An excellent question about terms and term limits for board members.
A quick survey of some of my client’s bylaws show that most boards have a term of 3 years; most limit the number of terms allowable to two or three. One group recently eliminated the term limit after investing heavily in board development and training. The justification was that if a board member is well equipped, serving well, and willing to continue, they wanted to continue taking advantage of their important volunteer resource.
There is a clear advantage for an organization to have trained, experienced and well disciplined board members. A second and third term for members may allow the organization to enjoy just such board members.
A healthy, growing organization will likely have a strategic initiative to constantly renew and find new linkages within the community. One tactic to accomplish this important goal may be to find new board members who rotate onto the board to provide those new connections and new perspectives.
Boards should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages caused by its limits to member terms and term limits.
Related to this is board evaluation and discipline of itself.
Board terms and term limits are sometimes suggested as a way to remove ineffective or antagonistic board members. While this may in fact happen. It is not a good strategy to enforce board discipline. The board chairperson and the board as a whole are responsible to evaluate the job outputs of the board and the effectiveness of individual board members. Those board members who are not willing to perform with the discipline and rigor required by the boards own explicit board process policy should be invited to resign.
Further, this task has sometimes gone to the executive director (CEO) when the board has failed to live up to this important responsibility. A well-designed board level policy will assign the task of evaluating the board and holding it accountable to the board.
Feel free to comment with your perspective or questions.
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