Have you ever had a question for the board of directors about policy or finances that the management office can’t answer? Have you wanted to propose an amendment to existing policy? Or have you wanted to update the directors about a change in the neighborhood you think they should be acting on?
If you’ve ever tried to contact the board in an official capacity, you know that more efficient and productive two-way communication between the board of directors and shareholders would not be very hard to achieve. There are only two challenges to tackle: how can cooperators send questions and suggestions to the board, and how can directors regularly inform shareholders of their plans.
Contacting the board
Currently, questions and suggestions from cooperators can be sent to a catch-all email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or left in writing at the management office to be distributed to the board at their next meeting. But as most people who have gone this route will tell you, hearing anything back is, at best, hit-or-miss.
Instead, directors should invite shareholders to attend board meetings, where the first 30 minutes would be devoted to hearing proposals and answering questions from residents. That way, a movement of cooperators interested in participating in the city’s compost program could make their case to all directors, or a set of questions on coop finances could be asked face-to-face.
Email addresses for directors — or at least one address that reaches the board secretary — should be set up and made public. Quick questions or suggestions that don’t need to take up time at a meeting can be answered more efficiently by email. Perhaps a web form similar to the effective maintenance request portal, or a web page where questions and answers are posted for all to see, would effectively leverage common technology on behalf of better communication.
It’s important not to waste our directors’ time — they are volunteers, already contributing many extra hours on behalf of coop business — and if these changes were to become a burden we would want to reassess their effectiveness. But the black hole that questions to the board now get sucked into is not to anyone’s benefit, and new means of communication must be considered.
Sharing news with cooperators
The board’s attempts to communicate with shareholders are always welcome, but, unfortunately, often raise more questions than they answer. A letter from the board this past spring explaining the need for a raise in monthly fees because of a cold winter and lawsuits against pet owners did not adequately explain many of the underlying financial issues. Questions raised at the annual meeting are often deferred and then never answered publicly. The audited financial report we receive each year is generic enough that specific questions — e.g., How much is the federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against East River costing us in legal fees? — cannot be answered.
More effort must be made in this regard. Shareholders should receive regular updates on the board’s actions and plans. Quarterly directors’ reports plus a mid-year financial Q&A would improve cooperators’ engagement and keep the board accountable for their decisions.
These suggestions are critical to reaffirming the guiding principles of cooperative living: democratic governance, shared responsibility, constant education, and mutual respect.