Committees are the backbone of the association

Committees focus on topics ranging from finance to architecture. Committee reports help the board to make informed decisions. If committee members don’t do their jobs, the whole community suffers.

Most associations have two types of committees—standing and ad hoc. Standing committees perform a continuing function and usually deal with specific areas (e.g., association finances, grounds maintenance or social functions). Standing committees operate indefinitely, though their members may change.

Ad hoc committees are empowered to accomplish one specific task whether solving a problem or planning a project. The board, for example, might authorize an ad hoc committee to investigate alternatives to an assessment increase. Ad hoc committees function until they have researched and reported their findings. They are dissolved as soon as their task is complete, which could be after just one meeting or several years.

Ad hoc committees give residents an opportunity to sample volunteer work for the association and they are ideal for residents who can participate only to a limited degree.

Establishing Committees

Association bylaws and documents provide the board with guidelines on setting up committees. These guidelines often include the purpose and duties of all standing committees. Boards should use the guidelines in the governing documents to develop specific charters for each committee and a job description for the chair. The chair should create job descriptions for the committee members. The same applies to ad hoc committees: a well-defined purpose and specific job descriptions contribute to the committee’s success.

Committees should be small enough that everyone can participate, and large enough that the absence or loss of one person isn’t a problem. Committees of three to nine are ideal (odd numbers prevent tie votes). Large committees tend to split into subgroups and productivity suffers.

Some documents give the board the authority to select committee members—a process that requires careful deliberation. Small associations may work with fewer committees. Effective committee members:

  • Are interested in the committee
  • Understand their responsibilities
  • Are willing to spend time on committee tasks

The board can help ensure the committee’s success by providing it with clear goals and deadlines.

Choosing Committee Members

Many people view volunteer work as a way to improve their social lives and careers. Association boards and committee chairs can use these motives to tap volunteers’ professional experience.

Committee work is an excellent way for members to get involved in the association. Recruit volunteers through an article or announcement in the newsletter or by personally inviting potential members. Select members who have interests, skills and background suitable to the work of the committee. Try to find volunteers who are energetic and dependable. Consider residents who have recently moved into the community. 

New members will bring fresh ideas and insights to the committee. Capitalize on their energy. Experienced members will provide guidance and perspective. Encourage renters to participate in committee work as well. They can make valuable contributions and are more likely to identify with the community if they have a personal interest in its administration. And those who have a positive experience may decide to become owners instead of renters.

Guidelines for the Committee Chair

No matter how qualified committee members are for their positions, they will not operate as an integrated group without effective leadership. The committee chair guides the members as they study specific issues facing the association, reach consensus and recommend a course of action to the board. Committee chairs should conduct meetings following the same principles discussed earlier for successful board meetings: use an agenda and provide explanatory notes or background information for committee members ahead of time. In addition:

  • Schedule meetings in an appropriate place. The meeting room should be nearby, neutral and physically comfortable.
  • Select a time and place that is convenient to the members. Post an announcement of the committee meeting in a public place for residents to see.
  • Start the meeting on time and adhere to the agenda. Include all topics that will be discussed at the meeting and set a time limit for discussion of each. Keep extra copies of the agenda and supporting materials on hand for residents who attend the meeting to observe.
  • State the objective of the committee and the reason for the meeting in the agenda. Compare committee objectives to association objectives.
  • Make sure committee members get all the information they need.
  • Encourage all members to voice their opinions. Maintain control, but don’t stifle free comment. Don’t let the discussion drag or wander off topic. Procedural guides like Robert’s Rules of Order, or a more informal modified version, facilitate this process.
  • Assign a committee member to take minutes. As soon as possible after the meeting, distribute the minutes to members.
  • Prepare a written report for the board. Include the committee meeting minutes, a list of attendees, a summary of pertinent discussions, options considered and actions recommended. Each committee member should have an opportunity to review and comment on the report before it goes to the board.

Committee Duties

The size, location and general nature of the community will determine what committees it needs. Planned communities may need a landscaping committee and a high-rise condominium may need an evacuation committee. Following are a few of the most commonly-used committees and their top priorities.

Nominating or Election Committee

Depending on the size of your association, a nominating committee may be useful. This committee seeks qualified candidates, assists with campaigns, organizes and conducts elections, processes proxy and absentee ballots and assists with other details of an election.

Committees provide associations with a cross-section of experience and knowledge. They serve as an excellent training ground for future association leaders and contribute continuity to the decision-making process. At their best, committees enhance their members’ sense of belonging, while providing the board with specific recommendations. Ensure that committee members receive the recognition they’re due. Remember to publicly thank and rewarded committee members for their service. Volunteers need to know they’re appreciated and their valuable time was well spent.