Board Member Roles: What Does My Title Mean?
“What does our association’s vice president really do?”
“I’m the secretary; can I lead a board meeting?”
“How skilled at financials does our treasurer need to be?”
Whether you’ve served on your association’s board for 1 month or 1 year, the specific roles of board members can feel uncertain at times. Your management company should provide you with an orientation and brief overview of your roles and responsibilities, but for the very basics, read on.
The board of directors of your association is responsible for establishing a vision for the community, and communicating it to the membership. But they have a far greater responsibility than that. The board must protect the association's interests, especially its financial interests, maintain common areas and structures, and enhance the lifestyle of all residents. To accomplish this, the board must set goals, adhere to governing documents, and hold meetings.
Keep in mind that while there are specific titles within a board of directors (e.g., president, secretary, etc.), your core roles and responsibilities are unchanging. No matter what title you hold, it’s imperative that you keep the community vision, residents’ interest and big picture in mind with every decision you make. For a community to thrive, a dedicated board of directors, engaged residents, and a clear understanding of all roles and responsibilities are essential.
Start with alignment
Before you dig deeper into your unique role on the board, make sure you first understand the value and necessity of strong board alignment. While you don’t need to agree on every decision with your fellow board members, it is critical that you provide a united front to the community.
What can happen if you don’t have that sense of cooperation and unity? Nothing good. A board that isn't united around a common purpose cannot function effectively, fulfill its responsibilities, maintain the association's financial health, or improve resident lifestyles. Your community will move in the right direction if you have the right people in key roles on the board, working together toward the same goals.
Board members need to understand their roles and responsibilities – both to the board and to the community at large. This understanding will make the board more effective and cohesive, leading to a more enjoyable community with greater resident satisfaction. Your property management company should provide board education and training resources to help you cultivate the qualities of great board members.
Remember that no role on your board holds more “voting power” than another. Although certain officer roles are universal and necessary, board members should focus on unifying with one another. To that end, here are the four main titles and their respective responsibilities.
What does a board president do?
The president's responsibilities include both procedural responsibilities and leadership duties. In some cases, the president may appoint committees – as dictated by the bylaws – and serve as an authority on the rules and documents governing the association. The president calls the meeting to order, announces the agenda and ensures everyone follows it. The president also maintains order during meetings, recognizes those who are about to speak, proposes questions, calls votes, and announces outcomes.
What does the board vice president do?
When the president is absent, the vice president assumes many of the president's responsibilities. During parliamentary procedures, they are responsible for maintaining order, ensuring that business moves smoothly, and acting as a knowledgeable source regarding the association's rules.
What does the board treasurer do?
Your board's effectiveness is strongly influenced by the effectiveness of your budget. The treasurer is responsible for keeping accurate and thorough financial records. The treasurer keeps the board informed of the association's financial health through regular reports of income and expenses and produces a treasurer's report to all members each year. The treasurer is responsible for submitting financial records in the event of an audit and authorizes any disbursements. The treasurer is also the primary signatory for community payables.
“The treasurer is one of the most critical roles on an association board,” said Bobby Knuth, senior regional director at FirstService Residential. An understanding of accounting practices, specifically accrual accounting, is a great asset to a community association treasurer.
Occasionally, board members are placed into the role of treasurer without the background or experience to succeed. The treasurer must be someone with the background and experience to interpret a financial statement and confidently convey the information contained. FirstService Residential provides association partners with budget resources, training, and an accounting team that can assist with complex budget questions.
What does the board secretary do?
Think of the secretary as the association historian. A secretary's role is to record all board actions to be referred to later. The secretary’s functions eliminate those “Oh, I thought you meant...” scenarios by keeping accurate minutes during meetings. The secretary also signs the minutes of all meetings and other important documents.
How the minutes are taken can vary from association to association. A member of the onsite staff can take the minutes, and the secretary can approve and sign them. The secretary sometimes takes minutes during meetings. Regardless of who is doing the job, it’s easy to take the meeting agenda and turn it into the minutes. Bring a laptop or tablet, and under each agenda item, enter the motion made and the topic discussed. This will help make it easier to send out. Remember, the minutes should be a summary of the motions made and actions taken, not a verbatim transcript of the meeting.
It is essential that the secretary be detail-oriented and concerned with both accuracy and consistency to ensure that all reviewed and signed minutes are correct.
What other qualities should your board of directors have?
The most effective boards are comprised of a diverse group of people with a variety of skillsets and qualities, regardless of the size or type of the association. “The essential part of getting the right people on your board is to utilize the skills of each person for the right position. Look at their skills, history and background,” said Knuth. “If, for example, you have significant renovations planned in the community, it can be helpful to have a board member who has a background in architecture, construction or engineering. Their expertise allows them to collaborate with or challenge hired professionals, which can make a huge difference in how those renovation projects will go.”
Knuth said that people with experience running businesses of any size could also contribute with skills to help the board run more smoothly. “For instance, a board member with a business background will find it easier to approach the association as a business, and to focus on community goals rather than personal objectives. They will understand the need to accomplish tasks, but they will also be fair and amicable in their dealings,” Knuth explained.
What about our community manager?
Your manager is not a member of your board, but an outside party bound by contract to your association. Your manager should come from a reputable property management company, to ensure they have the knowledge and expertise, along with the management company’s resources and support, to deliver the best service to your community and board. Though the specifics of their duties vary by contract, managers and their teams typically execute the policies dictated by the board and administer all of the services, operations and programs of the association. Your manager should also be a valuable source of information and insight. In fact, many boards become more effective after receiving training from an experienced manager.
“The manager’s role can fluctuate, depending on the strength of the board members,” Knuth said. “If board leadership is uncertain or inexperienced, the manager can step in to help run meetings, if necessary. The manager should be able to fill gaps the board may have and complement its strengths.”
Do you have what it takes to be an engaged and effective leader in your association?
Every board member brings their own strengths and talents to the table. “I’ve seen some boards that stick rigidly to titles and others that function more as a unit in which everyone plays to their specific strengths,” Knuth said. It’s important to allow those strengths to shine – your board will benefit from it. Having a list of duties associated with each role is important, but it is even more important that your board is focused on leading with integrity, aligning on key decisions, and advocating for the community you serve.
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.