How to Set up and Run Committees
Committees can be extremely helpful for HOA boards. They are formed by volunteers from the community and are often called the “lifeblood” of an HOA. And HOA board members can structure these committees to fit the needs of the community.
In most well-run communities, important issues are first worked through and refined by committees, then the board merely puts on the final stamp of approval and takes final action as needed to complete projects. The board can get more feedback about how the community is feeling from these committee members. And HOA members participating in committees can get a great sense of involvement and community. Ideally, the experience will be productive and enjoyable for all involved.
Why and How to Set Up Committees
Before you consider creating a committee, really think through why you are setting it up, and what would be the ideal outcome. Many HOAs create committees for the wrong reasons, leading to new problems for the board and those committee members. Not great.
The way to set up any committee to fail is to leave out specifics. Even very common committees that are spelled out in your HOA’s governing documents won’t function well if they aren’t utilized well. Leaving committees sitting around with no understanding of their role, guidelines, enforcement, or expectations will prevent even the best people from producing what is needed. For example, nearly every HOA has an architectural committee. But if they have clear guidelines, even that job can be a challenge with poor results. One way to avoid confusion is the single project committees. For example, “report on the feasibility of replacing composite roofs with tile.” Much better than – study types of material for roofs.
A common mistake made which also hurts the effectiveness of particular committees is that they are formed just to make someone go away. It’s true, it happens. A community member routinely brings up the same issue over and over. Finally, the board says that a person should run a committee on that issue. This gets them out of your hair but is not really a solution. Don’t create a committee to make an issue (or a person nagging you about that issue) just go away. If that is the sole purpose, you are in for one frustrating experience. You might actually miss them just raising the issue with you!
Another guideline for you is to remember that no matter who is running what committee, the board will ultimately be held responsible. So before you place someone in charge of a committee to shut them up, keep in mind they might not have the best solution. Even if the committee has decision-making power, the board will be the ones answering to the community, or worst-case, held liable.
The other concern is that even if you give a committee decision-making authority, responsibility will ultimately rest with the board. Keep that in mind when you are deciding whether you want to create a new committee.
So you have your committees planned out, how do you find people to run them? Finding the right people is another element of success for the committee. Of course, if someone has a particular strength or knowledge that makes them a good fit, that is important to consider. And to get people to actually volunteer on the committee, just ask them to participate and follow up. Clearly communicating what the HOA needs, and why, is more persuasive than just saying the board is looking for volunteers.
SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS
The members of the committee meet to put the organizational structure in place, then select a chair and a secretary (timekeepers and parliamentarians are optional). Sometimes the board assigns a chair for the committee, and sometimes the committee members make the decision.
A committee chairperson has many responsibilities. They must facilitate members in getting to know each other, and set agendas to be sent out ahead of meetings (via email and/or the HOA website). Most importantly, they preside over meetings (including opening and closing meetings, as well as establishing ground rules), and attend monthly board meetings to report on key activities of the committee and receive direction from the board.
Help your committees achieve the outcome you want – to be helpful to the board and the community. Some good ways to get them started on the right foot are:
- Create a good structure for the committee. This means drafting a “committee charter” which outlines the scope and expectations for the committee. Be specific on expectations – what is the most useful way for the committee to solve their task? A written report? The board should assign a chair for each committee.
- Clearly define the purpose. For instance, should they provide a recommendation? Make decisions themselves? Are they supposed to resolve an issue or just report on the options? If they are just providing a recommendation, what needs to be included in the recommendations?
- Timeframe. Setting up how long the committee is expected to exist also helps the members know what their role is. Will this be a standing committee or dissolved after the board takes action? Will it be a meeting for 12 weeks or two years?
- Budget. If the committee needs financing, it should be very clear how much money will be available for them. This also means most committees should be planned for early in the financial year, so that money in the budget is already allocated.
- Reporting. Define how the committee should report to the board. Do you want regular reports, and if so, how do you want them communicated? And remember that if the committee has decision-making authority, they must also provide minutes for their meetings.
Common HOA Committees
There are some committees that most HOAs have, and others created for specific purposes. The committees that are more common are:
- Social committee. In addition to running all HOA social events, sometimes this includes welcoming responsibilities as well;
- Social media committees can make sure all electronic communication happens smoothly, maintain the HOA’s website and social media accounts. Sometimes this is part of the communications committee, or they are separate;
- Financial committees can have sub-committees such as finance, budget, reserves, and investments;
- An architectural committee. They make sure the land and structures are in accordance with the covenants, conditions, and restrictions established in the governing documents;
- Landscape and maintenance committees oversee the community landscape.