The Secret Tip that Will Transform Your Property Owners Association Annual Meeting“I’m so excited about the property owners association annual meeting!” said no one ever.

Universal agreement on any topic is hard to come by these days, but I’m pretty sure we would get close if we took a poll on whether anyone thinks a property owners association annual meeting is a pleasant experience. Except for, maybe, the food… if you’re lucky. So what’s the secret to making the annual meeting somewhat enjoyable? Add a members forum.

A members forum is a dedicated spot on the agenda where property owners can talk about their concerns. In short, a forum targets the two main reasons that annual meetings are pure misery:  They last for what seems like an eternity, and they require listening to countless disgruntled property owners that can’t won’t stop talking.

Here’s how to put an end to all that nonsense:

Step One: Add a Line to the Agenda that Says, “Members Forum”

When you make your agenda for the meeting, the very last line should say, “Members Forum.”  This line item comes after everything else – after the election results are announced, and most importantly, after the official business meeting is adjourned.

The beauty of the members forum is that it happens after the meeting is officially over. The business is done, no quorum is needed, and no one has to stay and listen unless they want to.

Step Two: Create a Speakers Log

A speakers log is a sign-up list with the following columns: name, signature, address (or lot number), and topic. It works like this: As property owners check in for the meeting, they add their name to the list if they have something they want to say publicly to the board, staff, property management company, or anyone else. This gets you a nice, tidy list of those who want to voice something in the members forum.

At the top of the sign-up list, state basic rules: Wait your turn, stay on topic, try not to yell or call people names, and don’t talk too long. Usually I include a few extras, too, such as a two-to-three minute time limit and a reminder that the forum is a one-way conversation. Owners shouldn’t expect a dialogue. It’s a forum, not a Q&A session.

Step Three: Adjourn the Meeting

I made this point above, but I’ll say it again: Adjourn before you start the forum. Doing so gives owners an opportunity to leave if they just can’t bear another minute. It also prevents the meeting from unraveling if someone uses the forum to propose a “great idea” or gripe about the results of a vote.

Step Four: Set Up the Physical Space Strategically

I find a forum works best when a microphone is placed at the front of the room, facing the platform, not the members. This set-up requires an owner to feel strongly enough about her views to stand in front of the entire group and express them. It naturally dissuades the person who just wants to complain from the back corner.

But facing the microphone towards the platform, where presumably the board and staff are sitting, means views are expressed to those who have the power to actually fix problems. This tends to be much more productive than allowing owners to address the group, which often just riles everyone up. (Trust me, there are better ways to rally the group.)

Step Five: Find a Neutral Facilitator

Finally, find a person that can stand at the front and facilitate the forum in a neutral manner. Go for someone authoritative, but impartial on this one – not a staff member, not a board member. Consider a professional parliamentarian hired to provide this and other meeting leadership services for your group. But whoever it is, their job should be simple: Recognize members in the order listed on the speakers log, keep track of the time each person speaks, and enforce the rules and time limit consistently.

Need an annual meeting success strategy? By putting essential property owners’ business up front and postponing all the bonus “I’ve got somethin’ great to share” talk till the end, a members forum serves as a winning solution.

It’s Friday night and your executive director calls you and quits. Life happens, right? But what now? How do you have a special meeting – a meeting between normally scheduled meetings – to triage? Parliamentary procedure, of course, doesn’t allow for it to happen willy-nilly.

Step 1: Check State Law and Your Group’s Bylaws

To hold a special meeting, the laws of the state where your organization is incorporated, or your bylaws, must say that you can. Check the state laws that apply to your group and find the section on meetings. If there’s a subsection on special meetings and how to have them, you’re good to go. If not, check your bylaws. Once again, if they have a section that provides for special meetings, you’re free to move forward. If not, you’ll have to sit tight and wait for the next regular meeting to come around.

