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Board Member Term Limits: Pros and Cons

Posted By Katie Wallstein, Monday, October 22, 2018

Are term limits a good fit for your organization? These considerations can help you make a sound determination.

Conversation around the pros and cons of board terms is not new to the nonprofit world. While there are strong arguments both for and against term limits, a majority of organizations opt to adopt them. According to a 2017 study, Leading with Intent: 2017 Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, 72 percent of boards have set term limits — with the most common configuration being two three-year terms. Despite these findings, term limits do not work for every association; some find strength in keeping a strong core of tenured board members.

A synopsis of reasons for and against the practice of board member term limits follows:

Pros:

  • Term limits encourage new talent acquisition, which is essential for the long-term health of the organization.
  • Board composition/diversity (skillset, perspectives, networks) is strengthened to meet the current and future needs of the organization.
  • Term limits reduce the likelihood that a board or board member becomes tired and loses vigor.
  • Limited terms encourage focused participation.
  • New board members are more likely to speak up with new ideas.
  • A board with term limits helps to avoid a potential concentration of power among tenured volunteers.
  • When terms are staggered, it provides balance and continuity.
  • There is a respectful and effective system for the exit of inactive, unproductive or potentially troublesome board members.
  • As the board turns over, it cultivates a broad base of dedicated volunteers, involving more of your members.

Cons:

  • Organizations may experience a loss of institutional memory and historical knowledge.
  • Organizations may lose dedicated, highly effective, tenured volunteers.
  • Succession planning takes time (identification, recruitment, orientation, continuous development).
  • Boards need to allocate additional time to build cohesiveness among board members.
  • Network relationships that may have been tied to a specific board member may be difficult to maintain.
  • There may be disruption to the oversight and operations of an organization.
  • Some associations experience difficulty in filling open board seats.

Conclusion

Regardless of where an organization falls on the matter, it is important that leaders are familiar with best practices on term limits to ensure the longevity and relevancy of their organization.

Katie Wallstein joined Ewald Consulting in 2014 and is an Account Executive in our Association Management Department.

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