Let me say it for the record: board term limits are for a reason!

But they can feel hard to enforce, can’t they?

There are two very real risks with board terms:

  • The leaving board member will feel left out
    Nobody likes it when people they care about feel left out. But here, this is probably inevitable. Anytime someone goes from “trusted inner circle” to treasured emeritus, they automatically leave regular communication channels. I’m amazed at how this hurt rational adults. Including me. But it’s just normal.

  • Even worse, they may not want to come back when their “year off” is up
    I think this is the biggest fear of boards. “What if we really let them go? Will they ever come back?”

    Besides, if they are already doing the work, why mess with it? Working board members are really hard to find.

So boards often decide to “make an exception” for this one person. But I really think that’s a bad idea.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent note I sent a board I serve on:

I appear to be the lone dissenter.

I don’t think we should make this precedent. I think they should be given a one year “sabbatical.”

Term limits protect both the nonprofit and the individual board members. Everyone needs a break to avoid burnout and to allow them to come back with a fresh perspective and renewed vision.

And term limits make it so that new people have to step up or systems have to be changed to accommodate the new board.

And, what if one of us becomes a board member that the board doesn’t want? It’s far easier to say “your time is up, thank you so much, and good bye” if we haven’t made special accommodations for people.

Term limits aren’t about liking a person or not. They are about good governance.

Let’s honor them and us with a sabbatical.

Do you agree?
Done correctly, I think board term limits can be a great way to show respect for both the outgoing board member and respect for the nonprofit organization.

I think term limits are good for everyone. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments!

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