Too often I hear why a particular nonprofit either doesn”t include a provision for term limits in their by-laws or opts not to enforce the provision. The primary reason always seems to be the fear of losing good board members, the ones who are active on many levels. Very rarely does anyone ever discuss the flip-side of not enforcing term limits, i.e. stagnant meetings, turnover and in-fighting.
If you need arguments to convince your governance committee and board to implement term limits consider the following six points:
- Term limits prevent “dead wood” from forming. You know who they are…the board member who shows up all the time and contributes nothing. If you”re lucky they may buy their perfunctory 2 tickets to the annual fundraiser.
- Appointing new board members allows for new solutions to entrenched problems.
- Lack of term limits can cripple board member recruitment and possible fund raising.
- The conversion from a working board to a strategic board can be hindered. The old board members have their sacred cows they are unwilling to relinquish and are unable to change their mode of operation.
- Factions or cliques can develop between board members and/or staff paralyzing the organization when disagreements occur and critical decisions need to be made.
- Term limits provide a vehicle for newer board members to step into leadership roles.
I equate not enforcing term limits to Albert Einstein”s definition of insanity. To paraphrase: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time.” If you never change the players on your team how is anything ever going to change? And for me it”s a deal-breaker…I don”t serve on boards that don”t use term limits.
What are your thoughts on term limits? Let”s get a discussion going.
Susan C. Hammond, principal of scHammond Advisors, consults with nonprofits on board governance, strategic planning, improving financial intelligence, and the formation of advisory boards or councils. She is an advisor, coach, consultant and author. She previously served as the CFO for a museum and other nonprofit organizations. Susan recently published the Advisory Board Kit: A Comprehensive Guide to Establishing an Advisory Board.
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