The Good and the Ugly of Association Committees
Posted on August 6, 2018 1:47 PM by Melissa Gentry
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.  Committees are an important part of association operations. Committee members help keep our community vibrant; and, by augmenting paid staff, they save the association thousands of dollars each year. The association just wouldn’t be what it is without our active and effective committees. They deserve our sincerest thanks. However, it’s important to recognize the Good and the Ugly of using committees.
The Good:
Committees give the board a way to gather information, offer new ideas and opinions and provide a training ground for future board members. All committees are advisory to the board unless given specific decision-making authority by the board or CC&Rs. 
The board provides each committee with a job description, goal and mission statement to help it succeed as a community resource.
Associations usually have three types of committees:
  • Administrative committees, like our architectural control committee, are set out in association’s bylaws and CC&Rs. They are ongoing, permanent and often have clearly defined power and authority.
  • Standing committees, such as finance, social or security, are established by the board for an ongoing and specific purpose. These committees generally make recommendations to and act under the supervision of the board.
  • Ad-hoc committees, such as a special project, are established by the board as needed for specific projects and tasks.  The board doesn't have to start from scratch to collect all the background investigation and research. All that work can be done at a committee level, thereby saving time at a board meeting for important decisions to be made. 
Committee participation in the community is beneficial to the neighbors and the association. For example, common benefits gained by volunteering include:
  • making a positive difference in other peoples’ lives
  • sharing or learning new skills
  • boosting your resume—volunteer jobs are fair game 
  • meeting new people
  • having fun
They build community involvement and prevent association from suffering from lack of enthusiasm. Even a few hours of your time can make a big difference in the culture of the community. They help us generate goodwill, encourage “paying it forward” and strengthen our community.

The Ugly
Every board-created committee and every board-appointed committee member must act in good faith and abide by the law as well as governing documents. Their actions are documented in the minutes.  If acting unsupervised its very easy for uninformed committee members to act against laws or covenants.  
Committees can only be effective if they have a clear purpose, good organization, and the right people. If Joe Resident thinks security is a problem, so we’ll put him on a committee is not an association purpose. In fact, the purpose is “get rid of Joe.” Use a committee to solve a problem, not a problem person.

A committee can't accept responsibility. Ultimately, committees have no decision-making power whatsoever even though they make take on unassigned roles and decisions.  Committees that simply occupy space or exist to distract owners are a waste of time, and a potential liability.
Building Strong Committees
Start with a good structure established by the board, outlines the parameters and expectations for a committee. Without a clear sense of direction or scope of authority, committees can lose control and cease to function effectively. Boards should take time to draft a concise committee charter with all of the following elements:
  • Purpose. Give the committee a clear purpose. Is the purpose of the committee to provide the board with a recommendation on an issue? Is the purpose of the committee to carry out a specific task?  
  • Product. Tell the committee what you expect them to produce. Is it a detailed recommendation to the board? If so, what must be included in the recommendation? Will the committee take some sort of action on behalf of the board? If so, be very clear about the action the committee is expected to take, and establish clear limits. Remember that a board may delegate authority to act, but cannot delegate responsibility for the action.
  • Timeframe. Tell the committee how long their services are needed. Is the committee to meet during a period of six weeks or a year? Is the committee a standing committee that will meet until the governing documents are amended or until the board takes action to dissolve the committee?
  • Budget. If the committee will need money to fulfill their charter, be clear about the amount of money available to the committee. You should also be clear about the process the committee should go through to obtain the funds. If the committee is not being provided with funds, tell them.
  • Reporting. Establish how the committee should report to the board. Committees making recommendations or decisions must communicate their findings to the board. Be clear about the frequency and method of those reports. Decision-making committees must produce minutes.
Pick the Right People
HOA owners have a wide array of talents – a clear resource for the board. But each person also has a different level of energy and skill, along with a unique agenda and temperament. Boards must balance each of those elements when they select the members of a committee.
Boards should seek out people with important skills: CPAs for the budget committee, landscape architects for the landscaping committee, and natural leaders as committee chairs. But avoid placing a destructive personality on a committee – even skilled ones. Vocal owners with a clear agenda are not necessarily destructive and may bring energy and focus to the committee. But individuals whose disposition will prevent the committee from functioning or will ignore the committee charter are not good candidates.

Boards may also wish to appoint a “board liaison” to attend committee meetings periodically. The liaison can provide helpful background information to the committee and can help the committee stay on track in the early stages. However, the liaison should be careful not to dominate or take over the work of the committee.

Say thank you! Recognition and appreciation for a committee's input and hard work will lead to successful committees and enthusiastic members. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of a simple thank- you note, an acknowledgment in the community newsletter, or a plaque presented at an annual meeting. Committees whose contributions are acknowledged are more willing to give their time and effort to their association.

Committees perform an important function that extends beyond their charters: committees encourage camaraderie, participation, efficiency, and a sense of belonging in the community – but only if the board lays a solid foundation for each group. If the board is willing to do the work, your community can enjoy the benefits that committees provide.