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Are term limits wise?

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Are term limits wise?

Is it wise for 501(c)(3) organizations to have term limits for the Board of Trustees?

I recognize that I have a minority view on this issue, but, in my opinion, term limits are for cowards.  They are promoted primarily to rid the Board of “dead wood” and get “new blood” into the organization.  But in my view, they arbitrarily force the loss of qualified leadership, diminish institutional memory, and adversely affect the answer to the question of “whose organization is it?”  I think there are far more effective ways to eliminate dead wood and maintain energetic leadership for the organization.  (If you would like to see an elaboration on this position, see Ready Reference Page: “Term Limits Are For Cowards.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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"Term limits are for Cowards". Well, yes and no. The one great advantage to them is to allow members who are losing interest a graceful exit strategy and/or keep energy levels of current members up as they make their "last shot" knowing it will have an end! That said, I don't think they should be stupidly adhered to, but I do think that members should be asked to sincerely reconsider their committment for the next term rather than simply rolling things over for ever. 

I see where you're coming from but I respectfully disagree. I think there should be term limits for anyone and any organization where officers are involved.  Our country would be much better off if congresspersons and supreme court justices had specific terms in office and could not run again. 

After 20 years in this business, I couldn't agree more. Why term limits for great board members? Doesn't make sense....

I absolutely agree.  We spend huge amounts of time and energy to retain our exceptional staff because we acknowledge that hiring someone new and training them is a much greater cost.  This is exactly the same for great board members.  The cost to the organization of losing a fabulous board member is very large.  We should retain them as long as they are willing and able to serve well for the organization.  The nominating committee's job is to decide who not to represent for election based on the needs of the organization and each board member's past performance. To be required to lose a committeed and skilled board member who is still willing to serve is a great, unnecessary loss to the organization. 

I always enjoy your answers Don --however I don't go with you on this one regarding term limits.  Unless a board requires very unusual technical knowledge, turnover to some managed degree is important to the well being of nonprofits.  To me the board is to represent the community (however that is defined) of the organization and a group of long term trustees tends to become very in-breed and not welcoming of new ideas.  I have also observed that often it allows a lead staff person to become too cozy with the lead volunteer.  The agency in effect is hamstrung by those two individuals and with that power they are able to self perpetuate the culture,values and activities of the organization.  Like a board it is good that we don't always agree--difference is healthy!

One solution is what might be called "declining terms" rather than "limits."  The essence is that at each renewal date, the incumbent's term is reduced until it is for just one year (where it can stay indefinitely).  Under this plan, the opportunity for a graceful exit is offered more frequently to members who have served longer, but there's no automatic dismissal of contributing colleagues.

Right ON Don!!  Make them accountable.  Let the board members know what their expectations are; do what you can to have them fulfill them (providing training as needed etc.).

A good premise is to rotate the leadership.  You would not want one organization to have the same Chairman of the board for example for unlimited terms; and accountability by other board members could prevent that without jeopardizing the institutional health of the organization.

The question was term limits for Trustees. Trustees are generally fiduciaries, and broad policy makers, not daily functionaries. Experience and knowledge therefore is much more important than a board of neophytes that have little institutional knowledge (where the skeletons have been hidden and who can and cannot be trusted). I would not want a board of trustees made up of short timers. This gives too much power to the CEO/President/etc..Let them each be reelected every 3 years. If they are dead wood, they will lose an election if there are quality replacements that step forward. For many smaller non-profits, longevity is a blessing and should be encouraged. Not to mention their importance in fundraising/contacts and yes, something called their Will.

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