Altruistic or Self-Serving

Altruistic or Self-Serving

By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published November 2020

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Commonly defined, “altruism” involves acting out of concern for the well-being of other people. In some cases, these acts of altruism lead people to jeopardize their own health and well-being to help others. In many cases, these behaviors are performed unselfishly and without any expectations of reward. Other instances, known as reciprocal altruism, involve taking actions to help others with the expectation that they offer help in return.1

     While true altruism may not show itself often in community associations, you will likely see reciprocal altruism at work within community association boards of directors. Board members volunteer time to make sure their community operations and maintenance and other governance matters are handled properly and legally. They serve in the best interests of their communities with no compensation or remuneration, but their serving is reciprocal in that they individually benefit from steady or increasing property values.

     However, some board members do not serve with others’ best interests in mind. They are self-serving. One is Dave, the condominium board president who placed a flagpole with flags next to the common element sidewalk. When the manager confronted him and said the flagpole had to be removed, the president insisted the flagpole is “removable and portable” because he can just pull it out of the ground. Or the board member who gets herself appointed to the board. She wanted to be sure that flowers are added to the shrubbery around her condominium building. And then there is Sig who has a flowerpot filled with flags representing all the various military branches sitting out in the common element yard. These self-serving board members cause grumbling among other owners.

     Then there is Carl, the Army sergeant, Purple Heart recipient, and president of his homeowners association who has just about memorized all his governing documents and Chapter 720. He is trying to better his association and make sure all owners pay their assessments, some of which are delinquent by years. Why other owners and board members would not support him in that effort is puzzling and has resulted in high legal fees.

     Board members who work together with altruistic motives seem to bring peace to their communities. Self-serving board members bring dissension, discord, and higher legal fees.

     The very nature of living in a community association means our lives are governed by deed restrictions, a corporation, and its elected board of directors. Obviously, the directors come from the community in which they live. But why would anyone want to serve on the board in the community where they live? Most who have ever served on a board groan and shake their heads when they remember their term of office. Often their comment is, “I’ve done my time.”

     Altruistic board members would probably say they serve for these reasons:

  • Sense of civic duty
  • Add a specific skill or expertise needed by the association
  • Care about the value of the common property and owners’ investments

     Others volunteer for board positions because they are self-serving, selfish, short-sighted, and probably not everyone’s favorite neighbor. They seem to create factions that divide rather than unite.

     Altruistic board members take time to educate themselves by attending board certification classes instead of signing the statement that says they know everything and have read their documents (commonly called the perjury statement). Those who attend classes learn the following:

  • How the community is supposed to operate
  • Their role as a fiduciary (someone who handles the assets of another)
  • The real purpose of board meetings (they are not informational meetings for the owners)
  • Productive meeting procedures
  • Statutory financial requirements
  • Documentary and statutory requirements for insurance
  • Enforcement and correctly using the statutory fine/appeal procedures
  • Need to hire professional CAMs and vendors to assist in the day-to-day operations

     So, what does it take to be an altruistic board member? Reflect on these statements for a few minutes. If you are brave and want to see how you score, answer “Yes” or “No.”


Y/N   Is able to make unbiased decisions based on the welfare of the community regardless of personal impact of the decision.

Y/N   Is willing to raise assessments in order to meet the maintenance and budget needs of the community.

Y/N   Is able to disagree without becoming angry.

Y/N   Refrains from the appearance of impropriety when dealing with vendors.

Y/N   Can vote to foreclose a lien on his/her friends or neighbors.

Y/N   Can vote to impose a fine or suspension of use rights or voting rights on his/her friends or neighbors.

Y/N   Can maintain composure during meetings when personally attacked.


Y/N   Has sufficient time to devote to board meetings.

Y/N   Is willing to chair special projects.

Y/N   Is willing and able to stay in touch with other board members and management if  absent for more than one month.

Y/N   Is willing to attend social functions in order to maintain the spirit of the community.


Y/N   Understands the financial and insurance needs of the community.

Y/N   Is familiar with the governing documents of the community and related statutes.

Y/N   Understands the fiduciary responsibility mandated by the statutes and the documents.

Y/N   Knows how to read a budget.

If you answered “Yes” to

11+     You could be a good candidate; consider submitting your name for candidacy.

6–10   You could be ready to submit your name for candidacy with some effort in familiarizing yourself with your community’s documents and your statutory fiduciary responsibilities.

1–5     If you work hard to examine your motives, educate yourself, and assess the time requirements, you’ll be ready by next year!

     Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. — 1 Thessalonians 5:15, NIV Bible

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA

Florida CAM Schools

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while at the same time dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999, Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a former member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. Subscribe to CAM MattersTM on YouTube. For more information, contact, call (352) 326-8365, or visit