Step 2: Publicize the Details

  • Who calls the meeting
    Usually, the “call to meeting” must be issued by a specific officer (often the president) and sometimes requires the approval of the board. Some organizations allow a set number of members to submit a written request that requires the president to call a special meeting.
  • When the meeting is called
    A special meeting must be called a specified number of days in advance. Unless state law or your bylaws say otherwise, count all calendar days – holidays and weekends, too – excluding the day of the meeting but including the day you send the notice.
  • The time, date, location, and purpose of the meeting
    The “call to meeting” needs to include all the necessary details, obviously – time, date, and location. But you must also say generally what topics will be discussed, including a clear indication of what’s open for discussion and what’s not (see #3 below). You don’t have to state the precise motions that will be made.
  • How the meeting is called
    This one is simple: You have to notify everyone. No keeping it a secret from folks you wish would stay home. Check the laws again on this, and follow what they say about how to send the notification: snail mail (paid for by the group) or email. But use caution, and avoid any method that allows for accusations that you failed to give proper notice.

Step 3: Stay on Topic during the Meeting

Let’s be clear – only the topics in the “call to meeting” are open for discussion at that special meeting. This means that if you told people you were only going to talk about renovations for headquarters, you shouldn’t also talk about selecting a new executive director. The reason? Protection of absentees.

I’ll tell you right now – half of your group will read the meeting notice stating renovations as the topic and think, “No way am I wasting my Thursday night on that.” But, if the notice says you’re going to talk about the sudden need for an executive director, they’ll be there! Stick to the topic on the notice. You don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Step 4: Keep Good Records

Finally, don’t forget to take minutes at any special meeting. Absentees will undoubtedly be interested in the actions taken. (Don’t worry about approving the minutes at a special meeting, though. You can wait until the next regular meeting for that.)

5 Basics for Successfully Navigating Your Next MeetingI’d be a rich woman if had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the parliamentary procedure query, “Why all these rules, anyway?!” Well, I didn’t make them up, and they weren’t hatched recently at all – Robert’s Rules harks back to 1876. And most of the rules are not arbitrary, but are based on five basic principles. Knowing the logic behind these procedures can actually help you with the numerous specific rules.

1. Equality of Rights

Parliamentary procedure is based on the concept that the right of each person in an organization is equal to every other person in that group. (By contrast, consider a corporation with shareholders where one person may have more votes, and the balance of power is most definitely not equal.) Parliamentary procedure is designed for assemblies where equal rights are the governing thought.

2. Equal Right to Discussion

Stemming from principle #1 is the concept that in a group using parliamentary procedure, you can’t just cut people off. Everyone has an equal right to discuss each topic. A specific rule based on this principle is the two-thirds vote requirement for closing debate. Because discussion is a basic right of every member, the rules don’t allow a group to close debate with only a majority (think more than half) vote. A higher number of people (two-thirds) in favor of that idea is needed. While it might be hard to pull the two-thirds rule out of your head on the spot, if you remember simply that discussion is a basic right of every member, you’ll know that you need a not-normal vote to make it happen.

3. The Right to Information

The third basic principle of parliamentary procedure is that every member of the group has a right to know the details that will enable them to make decisions. If you’re going to hold a special meeting (one that’s not regularly set) for example, you have to tell everyone when and where it will be, and what you’re going to talk about. No, you can’t just tell your special friends and supporters, and hope that everyone else stays home. Also, during a meeting, you must keep everyone in the loop on topics that are up for a vote and how to vote. Even the people that are on a mission to make your life difficult.

4. Majority Decision

Bottom line for this one: Majority rules in parliamentary procedure. If you’re super unhappy that the majority of your group is doing something, you should think hard about whether you want to be a part of that group. Learning to abide by the will of a group is part of life. In an assembly following parliamentary procedure, if the majority wants to do it, then you have to go along – or drum up your own “majority” to change things.

5. Minority Rights

And to complement the fourth principle, even though majority rules, the minority has rights. I frequently remind clients that you may be in the majority today, but in the minority tomorrow, so never squelch the minority. And generally, in my experience, people can deal with a result they don’t like if they feel that the process was fair. Suppression of somebody’s voice upsets folks, so work hard to honor minority rights. You won’t be sorry.