Community Vision Planning: What’s Your Board’s Legacy?

January 27, 2015

A rarely discussed, but sorely needed conversation boards and members should be having is “How will this board be remembered by the community?” and, “What did this board do during their tenure to improve the community?” The creation of a board’s legacy is an active, participative process which starts from the moment the board is seated. Whether the board makes a conscious decision to start the process of creating their legacy or not, the process of creating board legacy still occurs.

There are three distinct types of legacies which community association boards can choose to leave behind.

First, there are Boards who make the conscious decision to leave a legacy of positive accomplishment and focus on building up their communities. These boards are passionate, forward thinkers. Boards that leave positive and long lasting legacies see themselves as leaders, not just policy makers and rule enforcers. While some boards view community apathy as an indicator their members are happy, boards who seek to leave a legacy of positive accomplishment work to eliminate apathy and encourage member participation.

Second, there are Boards that leave a legacy of financial mismanagement and can even destabilize the foundation of their associations. Board members are fiduciaries who have the obligation to act within the scope of their authority, engage in reasonable investigation, and act in good faith and with ordinary care that they believe to be in the best interests of the community association. Boards who create negative legacies are disorganized and unprofessional in how they conduct their affairs. These boards often display hostility towards management and/or fail to provide management with clear direction and authority. Worse yet, these boards are often secretive and resist communicating with the members.

Third, there are Boards that passively go through the motions during their terms. These boards through their inaction create legacies of nothingness and ineffective leadership. Two of the biggest “red flags” of an ineffective board are their inability to make tough financial decisions and consistent deferred maintenance throughout the community. Such “do nothing” boards believe it is a point of pride to keep assessments at the same amount for year after year, even in the face of deteriorated common areas.

Having outlined the types of legacies boards can leave, next we’ll discuss the types of control boards have in creating positive legacies.One way a board can control its legacy is through appropriate governance. Board governance provides the framework to increase harmony, reduce conflict and build stronger communities. By properly governing their communities, boards can ensure their associations are in compliance with the governing documents, state and federal laws, they act as good stewards of the association’s financials and they are transparent in communicating with the members.

Next, boards who want to leave a long-lasting and positive legacy utilize strategic planning. Strategic planning requires the board to project where the association expects to be in five, ten or fifteen years, and how to get there. Without strategic planning, boards cannot identify where their association is going nor would they know how or if they ever arrive. Boards who utilize strategic planning create a positive legacy by engaging all stakeholders in the community – management, members, committees and business partners – to work together to ensure the association’s long-term goals are accomplished.

Boards who wish to leave a positive legacy embrace their roles as leaders. As leaders, they establish a clear vision, communicate that vision to members, and encourage the members to support it. These boards are adept at balancing the sometimes conflicting interests of all stakeholders, while still moving toward the “big picture” goals. In addition to embracing their roles as leaders, effective boards also understand they serve something larger than themselves. Servant leaders are servants first and leaders second. Boards who embrace this philosophy create positive legacies by placing the community’s interests and needs first. These boards value diverse opinions, cultivate cultures of trust, develop other leaders in the community, and act with humility and compassion. Thus, an important component of legacy requires current boards to cultivate future leaders.

Serving on an association board offers many opportunities for members to become active participants in the life, and success, of their communities. Board service allows members the opportunity to work collaboratively to determine the future administrative, financial, legal and operational direction of the community. The policies implemented by and the decisions made by boards have long-lasting effects and implications. From the moment when a new board is seated, they should thoughtfully consider their legacy and make a commitment as a unified body to leave their association better than it was before. “Leadership is the act of making things better for others” – Andrew Thorn

By, Lesley Millender-Irwin, CMCA, PCAM. Ms. Millender-Irwin is a general manager with Seabreeze Management Company in Aliso Viejo, California and a member of CAI.