According to Merriam-Webster, the word “politician” is defined as follows:
1: a person experienced in the art or science of government ; especially: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government
2 a: a person engaged in party politics as a profession
2 b: a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow, usually short-sighted reasons
I had the pleasure of attending a recent CAI Condo/HOA Conference and Expo event in Connecticut where I met many fellow Board members from local community associations. In jest, one commented to me that he felt as though many of the residents in his community treat the board like they are politicians. I joked back that we are politicians only without the money and the sex scandals. While I was being humorous at the time, I decided to dedicate this issue’s communication column to all my fellow community association volunteer leaders and invite them to embrace the political aspect of their volunteer life in community service.
My fellow community leaders, whether we like it or not, we are politicians. While we may not have focus groups to guide us or fancy ad campaigns to tell our stories, we are responsible for getting our message out. In many communities the process of being elected to the board is much like the process of being elected a high school class president. It helps to be well-known, well-liked and part of the “in” crowd. Community management experience or training is nice but often not required and there is seldom a vetting process like we see in a town, state or national election. That is too bad, in my opinion, because if all it takes to serve on the board in your community is being the most popular resident who volunteers to serve, then your community is likely missing out on some other candidates who would make great community leaders.
If you undertake the task of running for the board with the same seriousness that accompanies running for a seat in the local government, then you wouldn’t assume that popularity or availability will be the only factor in determining your successful election. As a candidate, do you have the opportunity to explain why you would be the best choice for a position on your board? If you were given the chance, would you know what to say or how to present yourself? In essence, do you run for office or do you just assume that because you volunteered by raising your hand you will be granted the right to serve?
Everyone who serves on a board is, in fact, a politician. You have been selected by your community members to represent them and to make informed decisions on the issues that will affect almost every aspect of their community living experience. It is not a duty to take lightly nor is it a road that you need to take alone. For many, service on the board is the closest they will ever get to govern their own town. From annual budgets to rules and regulations to reserve funds and everything in between, you and your fellow politicians on the board will decide how this community lives. Well-trained and well-intentioned, you are your community’s greatest asset. Anything less can spell disaster for your association.
In the very best definition of the word, community association volunteer leaders certainly are politicians. We are actively engaged in conducting the business of our association, which is our government. Many of us become experienced in the art or science of government by serving multiple terms and by seeking out training, such as what is offered by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). Check out their website for great training information.
We are politicians and once we assume our roles as leaders within our communities, we need to remember that there is always more good to do. If we wish to continue doing that good, we must continue to win election to our boards. If that means becoming more political in your approach to serving on the board and winning over the votes of your fellow association members, then I encourage you to accept the politician inside of you and to continue to practice the art and science of community governance.
Bob Gourley is a condo and HOA industry veteran. He founded MyEZCondo in 2004 and produces the Ask Mister Condo website. He is also a partner in Association Life and HOALendingXchange. He is an active member of CAI and served as Chapter President for the Connecticut Chapter from 2010 – 2011.