s association, Moffitt is the secretary of the master association. She says that it was a big change to move to professional management after 30 years of self-management.
“Before we partnered with FirstService Residential, we really had to think about what company would be best suited to work with us, to do some of the tasks that we’d been doing, including hiring staff, contracting vendors, reviewing bids, overseeing maintenance and more. Prior to working with them, I put in at least 10 hours every week on board work, and I know our president put in a lot more than that.” It was more than they had anticipated and was impacting their quality of life.
What does it take to lessen those hours and lighten your load? Once you’ve partnered with the right property management company, the two biggest elements to preventing board burnout and making your job easier involve building trust in the property management company you selected, and clarifying your roles (who will own what). But how does that happen?
Alleviate board burden by building trust with your management partner
If you’re currently self-managed, choosing to partner with a professional property management company is a big step – but one that will help alleviate board burden. Even if you already work with a management company, successful boards should not be burdened by day-to-day tasks; their management partners should oversee vendors, take calls and handle maintenance projects, while relying on the board to make major decisions and direct policies. Boards eager to share the burden of running their communities may have a hard time letting go because they’ve been doing the work for so long; however, with a transparent management partner, you can work together to accomplish great things in your association.
“It’s quite a journey for a community to transition to professional management or even to another management company,” says Edwin Lugo, vice president of property management at FirstService Residential. “Boards feel confident they’re making the right decision when a management company has a good reputation and provides references from board members who can confirm that we can take on the hard stuff so they can live more relaxed, better lives. Our boards find the change is absolutely worth it.”
That trust helps board members let go of worrying about the day-to-day work of running their communities. “They want to be very involved, sometimes too involved, at the beginning. Many are leaving a management company that didn’t deliver, one they were not happy with, and they had to be very involved to pick up the slack,” Lugo says.
“FirstService Residential was the most transparent of the companies we interviewed, more the style we were looking for,” Moffitt said. “Their honesty and transparency won me over immediately.”
Moffitt said that having a professional manager has taken a lot off of the board’s plate in just a short time. “My stress level is definitely lower. It’s always going to be a process because things are always changing, but we know that progress is being made,” she says. A quality management company will provide its board members with regular updates on work being done, lightening their concerns that things might fall through the cracks. Weekly updates from your manager are a good place to start.
Conversely, Lugo said the boards he’s found hardest to win over have been let down by other management companies. “When a board entrusts their community to a management company, they’ve bought into promises made. When that management company doesn’t live up to its promises, it’s harmful,” he explains. “Broken promises damage the relationship between the board and current management as well as any future property management partner.”
Prevent board burnout by clarifying board and management roles
Beyond simply partnering with a capable management partner, it’s important to understand your role as a board member and avoid taking on too much responsibility. In communities that are self-managed or under-managed, it’s common to see murkiness around the roles and responsibilities of the property manager and the board. If the board has to be involved in the granular business of managing the community, that kind of confusion is to be expected. But clarifying those roles can go a long way toward alleviating burden and stress for board members.
As a board member, your most important responsibility involves setting the vision for your community association. That means creating policies and making decisions with the big picture in mind. Providing leadership and inspiration to your residents is a big job and a serious commitment, so ensuring that you aren’t taking on multiple responsibilities outside of your role is key. Of course, to help accomplish those big-picture goals, board members need to understand their governing documents and set clear expectations and priorities for the management team.
What’s your management partner’s role? Your property management team executes your vision, enforces policy you create and handles the day-to-day business of operating your community. They take the emergency phone calls and handle problems, so you don’t have to. Their job is to communicate clearly and responsively with community residents as well as the board.
A quality property management partner will also help your community make the most of its budget, leveraging buying power and vendor relationships for greater value and savings. They will have the expertise to help your board anticipate and plan for issues that may arise – rather than react to them when they do. “At the beginning of the year, we ask board members the top 3 things they want to accomplish this year, then we create a business plan and an annual budget that covers community, financials and other areas of the property,” Lugo explains.
How do I avoid board burnout?
Make no mistake, volunteering to serve on your community association board is a generous use of your time and resources. Board service requires dedication and commitment, but it should also be manageable. By partnering with a property management company that will take on the daily work of running your community and by focusing on your vision and big-picture goals, you’ll be able to accomplish great things in your community and enjoy it even more.
Watch the full video!
Becoming an association board member can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Watch our video to learn more about the role you’re stepping into.